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James Rajotte, “Nightclub,” 2006, former Photolucida Photographer of the Week


When I was pounding the pavement earlier today, I learned that Photolucida, Portland’s biennial photography portfolio review program, was holding a mini-session on July 26 and 27, with pretty-big-deal people attending, including Jen Bekman, Roy Flukinger, and Mary Virginia Swanson. (Sorry, registration’s full.)

The fact that Photolucida (formerly Photo Americas) has downgraded their ambition from full-blown photo biennial—complete with keynote speakers, citywide exhibitions, public events, an auction, and all the trimmings—into an auto-piloting portfolio review organization that doesn’t generate any form of community building saddens me tremendously. (By “community” I mean Portland’s photography and art community, not the bridge and tunnel crowd. My more concentrated circle of already-interested locals should be at least slightly invigorated by a festival of art photography; instead, most people I know aren’t even aware of it. [To be fair, there is a night where the registrants set up camp in the lobby of PNCA and open their portfolios to the general public, but that’s the extent of the outreach program.])

One reason for the shrinkage is obvious—finances. The portfolio reviews generate income ($725 a photographer for four days during the normal spring session, although I highly doubt anyone’s getting rich off this), whereas exhibitions, speakers, and everything else that non-registrants would give a shit about, cost money. So Photolucida began to quietly phase out everything that doesn’t boost the bottom line, and now we have directors and curators from organizations such as Aperture West, SFMoMA, the Museum of Photographic Arts, the Seattle Art Museum, and Chronicle Books coming to town, but not so much as a quickie symposium on contemporary photography or a pithy exhibition of local talent. This can not be blamed entirely on money (not with 2/3rds of the galleries in town—including Blue Sky—occupying far swankier digs than they did three years ago); this is a leadership problem.

Despite being the only art writer in town to specialize in photography, and despite having written about them multiple times in the past, I hadn’t received a press release, announcement, or email from the organization in years until a few weeks ago. Then came a press release announcing that they would be “giving 2 awards to Oregon photographers” this summer, although no specifics were given, and they allowed two weeks notice for photographers to get submissions together. Digging around their website, the winners were supposed to be announced online last month, but so far there’s nothing. Additionally, their Photographer of the Week feature hasn’t been updated since January.

I know and like several of Photolucida’s organizers, and I’d love nothing more than to praise their efforts. But as it approaches the decade mark as a bulimic version of its original vision, I’m hard pressed to drum up much enthusiasm. If I am in town, I’ll report on as much as I can from July’s events: I just wish the coverage was a more daunting task.

Edit: Photolucida Director Laura Moya has informed me that Alexis Pike, M. Bruce Hall, and Sika Stanton are the recipients of the 2008 Oregon Award. Additionally, the eight finalists have been invited to participate in the Portfolio Walk. They are: Jim Lommasson, Heidi Kirkpatrick, Blake Andrews, Angela Cash, Ann Ploeger, T J Norris, Bob Gervais, and David Paul Bayles.

James Rajotte’s website

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