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GRID PROJECT PUTS CITY UNDER LENS

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Long-term photography exhibition takes a peek at Portland's nooks, crannies


COURTESY: PORTLAND GRID PROJECT - Photo by Daniel CastleFrom Mount Tabor to the Pearl District, local cemeteries to wetlands, bridges, cars, billboards and graffiti, a picture says a thousand words.

What would Portland look like, over time, if those images — big and small — were captured each month for several decades on end?

That’s what the Portland Grid Project is about.

From March 31 through May 1, the project will host an exhibit at 12x16 Gallery in Southeast Portland, inviting the public to come and see a sampling of the work by a dozen local artists.

The 60 images capture the people, places and things that make up the landscape and poetry of the city — both pretty and not-so-pretty, from the church sermons and sunsets and kids playing in the snow to the junkyards, roadkill and telephone poles.

What ties it all together is the fact that as a whole, the Grid Project photos make up a vast archive that will remain as part of the city’s cultural history (http://www.portlandgridproject.com).

It all started in 1995, when local photographer Christopher Rauschenberg took a pair of scissors to a AAA map of Portland and cut it into 98 pieces.

COURTESY: PORTLAND GRID PROJECT - Photo by Carole GlauberHe then invited a group of 12 Portland photographers, using a variety of cameras, films, formats, and digital processes, to each photograph the randomly selected square each month.

“We took the coordinates, put them in a hat, and every month we pull them out and that’s what we attack,” says George Kelly, one of the photographers who’s been part of the project since 2007, in its second round of grid squares.

This month marks the kickoff of round three, which will last another seven and a half years or so — one grid square per month for 90 months.

With each randomly selected grid square — whether it’s Forest Park, like this month, or downtown Portland, like February — the photographers use their own aesthetic and perspective to capture the images.

As the public will see, some are esoteric or moody, some are descriptive and photojournalistic.

COURTESY: PORTLAND GRID PROJECT - Photo by Nathan Lucas“I use a wide-angle lens — just one camera and one lens for this project,” says Kelly, who works in film, like about half of the artists. “My goal is to make things more recognizable, focus less on specifics — more broad. I would see a slug in Forest Park but wouldn’t be able to take a picture of it with a wide-angle lens.”

Sometimes the geographic restriction is tough, Kelly admits. But it leads to moments of inspiration. Like the time he was out in an area with not much to shoot, when the fog rolled in.

“It was really beautiful,” he says.

“Sometimes conditions can dictate the shot.”

Other photographers use the project to connect with the community.

COURTESY: PORTLAND GRID PROJECT - Photo by Steve Rockoff“I love photographing people, documenting people and the environment,” says Daniel Castle, a photographer who joined the Grid Project in 2013. “I also love Portland. This is an awesome opportunity to get to know the nooks and crannies of Portland — places I’m sure I would never venture to.

Castle’s favorite location was grid J8, he remembers, part of Northeast Portland.

He was shooting outside a Baptist church, when the pastor came out and asked what he was doing.

As Castle described the project, the pastor asked him to attend his church service that Sunday.

So he did. “The congregation and pastor were so welcoming and excited to have me there,” he recalls. “They gave me hugs. There was so much passion. I think I even danced a little bit.”

COURTESY: PORTLAND GRID PROJECT - Photo by George KellyOnce the photographers shoot their grid photos each month, they meet and share their work.

This month, the project has a fresh crop of artists.

They are: Scott Binkley, Nancy Butler, Carole Glauber, Nathan Lucas, Missy Prince, Faulkner Short, Pat Bognar, Daniel Castle, George Kelly, Alberta Mayo, Steve Rockoff and Jeffrey Thorns.

The photographers are invited to participate, usually by being a friend of a friend. Most are intrigued by the long-term commitment. All are excited by the potential.

“Everyone brings something completely different to the table,” says Castle, a fulltime student at Portland State University. “Especially how fast the city is changing and growing, it’s an opportunity to see Portland — the little places that aren’t highlighted as tourist destinations but are really cool parts of the city.”

For more: http://www.portlandgridproject.com.

@jenmomanderson