Photolucida and Portland's Month of Photography

Several years I ago I read a magazine article about an annual Little People Convention, where midgets and dwarves flocked to party, discuss the relevant issues, and foremost--meet that special "little" someone. The essay described a common but unexpected side effect many of the conference attendees suffered after congregating with thousands of other midgets for an entire week. Rather than feeling like they had found their peer group, where they could be unconditionally accepted, a significant fraction of the little people were repulsed by the mass of midgets and saw, as if for the first time, how they must appear to the rest of the world. They became despondent and faced what they perceived as their own freakishness.

I can sympathize. This month, Portland hosts not one but two major gatherings of the American Photo Mafia: Photolucida (formerly Photo Americas) and the Society for Photographic Education National Conference. Photolucida is a festival of photography based on the model started in France nearly thirty years ago and popularized in America by FotoFest in Houston. The idea is to provide a forum where emerging and mid-level photographers can pester photo curators and editors into helping their careers. Many similar festivals mount exhibitions to coincide with the events, and an entire weekend or month is spent drinking cheap wine and discussing dye-sub prints and photographing "the Other." The first day I usually admire the sea of sun-deprived metaphorical midgets as "my people," and by the festival's end, admire painters for not concocting similar "festivities."

This year the Photolucida organizers have persuaded many local galleries to devote themselves to photography, if only for a month, to impress our out-of-town shutterbug friends. To my knowledge, there have never been as many photography exhibitions in Portland as there are at this moment. We'll get into more specifics next week, but the Elizabeth Leach Gallery and Oregon College of Arts & Crafts are offering tantalizing group shows; Susan Seubert's creepy archaic processes are on view at Froelick Gallery; and Butters Gallery is showing Jock Sturges again, in case you're into nude photos of underage French girls. Basically, if you throw a rock in Portland this month, you're bound to hit a photo geek. But when you see us--don't stare. It just reminds us how freaky we are.

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