What happens when you let dozens of photographers loose on a single square mile of the city? ASMP Oregon put that question to the test May 19 in an event called Portland Squared.
Here’s the idea: the organizers mapped out a square mile at the nominal center of Portland—the Burnside Bridge—and broke it up into 49 smaller squares. Each photographer got to choose one of these blocks to work in, and then got to document the area over the next 8 hours. With a couple of hours allotted for editing, every photographer had to turn in up to five images by 7 p.m.
Exactly what “document” means was left up to the photographer, so the results were even more eclectic than the multifaceted region in the square mile. Some people shot portraits, some focused on architecture; some were shot with Lensbaby lenses (an event sponsor), others were highly processed, some lit, some natural light only. Some photographers took an impressionistic approach. One photographer brought a boat; another had a helicopter.
My approach was more documentary in the classical sense: a slice of life in my territory.
With the 27th pick (based on when I arrived at the event), I chose square G6, in the inner east side industrial district. The square stretched SE Oak to Alder between Grand and 8th. I didn’t really know anything about that area, but that didn’t bother me. Not surprisingly, the one side of Grand I had was fairly busy, but as it turns out, the rest of my territory was … well, pretty quiet. Especially on a Saturday, when many of the industrial spaces were closed.
I would guess that about 80% of the squares on the map have something iconic in them; mine was in the other quintile. So I just explored my region, trying to get a feel for its vibe and collecting images that captured it as best I could. The day started out slowly for me. The morning sunlight was nice but—especially before the shops on Grand opened at 10—the area was very quiet. I felt uninspired. Eventually, though, I warmed up and started making better (or at least, less cliche) images.
Just as I was about to wrap up, I stumbled across a dance studio where a capoeira group was—practicing? playing? performing? training?—I don’t know what to call it, but they were capoeira-ing. That was super-cool, so I’ll write a separate post about that.
After they finished up their session, I made one more circle of my square and headed back to the event headquarters to download and edit.
The photographers ate and watched a slide show while the judges looked at the work. Chris Onstott, who shoots for the Portland Tribune, dominated the prizes in a pool of very talented photographers. You can see the winning images here and the complete slideshow here (my submissions start around 9:12). Below is a more complete selection of the images I shot for the event.