Tag: uo

TEDx Portland collaborates with the White Box for "What If ?" Art and Design Show

What If ? . . . . On Intersectionality and Your Visual Backlog

TEDx Portland What If ? at the UO White Box in Portland

The WHAT IF? TEDxPortland Art & Design Exhibition is a curated collaboration by the University of Oregon and TEDxPortland.  26 artists  donated their time, treasure and talent to make this possible. Every penny from the online auction will benefit the Children’s Healing Art Project (CHAP). The Nike Foundation will match the amount raised. The auction starts at 5:30pm on April 17th, ending at 5:30pm on April 27th The exhibit will be housed at the White Box in the White Stag Block from April 4-24th and then will be transported and re-installed for TEDxPortland at the Portland Art Museum on April 27th Celebrating Ideas & Art worth spreading.


In keeping with the mission of TED, the exhibition showcases work that mines the territory between art, design, technology and science in popular culture. The work illuminates natural and imagined worlds through form and function. Selected artists were invited to submit work that is an exploration of visual media that connects to these multiple histories. Responding to concept, object, new knowledge and technologies through creative process, exhibited works span discrete disciplines and burgeoning practices.

TEDx Portland White Box "What if?"

Co-curated by White Box manager, Tomas Valladares and Molly Georgetta (Compound Gallery), What If ? presents a diverse yet curiously cohesive body of works that delve into both the digital and the handmade:  a sort of vibrant intersectionality.  Upon further observation, streams of unity begin to flow through the show but rather than providing simply visual entertainment and explanation, these works united and merged together in this space play with the realness of things and ideas in ways that encourage a captivating uncertainty.

I stared for an unreasonably lengthly amount of time at Zach Yarrington’s signage-cum-art Say it Out Loud.  It spoke at me, not to me:  playing with the blunt, authentic, familiar, but something was different.  A myriad of thoughts flowed, too:  1800s memorabilia, font obsessiveness, decoration with flourish, signage you read at a glance, yet it felt new and unexpected, shifty.  Had I seen this before?  Heard this before? [Look at Zach Yarrington’s Say it Out Loud]

We’ve all heard that words can be deceiving.  And, things are not always as they seem.  Objects, images and language can evoke memories, appear commonplace, create difficult or lovely feelings, even prompt new ideas.  The work displayed in TEDx’s “What If?” bring together pieces at once provocative, questioning, comfortable and challenging.

Craig Hickman’s “LOVER’S LANE” lassoo’ed me in next.  It looked real, it sounded real, it sounded appealing, but then there was that roadsign, grubby billboard delivery, itself lovable in its truthfulness.  However, what might have seemed comfortable was challenged by context, materiality, my own memory. Then I saw that wayward apostrophe, and the added comment, “HIGH WATER.” Had I seen those two paired together before?  The logic of it was almost taunting, shamefully so–like, well of course, why didn’t I see that coming? Is it difficult to cope with ambiguity and a subconscious awareness?  Hickman has no qualms in suggesting that we look, and expose ourselves to his nothing-barred candor. [Look at Craig Hickman’s LOVER’S LANE or for even more, explore his book OXIDE].

The “What If  ?” TEDx Portland art exhibit opened on April 4 and here it is minutes before the online auction opens, and I am wondering about familiarity, the proverbial, and “a fictional world only slightly different from our own” (Craig Hickman describing his piece in What If ?, April 3, 2013).   The exhibit prompts a questioning and a curiosity about ideas and traversing the distance between comfort of the everyday and the uncertain novelty of the unknown.  Every piece here transcends the conventional, and asks the viewer to consider a different reality.  It is a challenge to face familiar concepts that are rife with the expected and the known but here ignited with deviation and innovation the works become an intersection of both.

I talked to a few of the artists and designers exhibiting in the TEDx “What If ?” show to find out more….and asked them to explain a few threads woven into the body of work on exhibit that contributed to a shared ground line:  that of manipulation of the human experience and layering methodology to explore the unknown.  The integrative thinking and the intersectionality of this exhibit offered the opportunity to embrace the show’s portal to fascinating new representations of reality, the future, and here, and now.

The Opulent Project

The Opulent Project’s Meg Drinkwater explained “the found files that are used to create [the] ring act as symbols for what we know to be rings….By appropriating and combining these symbols…we have further emphasized the caricature that is in our collective mind….we attempt to ‘manipulate the human experience’ by examining it and questioning it.”  [Look at the Opulent Project’s Digital Ring]

Sara Huston of The Last Attempt at Greatness (Sara Huston and John Paananen] and the works, Expectation 03, smtwtfs 01, and smtwtfs 02, exemplify the studio’s “exploration of subjects of progress, expectation, liminal space, categorization, perception, value and the intersection and language of art and design.”  Huston and Paananen’s work boldly aims at “provoking discourse and contemplation in the viewer or user in an attempt to disrupt conventional ways of thinking, induce reflection and challenge the boundaries of what is known.”  Precisely, the work of The Last Attempt at Greatness is about, as Huston elaborates, “the ‘What if?’…[it is] about getting people out of their comfort zone to look at the world in a new way.” [View their work in the auction.]

Trygve Faste, an artist/designer is showing a work called Protoform Orange Red Blue in What if? Faste’s work is “about examining the creation of objects..currently and in the future, but especially in the future.”  The piece in What If? endeavors to illuminate his concept that “somehow the future will be more promising than the present.”  Acrylic on canvas, Protoform is a product of “studio art and industrial design.”  Faste explains that he has given himself “the challenge of trying to convey the complex relationships we have with the dynamic landscape of objects that surround us through the use of abstract painting and form….” He also believes that designers strive to “create new objects and experiences that bring together appropriate materials and technologies to create innovative solutions to everyday problems,” thus making objects of our environment; for the most part, he postulates this “comes from a place of wanting to do good.”  His work “tries to tap into a collective subconscious regarding the human aspirations imbedded” in our already existing creations.  A self-professed optimist, Faste relates that his work “explore[s] the unknown, particularly from the vague human desire to embark on achievements….that lead to a bright and futuristic tomorrow.”  [See Protoform Orange Red Blue]

Jennifer Wall’s Parametric Ring was “birthed from a process combining 6th century BC technology (cuttlefish bone casting) with neoteric technology (3-D printing from a parametric CAD file).”   Wall speaks of her “pulling from discordant technologies to produce objects,” and explains her manipulation of the human experience as one where her research analyzes “the impulse to self-identify through the objects we make.”  She continues, “time and history are necessary to understand the production of new ideas, which are often a reconstruction of that which already exists.”  [See Parametric Ring]

What If ? may ask more questions that it answers, and prompt you to vacillate between emotions of familiarity and strangeness, between understanding and a sense of impulsive curiosity laced with insecurity.  It may encourage you to recognize innovation and image as a way to explore new ideas and venture away from the expected. Yet, while the ability to leave a level of familiarity and comfort can precipitate a sense of entering a brave new world, it is this facing of dissidence that can bring the most rewarding drive forward.  As Wall explains, we need contexts like this where objects “function as tangible indicator[s] of the space between past and present.”

"What if?" outside looking in....

Owning (and wearing) objects such as those available to you in this exhibit, is to “combine the past with the present so [you] can be doubly validated in ….an aesthetic taste and decision,”  says Wall and achieve a greater understanding and perhaps connection.   “It is plausible that all visual aesthetics are derivatives of one another, and that new ideas lie in seeing potential patterns in the visual backlog that already exists.”

It all starts today (Wednesday), my friends, tonight at 5:30 PST to be exact, here [The Auction]. This is your opportunity to be a part of this and actually have one, or more (!) of these pieces in your possession.

Brad Simon's "Rainbow Harvest"

What if…?” you wait until numbers start trickling in (and up) as aficionados of art and design find their way to  this place and make their bid on . . . . Wait!  A work that you might want? Bidding is a strategic thing, and somehow we might be made just a bit nervous that we cannot see our competition, no paddles to raise, no leaning gaze to see where that bid came from (how dare she!?), and no jocular teasing or outright disappointment when you are outdone.  And, worst yet, no bidding wars?!  Yes, this is a new and different way to hold an auction, just like “What If? contains novel approaches to art and design; and we hope you enjoy it.

I have to admit, there is something to be said for bidding from the comfort of your own online location.  For wherever you are, I advise you to seize the moment:  being online and secretly upping the bid is so deliciously satisfying……now you can add your click, in the name of healing children and buying something more than simply relevant but also something that appreciates the chance to accept both your own “visual backlog” and a voyage away from the status quo.  Doesn’t that feel good?

Artists and designers with UO affiliation in TEDx Portland What If ? are

Zach Yarrington (BFA ’11 Digital Arts)

Trygve Faste (UO Assistant Professor, Product Design Program)

The Opulent Project with Meg Drinkwater and Erin Rose Gardner (BFA ’07 and ’08, respectively, in Metals/Jewelry)

Laura Vandenburgh (UO Assoc Professor)

Craig Hickman (UO Professor Digital Arts)

Sara Huston with The Last Attempt at Greatness (UO Instructor), I, II, III

Jennifer Wall (UO Instructor)

Jenene Nagy (UO Management Certificate)

"What If?" co-curated by Tomas Alfredo Valladares and Molly Georgetta



Portland Digital Arts BFA Fall 2012 | SECONDS Exhibit and Fall 2012 Final Review

Portland Innovation Continues:  “We are getting our ‘SECONDS’”

Xige Xia | Bubbles

This fall, Portland was not a place where one could easily escape plenty, sweet indulgence, and the realization that our city has been set a place at the global table of greatness.  Adding to this sense of lauded fame and fortune, Portland may be this year’s hippest culinary capital (could Bon Appetit dare to be wrong?) as the surfeit of exotically-spiced tastes and smells wafting from food carts, cooler-than-thou cafes, and sensorily delicious foodie destinations were met head-on by FEAST, a Bon Appetite | Portland Monthly extravaganza of, quite simply, food, books about food, demonstrations about food, and introductions to people who eat, sleep, live, and breathe for food.  For a week or so, interested Portlanders experienced copious amounts of palatte-pleasing, self-gratification in what was already a food-centric, help-yourself-to-more situation.  Somewhat reminiscent of a Bruegel Peasant Wedding while leaning precariously towards a Land of the Cockaigne, FEAST revelers sampled, tasted, and sampled again.  Afterall, there was plenty and it seemed to be all about more:  the ability to have and to have again.

Continuing within this latitude of celebration, Portland is also, of course, home to the infamous art walk evenings on First Thursday. . . .and, in more recent times, Last Thursday (Northeast Portland), First Friday (East Portland), and Last Friday (north of Portland) when the city cooperatively divides itself (presumably so sectors of the town can be enjoyed on different evenings), galleries throw open their doors, and the metropolis is invited to revel in creativity and goodness.  We certainly love our Firsts, but invariably they lead to seconds:  yes, the wanting of more whether it is art, culture or food.  There is little doubt that good experiences and exceptional adventures based on infusing the senses usually leave us desiring both more of the same and more of something completely different, otherwise known as having options.  Which brings us to another idea, every second is an opportunity to get something slightly different, pun intended.

Sarah Chan

Into this environment of availability and both having and wanting more came this year’s group of Portland-based, fifth-year BFA Digital Arts students.  As the students worked toward their first exhibit at the White Stag, things heated-up to a new level when they rolled out their November show, SECONDS, debuting to the public on First Thursday, November 1. 2012.  With an exhibit title that reached into the connotation-larder of food availability and more, the eight students concocted a multi-course exhibit that went on display in the 4R Corridor Gallery of the White Stag.  It was a spicy mingling of the culturally-observant and inquiringly thoughtful, technologically-inquisitive work served up family-style with the long and lean gallery space presenting the work in concentrated servings, open and inviting to all.

Xige Xia | Cultural Noodle at SECONDS

[See images of the SECONDS show here, FACEBOOK UO AAA.]

While relationships to Portland’s foodie culture and international acknowledgment should not be solely cited as contributing to the work produced, the autumn months of living, studying, and just being in Portland presented the students with an environment that was at once accepting and encouraging of their artistic explorations.  In fact, as Digital Arts student Taylor Engel commented,

“I think we are all enjoying the Portland “vibe” and working in the city. Although I don’t think SECONDS was directly related to the city of Portland, I do think Portland is the kind of city that promotes creativity, inspiration, and a healthy competition for artists and designers. I lived in Portland when I was a kid and later moved just outside Portland. When i was younger I would always talk about moving away, (mostly because of the weather) but now I see Portland as a great place to start my career…..I think the more you learn the more you want to learn. Moving from Eugene to Portland has rekindled my desire to learn more about art and really delve myself into the local art community. We’re all sort of getting our “seconds” when it comes to continuing our education into the BFA here in Portland.”


Taylor Engel

Even if the students’ Portland initiation was, or was not, in any way effected by the advent of FEAST, a metropolitan affection for food, culture, and art appreciation, and the plethora of options, the environs certainly contributed to an overall background context.  It is intriguing to note student Max Crist’s comment, “Seconds, to me, means having more of something, whether that be art or food or life!”  And, adding to this sentiment, student Corina Conzaleiz mentioned, “we decided on the name “SECONDS” as a form of expanding the possibilities….a serving of seconds in relation to art by the hope of leaving the viewer wanting more.”

An exploration and recognition of the student work is best done through images of that work which you can browse though in this post (and in the Facebook image album, Digital Arts Students in Portland | SECONDS).  Wandering the Corridor Gallery space during the SECONDS exhibit, and subsequently attending the final reviews of the students’ work bring new meaning and relevance to their work (final reviews were held at the White Stag Block, November 30, 2012).  It is this first-hand experience of the newly created pieces that provides the initial sense of interest and captivation.  Watching and listening to how thoughts evolve and images change brought a sense of wanting more, of wanting SECONDS, to see and discover how these eight individuals have and will work through their philosophies, uncover and realize ways to capture meaning.  Karen Munro, final reviewer guest (Head, University of Oregon Portland Library and Learning Commons) commented on this observable progression in the student work, “I’ve seen some students’ work progress amazingly from their first term to the end of the year.  Their ideas get more complex, and their expression of them gets more sophisticated, or changes formcompletely.  It’s really cool to see.”

Chihung Liao

Turning to the students’ work both visually and critically, we can observe and educate ourselves to the individual cultural perspectives they seek to present.  SECONDS, if anything, was a show and final review that let the artists explore their chosen genre and let us “learn a lot from hearing [the students] discuss their ideas and strategies….the one thing they all have in common is that they’re pushing the boundaries of their chosen form.” [Karen Munro]

Xige Xia

One student who challenged the constraints of cultural context, is Xige Xia and her piece, Bubbles (Mixed Material | Installation).  Bubbles was described by guest reviewer, Nancy Cheng (Architecture Portland Program Director and Associate Professor, University of Oregon) as: “[addressing] the complex issues about the changing character of Chinese cultural heritage in playful engaging ways.  In choosing to address what is close to her heart, she is able to bring attention to an issue with global resonance.”

Xige Xia with Nancy Cheng and Ying Tan

Xige Xia describing her own theory, shines a brilliant light illuminating her cultural background while clarifying her own personal and emotional connection:

China, as an old civilization, has developed a very diverse culture with an immense number of ethnic groups. While the Hans are the majority group, there are basically another fifty-five distinct ethnic groups.


Through the modernization and economic growth, people in many different ethnic groups are gradually abandoning their traditional lifestyles, leaving no one to carry on the old ways, such as arts, crafts, music, and customs. The charming tradition and the age-old cultural traits have been gradually passing into silence; the diversity and originality of the Chinese culture is extremely vulnerable and fragile right now. Some unique culture elements have already become distinct.


In this installation, I incorporated my inspirations from the Chinese minority groups’ cultural treasures ranging from costume patterns, vintage musical instruments to disappearing language and so on. Through my artwork, I truly want to express my wishes for these crystals of our ancestors’ wisdom to not only survive but to pass on and carry forward.


Corina Conzaleiz

Being raised in a Mexican culture, Corina Conzaleiz explains that she chose to respond to the idea of SECONDS by providing images that “relate to folkloric superstitions that have been passed on from generations to generations with the idea that every second is an opportunity for someone to tell a slightly different version of the superstition making it their own.”  Remember, every second is an opportunity to get something slightly different.

Reviewers view work by Corina Conzaleiz

She continues, explaining the content of her work:

I was exposed to many superstitions that my grandparents still believe are effective today. My grandmothers had these beliefs on doing certain things to relieve babies from hiccups, an evil eye, or being born with a deformity.


As a young girl I watched my grandmothers place a small piece of red thread on a baby’s forehead to relieve them from hiccups. This was quite common, I found myself searching for a red shirt to pull a piece of thread from whenever my baby sister had the hiccups. We would lick our finger and lightly press the thread against the baby’s forehead.


There is also the belief of the evil eye. Whenever a person looks at a baby and finds them to be extremely cute, it supposedly causes nausea,fever, or crying fits and these symptoms are thought to be a result of the evil eye. In order to cure the child my grandmothers would rub an egg around the baby’s body, crack the egg in a glass of water and analyze the texture of the egg to determine whether the baby was suffering from the evil eye.


Another superstition is to avoid the lunar eclipse during pregnancy. If you are exposed to a lunar eclipse at any time during pregnancy, your child will be born with some sort of deformity. In order to protect your child during pregnancy from a lunar eclipse, a woman can also wear a safety pin on the inside of their waistband.


I recently had a conversation with my new roommate, who happens to come from a Mexican culture as well and we hit the topic of old superstitions. To my surprise she understood a lot of the ones I grew up with. I became extremely interested in the topic as I never thought of them as superstitions before. I decided on a project that would bring awareness to these superstitions that all seem to cure or relieve a baby. I digitally illustrated three different images of babies and used physical objects to place on the printed images depending on the superstition.

Craig Hickman photographs work by Corina Conzaleiz

Students Sarah Chan and Koji Matsumoto explored their interests using different forms of digital media.  Matsumoto explains he “embraced the title SECONDS very literally, and [he] planned to title [his] project ‘Lossy’ alluding to the term defining the type of digital photograph that loses definition the more it is saved | copied | shared.”

Koji Matsumoto

Matsumoto continues,

My work is an attempted demonstration of how the culture of digital photography has developed. Photography has become so casual, cheap and simple, that any camera can store thousands of pictures at a time and each photograph I intended to act as referential memory.  However, unlike human memory, which can develop and change over time, the photograph is never going to be any more than what it is at its moment of creation; it will only lose clarity.  When traveling through Germany last summer I found myself, like everyone, taking hundreds of pictures of the sights, and not necessarily experiencing each moment.  Now the memories are limited to rectangular forms whose surroundings are unknown, and nothing new can be discovered within them.  The camera, therefore, limits memory instead of accurately depicting it.

Koji Matsumoto receives comments from Herman D'Hooge

When asked to discuss her work, Sarah Chan offered the following,

…. the spectacle is the most glaring superficial manifestation of mass media. Idealized lives, carefully constructed narratives of film, television, and literature, the presentation and function of our commodities, these are all subject to the influence of the spectacle.  It’s a critique of contemporary consumer culture. We are so mesmerized by the spectacle of our society that objects, locations, images have become emotionally charged. They have become our link to the people around us. We live for objects and images because we do not know of any other way to live.

How can small stories and the mirco-narratives of ordinary life compete with the spectacle? Is it not inherently influenced by mass culture? The discovering the spaces in between reality and fiction are the only ways we can find grace from the influence of the spectacle. The fleeting moments, the minor events, inspired instances of play are occurrences that can foster new ways of seeing only if one takes the time to examine them. I like to think of them as spectacles of the trivial. Capturing and interpreting this idea through visual media, how can the nature of passing events the change our idea of visual representation? Can they exist as a spectacle or does is very qualities negate its transformation?


Work by Sarah Chan viewed by Colin Ives

Addressing the culturality of music and the importance he feels music brings to one’s life, Karl Turner, and his exploration of music contains personal trusims that provide us clues to this artist’s motivation:

Music, to me, is one of the most important aspects of life. It is consistently seen in cultures all over the world and it is one of the most diverse art forms in existence.

Through my artwork I aim to utilize various aspects of music to help facilitate an active participation and acknowledgement in the viewer (listener) to the musical world around them. Through things like lyrical content exploration, non-traditional sound creation and visual appropriation I hope to turn passive viewers (listeners) into active participants in the world of music.

Karl Turner
Karl Turner

One sentiment prevalent with this group is the feeling of “hope” that Turner describes in his artist reflection.  It is this sense of a “hope” to influence, understand, form, and contribute to a global conversation that saturates this group’s genuine, yet freshly idealistic interpretations.

Reviewer looks at work by Taylor Engel

Perhaps no one kindles this sense of hope and moving forward in socially relevant and humanitarian ways to the extent of Taylor Engel. Engel’s project turns attention to feminism, female power, and equality.  Growing up in a world where liberalism, equality and the right’s of women have experienced significant progress, Engel still senses she wants more….can we say, seconds?  A larger helping?  An opportunity for greater results, more options, and a position of increased power and prestige.

Taylor Engel

She says,

I am interested in ideas of feminism, female power, and equality. I want to explore these ideas using a narrative about a powerful woman. Women tend to be praised for going after more “masculine” pursuits and interests so I wanted the woman in my story to have a position a man would more traditionally do. When thinking of powerful positions in society I came to the idea of a serial killer. Serial killers instill in people a sense of fear, respect, and titillation; they populate our favorite fictional crime TV and books while also having a real world presence as well as the vast majority of serial killers being male. Another way to make my character powerful is to make her not human. She is spirit-like and is not bound to a specific form. She is often associated with smoke or vapors and can move without restrictions. She wanders the earth acting as requital to those who have been wronged almost as sort of anti-hero. She identifies bad people by their recognition of her. She can only be seen and has influence over bad people.

Max Crist

The work of the Digital Arts students spans the culturally revelant, the personally emotive, the fascination with technology and change, and even, with student Max Crist, merges into how these concepts delve into the commercial world and fuel an interest in street culture figuring out ways to incorporate daily pursuits, such as bridging to the practicality of making a living.

Max Crist

Crist’s SECONDS come as meaning “more of something”, food, art, or life.  And in his own words, he describes his ethos:

I’m fascinated by personal expressions of everyday social interaction. The body of my work consists of anecdotes of social and pop cultural representations. These are things I see or experience. Often I translate these in nostalgic and comedic ways. I enjoy irony and humor in art. Ultimately I want to achieve a dream of being a professional designer and possibly driving my own brand and business. I believe that my determination will drive me to refine my personal artistic expression and style. I want to understand how to market and brand my ideas into a formal career and future artistic direction and I will challenge myself constantly as failure leads to great insights. If nothing else, please know that I am committed to working hard to achieve my goals of becoming a designer.

Max Crist with Herman D'Hooge

The fall term work of the Digital Arts students leaves one feeling a desire for more. When we like something or are interested, we always seem to want . . . . .seconds:   more of the same, or more, but of something different yet related, grounded in prior experience. And as Conzaleiz points out, the concept of having access to seconds is one where as both observant audience and exploratory sampler, we receive a form of expanding the possibilities of what is available. As viewers we want to see the students’ ideas progress, and get increasingly complex, or even be pared down to the very simple, after all, sometimes less is more.

Work by Chihung Liao

The students are currently on winter break.  But when they return in 2013, refreshed and ready to begin again, we will look forward to the experiences, the sights, sounds, textures, and culturally relevant observations they will serve us.  As we patiently watch their oeuvre unfold and develop, and their curiosity for more and thirst for understanding forge ahead, we anticipate helping ourselves to seconds, relishing in the opportunity to see more, learn more, feel more.  The work created during the fall 2012 term gave a glimpse of what’s in store.  Reminded of that Dickinsonian waif, who having tasted nourishment and sustainance, once said, “Please, sir, I want some more.”  Perhaps, Oliver Twist-like, we do, indeed, want more.

Chihung Liao
Reviewers with Chihung Liao
Jennifer Wall and John Park at the Digital Arts fall 2012 Final Review

Fall 2012 Digital Arts Instructor:  Ying Tan

Incoming Winter 2013 Digital Arts Instructor:  Damien Gilley

Students in the Digital Arts Program in Portland are Sarah Chan, Taylor Engel, Max Crist, Koji Matsumoto, Chihung Liao, Karl Turner, Corina Conzaleiz, Xige Xia

Special thanks to guest reviewers:  Colin Ives, Liz Bayan, Mack McFarland, Karen Munro, Michael Bray, Jim Fletcher, Mariana Tres, Eric Dayton, Craig Hickman, Dan Graland, Jacob O’Brien, Dave Anolik, Rick Silva, Colin Williams, Dom Cardoso, Herman D’Hooge, Ty Warren, Damien Gilley, Jason Sturgill, Paula Rebsom, Michael Salter, Bryson Hansen, Tomas Valladares, Jennifer Wall, John Park, Sara Huston, John Leahy, Ying Tan, Nancy Cheng, Cory Burnett, Jade Gonzales

Post and photos Sabina Samiee


Bruce Wolf | Part II

Part II:  Bruce Wolf, Photographer

"I signed it with a Sharpie." Bruce Wolf's portfolio

[This is Part II of Sabina Samiee’s coverage on photographer Bruce Wolf, an adjunct instructor at the UO in Portland and instructor for Light and Color:  Tools of the Trade Workshop for Summer in the City 2012. You can read Part I Bruce Wolf | A Little Profile on a Big Photographer posted previously.]

Images | Bruce Wolf

Now it is fall 2012. Wolf is firmly entrenched in the Portland scene.  He is an adjunct instructor for the Summer in the City University of Oregon Portland program.   And from the projects he has taken on, it is evident he has graciously assimilated the culture and vibe of Portland, and has never looked back.  Granted he isn’t making the prodigious dollar amounts New York had bestowed upon him, but as he comments, “that really doesn’t matter.”  Whether he is shooting Pietro Belluschi’s architectural wonders, a stunning plated concoction at Yakuza for a scrumptious-looking website, or photos for a children’s book on food, Wolf’s images are powerful, captivating, emotional, and have that je ne sais qua any photographer worth her salt dreams about.   [See Bruce Wolf:  A Little Profile on a Big Photographer]


If you are here in the city next summer, look him up:  Summer in the City 2013—with a little luck and a fair wind, Wolf’s experience and knowledge will be back here again and yours for the taking at the UO in Portland.  This is an opportunity to learn methods and process, gain knowledge and insight from one truly great photographer.  And, as Wolf, himself puts it, he “[doesn’t] just want advanced photographers in [his] class,” not at all.  In fact, he welcomes and encourages a specific kind of person,  “Photographers at any level passionate about photography. . . .That’s what I’m looking for,” he states.  It was a late afternoon, mid-summer and we were happily into our second coffee talk– “interview” – meeting at Floyd’s coffee shop in Old Town. Wolf was beginning to feel like an old friend.  “Passionate about photography” and “photographers at any level:”  this sounded mildly provocative…I was caught on the “at any level” phrase.  It sounded so refreshing and open to possibility. I asked him to tell me more about his 2012 Summer in the City Light and Color workshop, the students he worked with, his expectations for the course and the students and his future plans.

Bruce Wolf

Wolf finds that being welcoming to photographers of any level with a passion for picture-taking attracts students who are eager to learn and listen.  And, photographers at any level can take insightful, thoughtfully composed images. Photographs should “say something about the person who took the photo, not just be an image of what that photographer captured.” In Wolf’s opinion, a photographer “needs to learn how to present the image so that it tells a story, leaves personal narrative and inhibitions behind, and freely exposes the photographer.”  This ability can be learned over time with work and experimentation.  Wolf aspired “to teach [his] students to tell us who they are, to expose their self.”

Bruce Wolf and his students in the Light and Color Workshop

Wolf continued, speaking softly and thoughtfully.  The intent of a photo is to translate a story and project a personal signature.  When students presented their work to him for critique and review, Wolf found it best to refrain from criticism and rather try and find what “they thought the process was, or had been, like a personal journey” he says.  Wolf wanted his students to learn how to use their photographs to “take us someplace” and to make their image a “personal reflection of what drives them to see what they see, and why they see it that way.”  He suggested that they experiment with light, color, angle, cropping and content to express this.


Equally intriguing is Wolf’s unique pedagogical approach that assumes his students are blissfully “unaware of anything.”   He continued, “I talk to them as if they know nothing.”   Not intending to be at all demeaning or condescending, Wolf means he strives to instruct as if his students are a blank slate, ready and receptive to challenge the components of their work to access a sense of both the art and the science of photography.  He finds this approach the least intimidating and the most encouraging to his students’ sense of free experimentation in the class.

Bruce Wolf

There is one area, however, where Wolf expects his students to have a working knowledge.  His Light and Color Workshop requested that students have an existing working familiarity with Photoshop, a technology Wolf feels “is essential to contemporary photography.”  In addition, he only allowed the students to use their cameras in Manual mode—a somewhat daunting prospect for many.  If a student needed help or instruction in the mode, Wolf gladly assisted. By using only Manual mode, Wolf encouraged each student “to regain control of the camera and the image.”


I asked Wolf his opinion on camera equipment.  Would someone with a prosumer camera be as welcome as someone with a simple point-and-shoot? Wolf assured me, regarding equipment, students were not criticized for the quality or technical hierarchy of their equipment. One student was welcome to use her father’s point-and-shoot, which she did for the entire duration of the course. When asked if he felt the quality of one’s camera had a great deal to do with the quality of the image, Wolf responded that “it is not the camera that is the final instrument of the image” but how that “image is interpreted or taken forward to create an intention.”  Here is where Photoshop becomes the somewhat indispensible tool of the contemporary photographer, the sine qua non that allows the artist | interpreter of the image to “sharpen the intention, to clarify and capture” what one has merged into pixels, and digitalized into a printable reality.  Photoshop will help ease a transition from a captured moment to a fully finished image. Today’s digital photographs, says Wolf, will not be worked on in a traditional darkroom, a place where the photographer used to transition an image and produce desired effects, experimenting with light and dark, saturation and hue. Thus, says Wolf, “Today’s darkroom is Photoshop.”

Bruce Wolf in Google search

With all his work, his reputation and his legacy, it is no wonder Wolf is carefully watched.  Coming to Portland in 2009, a blog post by his then rep, Stockland Martel declared “BW MOVES TO PDX and POSTS photos.” [I would show you the post but Stockland Martel has since removed it.] It was a series of photos posted on Wolf’s online social media presence that precipitated a small tempest of curiosity—Wolf was doing something new, something different.  Maybe Portland enabled Wolf to branch out into a new perspective, and explore that “loneliness” he talks about.  Whatever it was, we can read about the “guerrilla photography” Wolf and his wife, Laurie launched into.  Photographing over 70 Portland restaurants for Portland restaurant scene, Wolf found his way right into the delicious underbelly of some of Stumptown’s most coveted places.

Photographing 70+ Portland Restaurants..Food! Glorious Food!

As time has passed these last few years, Wolf has eased into a singular Portland aesthetic, appreciating and valuing a sense of independence, being in a league all his own, and valuing a certain obscurity for its own sake. He seems to have found meaning, and worth, and definitely his own Portland style of cool.  He’s become one of us.  He’s settled in with a new rep, Greenhouse, and released a new book, along with collaborator and wife Laurie Wolf, Portland, Oregon Chef’s Table .

Bruce Wolf

Things are looking bright and beautiful for this New York transplant. As evidence to his understanding of things Portland, whether due to the cagey arrangements of representatives or Wolf’s own propensity to find meaningful working relationships, halibut-sized printed monthly publications have been scooping him up and sending him back out to hone his forte with a uniquely Portland grind.  And, now that we can open up some of our favorite regionally-based magazines and see architecture from our own metropolitan backyard photographed by Wolf; get google-guided to a unique Portland restaurant and stumble upon images from a few of those places we head to for something uniquely delicious, we see Wolf’s light and color in new places.  Take a trip to our favorite bookstores and see Wolf’s images in lovely volumes available to grace our coffee tables and our kitchen bookshelves.   We can access Wolf’s Portland work almost daily and we can even take a university summer course from him.  When asked what his plans for future courses at UO might be and if he’s interested in teaching again, Wolf responded, pointblank, “I’d love to.”  In fact, he is interested in teaching photography at all levels, lower and upper division, beginners to advanced.  In any case, Portland and, indeed, Oregon is certainly richer and even more beautiful when we have Wolf’s imagery of our environment surrounding us—all in gorgeous light and color…. Let’s hope it stays that way, because he sure makes things look good.

[As if it were not readily obvious, black and white photographs in this post –devoid of color and not much in the way of brilliant lighting, were taken by the author, who somewhat reluctantly posts her images in the same blog as BW images.  Images from Wolf were taken from his blog, and website, and provided to the author.]


In addition to photographer Bruce Wolf, Summer In the City has offered the teachings of  academic and creative  phenomena such as D’Wayne Edwards, James Cutler who directs the Summer Portland Architecture Program, and Bill Tripp, among others. It is an eclectic arts and architecture-based program, offering interdisciplinary courses, specialized studios, and a lower-division, requirement-satisfying class in cooperation with the new Urban Ducks program. In a come-one-come-all egalatarian manner, the UO opens its doors and lets the summer breeze in as Summer in the City welcomes both enrolled UO students, community members in the Academic Extension program and professionals seeking to enhance and expand their professional affiliation, network and expertise.  Above all, it is an opportunity to learn from experts.  Come join us next summer!