'Portland Squared' event challenges top photographers
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT, Photographer L.E. Baskow photographs a street scene downtown during the Portland Squared photography event last weekend.

The beauty of photography is that anybody can own a camera and make a memory that lasts forever.

But to be really good takes an eye -- literally and figuratively.

Portland has its share of top-notch professional photographers, and many of them gathered for the first "Portland Squared" event last weekend. About 50 photographers took part, each assigned their portion of a one-mile section of east side and west side Portland at the Willamette River and Burnside Bridge. Their assignment: Take between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. to shoot photos of anything and everything that came across their path and submit their five best images. It challenged the photographers to make something out of nothing, says Leah Nash, a freelance photographer and brainchild of the American Society of Media Photographer's project.

"The images were really amazing," she says. "I was blown away. It's amazing to see how many different ways people see things."

There were professional photographers -- commercial, fine arts, editorial -- as well as aspiring photographers hoping to learn more about the trade. Blind judging picked the best of the best, with prizes given in 6 categories. (See winners here.)

COURTESY OF ASMPOREGON.ORG • On May 19, Portland Squared brought together 49 photographers to document a separate portion of a square mile in Portland. This slide show displays their work and creativity documenting the people, architecture and landscape centered around the Burnside Bridge. Each photographer's name appears along with the image.

It was a day for photographers to get out and exercise their creative muscles.

Again, producing an award-winning image, or at least one quite memorable, isn't as easy as pointing your Canon or cell phone and pushing the button. It's a good lesson for anybody, though, to understand what photographers see -- which can often be less than obvious.

"That's our job, to see things differently, and in unique ways," says Nash, who has done freelance work for New York Times and Rolling Stone among other entities. "That was the exciting thing about the event -- a day to be creative and explore the community.

"These days, everybody is a photographer, that is why people love it and relate to it. I come from a documentary and photojournalism background. For me, it's about capturing moments -- honest emotion and human interaction -- as well as composition and the interaction of light on how it plays on people. Color's a big one. And so is perspective. What makes the best photographers is revealing something about everyday situations, revealing it beyond the mundane."

For freelancer Daniel Root, the best image came as he drove his car near the Rose Garden, going to edit photos. He noticed a man hauling a portable bathroom with a hand truck. Root pulled off the road and snapped away.

"I thought, 'That's awesome,' " he says. "That's the story sometimes, you see something at the last minute that could be your best picture. It's a matter of keeping your eyes open."

Root was assigned the Willamette River as his portion of "Portland Squared," and, aboard a friend's river boat, he caught a shot of six people lounging in a jet boat, and accentuated it with a strobe. Root says he compares photography to fishing -- you cast to a lot of spots, and you'll eventually catch something.

The Tribune's Christopher Onstott, manning a 2 1/2-block square section near Pioneer Courthouse Square, shot photos with Weegee, the famous New York City street photographer of the 1930s and '40s, in mind -- aggressive, abrasive photos with strobes.

"I just got funny looks," he says, adding that one woman got mildly upset.

"I just look for people, interesting-looking people. You're looking for the most interesting moments, whether funny or dramatic," he adds. "I shot a tourist who had a map, and his two kids were jumping around him, playing on him, trying to distract him. He was trying to pay attention to the map ... it was a funny little scene."

The Tribune's Anni Tracy artistically caught the Portland Heart Walk as it paraded on Eastbank Esplanade, near the bike ramp at the Morrison Bridge. "It was the perfect opportunity, perfectly framed by the bike ramp," she says.

Other photographers who took part in "Portland Squared" included Joni Kabana, Fritz Liedtke, Michael Shay and Bruce Forrester. Kabana hauled a portable background with her, shooting portraits. Like Root, Forrester went above and beyond -- literally catching a ride in an airplane to do aerials. Another participant had a camera mounted on a bicycle.

"We were by land, sea and air," Root quipped.

"Portland Squared" was a competition of sorts, but, as Onstott points out, photographers are generally not motivated competing against others.

"It's like golf," he says. "You're mostly playing against yourself. You never know what other people are going to come up with, or see. A lot of times it's blind luck, what happens when you're there. It's about patience, really paying attention and being ready, and being creative."

"Portland Squared" was a community event, Nash says, with Pro Photo Supply and Lensbaby among the sponsors and allowing photographers to use and/or test gear. Images will be posted at, and will be shown at Pushdot Studio in December.

"The goal is to do it in other cities," Nash says.

"It's just a way for people to be inspired," she adds. "You can be doing photography for 50 years and still be inspired by somebody doing it for one year."

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