Sunday, March 28, 2010

Curator's Statements

Seeing Portland – 1970 to 1984

Portland in the 1970s was a city on the brink of being reborn. Nestled between the misguided urban renewal of the 1960s and the boom years of the later 1980s it was a time of gestation and redefinition. A surprising number of young and talented photographers came of age using the city as subject matter for their creative explorations; documenting and making art. Gathered together for the first time this group of photographs expresses a pre-technological, pre-gentrified Portland in both aesthetic and architectural terms. More than mere nostalgic references, they deepen our awareness of time and place.

I remember years ago in the midst of winnowing my belongings before a move, coming across a favorite old flannel shirt that had belonged to an almost boyfriend. I was aware as I considered whether to toss or keep, that by throwing it away I was losing that link between the present and the past. Without the shirt it would be harder to remember, easier to forget, all of what it had meant to me to know that person - what it felt like to be me, holding his hand, walking a street in springtime, being 19, a bubble of hope in my chest pushing up from the inside, an impulse towards experience, towards discovery in every step, a lingering innocence. Looking at these photographs is like holding that shirt in my hands. So much floods in that is intangible, inaccessible without a sensory cue. Because they document Portland as it was, these images take us back to who we were when we saw it that way, and the fabric of our history is revealed, opens up like a box of treasures. Savor them and you savor what has come before, catching a glimpse of the mechanisms of memory as they build up and become the past.

If this is not the Portland of your past hopefully these images will help you get to know her more intimately, like hearing stories from a grandparent about what it was like to be young. Perhaps you can't quite grasp what they mean, but deep in your bones you know it has something to do with you.

Anne Riesenberg

Andy Graham’s Curator Statement

In 1975 I was a student in the Art Department of the University of Portland-Gorham (now USM). I came to Portland in the Summer of 1974, and attached myself to this city that was just beginning to awake. Juris Ubans had the Film Study Center, the only venue for foreign films in Portland, showing 16mm prints of Claude Chabrol movies to an audience of 25 or so in an upper Exchange Street building that was usually home to the Ram Island Dance Center. The Italian bread (the only ethnic bread) was doughy and white. The first Old Port Festival was still in the future. There were few people of color. It was before technology began to change us, before cable TV, when Portland had both a daily morning and an afternoon newspaper.

Greil Marcus’ phrase “the old weird America” was on my mind as I gathered images for this show, originally titled Portland in the Seventies. Portland, when people shopped on Congress St and the Old Port was derelict, had little culture and few aspirations. Urban renewal had knocked some buildings down and built highways through the city, but few people thought about what was being lost to the pressure of development and the unstoppable plan to push Portland into a new, prosperous future. Portland Landmarks focused on the integrity of West End mansions, not downtown or Munjoy Hill.

I looked for other photographers who looked at the city as I had, with warmth and appreciation for both the new and the old. I looked for serious photographers. I looked for technical excellence. All of these images were made using a large negative or positive – 2 ¼, 4x5, and 8x10. They are printed in a variety of ways; some vintage silver fiber prints, some black and white or color inkjet prints, and some c-prints made through a digital workflow. Missing are images made by photographers who may have passed through Portland and recorded it during this time, or photographers like Richard Procopio, whose archive remains unopened.

Part of the fun of this show is seeing the old buildings and the old places, seeing what remains, how it has changed and how it has remained the same. Please comment, append, reminisce, and enjoy. And be encouraged to record the commonplace in our city along with the unusual. None of us photographers expected the role that these images now have in recording the story of Portland.

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