Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Do You Want To Know A Secret?

Most photo enthusiasts in the Willamette Valley have a sense of where to look for photo exhibits. In Portland, the circuit includes Blue Sky, Hartman, Camerawork, PAM, PushDot, Newspace, iWitness, Ampersand, and a smattering of less regular spaces. In Eugene, Emerald Art Center, Dot Dotson's, Aperture, JSMA, and (recently) O'Brien Imaging are reliable exhibitors. All of these places put new photos on display roughly every month and are on the radar of anyone paying attention.

I recently visited two places not on the radar, and both deserve a visit.

Ditch Projects in Springfield is the most nondescript gallery in Oregon. There's no sign, no neighborhood even. To get there you drive through downtown Springfield, across the railroad tracks, and turn left down a dead-end road. Then you cross the eponymous ditch, turn right into the parking lot of a lumber yard, then right again into a cul-de-sac between two steel corrugated warehouses. It's door 165. I'd been there once before a few years ago but it still took me two separate trips to find it last week. And it's only open 4 hours per week on Saturdays. They don't make it easy.
Ditch Projects (photo from their site)

But if you can find it and it's open, Ditch is worthwhile. The space is huge and carefully tended, the managers well connected, and the exhibits display a variety of art from all around the country. I made a special trip last week because they were showing photos, Long Nights, Long Days by Peter Happel Christian. That show is now over, but another group photo show is due to open in February 2013. No other info on that available yet but I'm sure it'll be good. Supposedly the openings feature drinking games with hammer toss and bonfire. What's not to like? Above all I like the idea that such a space is hiding in Springfield, not exactly a national art Mecca. But they bring in national shows of all types with absolutely no publicity, and don't seem to give a shit who attends or even notices. Well Ditch, you've been noticed.

The other gallery of note is Black Box in Portland, in the flourishing Lower East Burnside district, right across the street from Doug Fir. This place has been around for more than a year but I haven't heard any buzz about it and no one I know has visited. It could be because like Ditch the hours are severely limited, only open Thursday and Friday afternoons. Until recently that's made it hard to synch with my visits from Eugene. But last week I finally got a peek inside, and it's worth checking out.

Black Box Gallery (photo from their site)

Todd Johnson runs his gallery a bit unusually, but in a way which might point toward the future. Every show is a group exhibit selected by a guest curator around a theme (a sampling here). A national call goes out, 20 images are picked, and that's where it gets interesting. Instead of sending prints to Black Box, photographers send hi-res files to Johnson, who prints and mounts every show himself using interchangeable framing materials. All photos are shown the same size and medium. An exhibition catalog is published for each show. After the show is done all unsold photos go into flat files for archiving/browsing. As with all group exhibits, shows can be a mixed bag, but I think most viewers will find something to like here. Anyway the gallery runs on an interesting model. If you haven't yet visited, Black Box is worth adding to your monthly circuit.

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