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June 29th, 2011 MATTHEW KORFHAGE | Culture Features
 

Shot In Old Town

A photographer’s ’70s-era portraits of Portland’s lost souls get a new life.

culturefeature_burnside_3734Kathleen Ryan: “Some of these guys [living in the residence hotels] I met on the street and asked if I could come up. I treated them with respect. [Northwest] Couch Street was the first place where ships tied in when Portland was barely a port; the hotels were designed for this transient community, just people who were trying to find work. In this picture I’ve got three of my kids and a rabbit on the balcony, at the Barr Hotel. Charles [Lockridge] loved it. He was a musician. He played jazz for years and years.” - Photos courtesy of Kathleen Ryan and Dill Pickle Club
     
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Whatever Ellis Island’s pleasant fictions about the poor, meek or hungry, Portland’s Old Town has always welcomed them in earnest. It has been a century-long home to the transient or boozy, whether turn-of-the-century dockworkers dragging logs from the river up Skid Row (“Skid Road”), any of various waves of immigrant communities (Russian, Jewish, Chinese, Gypsy, Native American, Japanese) or an old woman in the ’70s taking the bus to Burnside from Beaverton so she could drink somewhere no one would bother her about it. But oddly, the neighborhood’s very transience is what makes the marks of history so vividly endure there; it has never been wholly claimed or remade, merely borrowed and repurposed.

Photographer Kathleen Ryan’s 1979 book Burnside: A Community (Publication Studio, 90 pages, $20)—now being reissued as the fourth and final book in Dill Pickle Club’s Portland Re-Print Series—documents these various itinerant communities from the street level, through image and anecdote rather than impersonal, top-down histories of planning and construction; cities, like churches, are after all made with people, not hands.

Ryan embarked on the project while working for the Jesuit volunteer corps, and eventually received an arts grant. “I spent a year on the street,” she told WW, “just took my camera with me and learned what this community was about. After talking with people on the streets I threw all my notions to the wind.”

Sadly, though, the book had fallen out of print until being picked up again this year; the (re)publication party and lecture is Thursday at Sisters of the Road Cafe. The idea of the PDX Re-Print series, according to Dill Pickle Club’s Marc Moscato, is “not to stir up nostalgia, but rather to understand the community as it is today,” essentially to foster an attachment to place and history among Portland’s newest wave of transients, fresh from Brooklyn or Austin or California.

We asked Ryan to comment on a few of the photos from the book: what they were, who was in them, and how they came about. 

KR: “That was the big Apostolic Faith Church. It was huge. These people were very serious about the Jesus stuff. They had this giant sign on the top that said, ‘Jesus, the Light of the World.’ The church was put up in three days in 1922 with all volunteer labor, but they ended up moving way out in Southeast Portland. Anyway, shortly after the book got published some people saw the pictures and asked me where this location was, and then they made it into a venue—the Roseland Theater. I only saw one show there.”

KR: “The Jolly Tyme, the bar, was kind of what drew them [some members of the Native American community]. Interesting story about Dave, one of the guys who hung out there. He had on a shirt one time with an Indian on it, with feathers and all kinds of stuff, and he just gave it to me. I wore it for years. Everybody there had the same attitude: Everybody shared everything. It was kind of a typical bar, but not a lot of people came in who weren’t Indian.”

KR: “That was a policeman looking in. I believe this was an art gallery, the Hughes, but now it was just another burned-out building. This was another sad experience. People got to know me after a year on this project, so the police and the fire department said it was fine for me to wander about even in condemned buildings. I had carte blanche, because they could care less. Often, buildings weren’t touched at all even though they’d been neglected for a long time.”

KR: “Mary Leong lived in Northeast Portland. She was very much active in the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, which had Chinese language classes. They had meetings there for banding together, and for planning parades for Chinese holidays. They used to do parades, which I don’t think they do anymore; they were pretty exciting.”


MORE: Kathleen Ryan will be interviewed by Israel Bayer (Street Roots) about Burnside: A Community, along with commentary by Suenn Ho (MulvannyG2 architecture) and Julie McCurdy (Sisters of the Road, Empowered Voices Media) at Sisters of the Road Cafe, 133 NW 6th Ave., 222-5694. 7 pm Thursday, June 30. Free-$10 sliding-scale donation.

 
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