Photo Americas

Various Venues; call 280-5427 for details

From April 8th through the 12th, Portland will hold the title of Photographic Capitol of America, thanks to Photo Americas, a citywide celebration of photography and national gathering of photographers, curators, editors, and critics that comprise what A.D. Coleman terms the "international image community."

In the early 70s, Arles, France hosted the first photography festival--a smattering of photo exhibits spread throughout the city, and a meeting place for photographers to discuss and showcase their work. Soon afterwards, other international cities began hosting festivals, and they became known as breeding grounds for up-and-coming photo talent, regularly debuting work by artists who would later become staples of coffee table books and museum surveys.

As the new kid on the block, operating on a shoestring budget and a staff of exactly one, Photo Americas has big shoes to fill. Now in its third inception, the young non-profit is bringing Portland more lens-based activities than you can shake a stick at.

The most visible components of the festival are the exhibits, naturally. Nearly forty photography shows dot the Portland landscape this month, from the museum to the neighborhood coffee shop to the World Forestry Center (they're not giving up that Ansel Adams show yet!). Unfortunately, there's not one major, heavyweight exhibit to anchor the festival, to give it a serious pull, but collectively, there are a number of quiet, high quality shows to be seen.

Elizabeth Leach Gallery is showing one of the most interesting photo artists working today that I know of, Dinh Q. Lê, a Vietnamese artist who will be featured in the upcoming Venice Bienale. Lê makes photo-weavings, slicing up color mural prints and then intricately intertwining them before burning the edges together to seal the piece into a cohesive whole. Lê's work always deals with his Vietnamese culture, the war, it's aftermath, and themes of otherness. In his most recent work, he co-mingles stills from American movies like Platoon, Apocalypse Now, and Indochine, with documentary war images and found photos of anonymous Vietnamese citizens. The effect is as visually complex as any photography being made today, digitally or otherwise, as well as emotionally haunting.

At the Portland Art Museum, Terry Toedtemeier has concocted one of the funkiest and freshest exhibits of late 19th and early 20th century images in recent memory. Eschewing the traditional history of fine art lenswork, In Varied and Particular Ways focuses on early photographic experiments and conceptual problems facing the first generations ever to see a fixed image. Some of the highlights are rudimentary trick photographs, military reconnaissance photos, lunar shots, hidden spy cam images, and a carefully chosen selection of better-known images by Dr. Harold Edgerton, August Sander, Karl Blossfeldt, and Eadweard Muybridge. If you thought the first century of photography was all desert landscapes and Civil War collodion prints, this show is designed to turn your mind around.

Blue Sky Gallery is showing Bird People by Texas artist Sharon Seligman, who has documented a very specific margin of society--Mexican roadside vendors who trap and sell indigenous wildlife like owls and iguanas. Also on display is a series of haunting and theatrical portraits of Louisiana inmates by Deborah Luster, which she prints on black aluminum and displays in a drawer like files to be flipped through.

Butters Gallery is featuring new work by Jock Sturges, one of the contemporary masters of classical nude photography--a dubious position to hold in such a dormant genre.

If you're the kind of art viewer who wants a lot of bang for your buck, or for your trip out of the house, then head to PNCA Wednesday, April 9th, from 6-9pm for Portfolio Walk, a come-as-you-are free for all. Throughout the week, photographers from all over the country will be having private portfolio reviews with national bigwigs in the hopes of landing shows or making sales, and are coming with samples of their best work. At Portfolio Walk, they open up their goods to the public so visitors can easily see a thousand photos from up-and-coming artists. There has to be a reality TV show lingering in here somewhere...

There are also countless lectures and workshops to attend and schmoozing to do. For a complete listing of events, go to CHAS BOWIE