Fresh Meat: Peter Ellenby

Famous rock photographer moves to Portland, becomes upset with people who park on the public street in front of his house for longer than he'd like.

Editor's note: Welcome to Fresh Meat, in which Portland comic Amy Miller interviews newcomers about their hopes and dreams and the foodstuffs from their native lands that Portland fails to prepare properly.

Peter Ellenby: Photographer, Every Day is Saturday, The Rock Photography of Peter Ellenby.

Origin: London via San Francisco

A few weeks ago at my gym—Northwest WOMEN’S Fitness. Take that, dudes!—I was on an elliptical and for the third time that week, I caught my friend Peter Ellenby on the local news.

Peter, a successful rock photographer in San Francisco, moved to Portland around the same time I did, with his wife and kid, to pursue his artistic dreams with the help of affordable housing. I’d grown accustomed to seeing Peter at rock shows and music festivals in San Francisco, and his name in all the photo credits. He’s worked with everyone from Bob Mould to Pinback to James Brown. Now, when I see him, he’s on the news barking about parking.

I didn’t catch the entirety of this particular appearance because just then the lady also faux-skiing in front of me changed the station and accidentally ended up in the porn channels, turning to me to say “I’m not TRYING to watch this!” as I laughed and laughed and laughed.

Seeing Peter on the news made me feel like I was failing as a new Portland resident. Should I be up in arms about something? Am I contributing enough? Who books the news? Can I get a spot? Turns out he’d been working on the city to restrict long-term parking in his Northeast Portland neighborhood and so far nothing was happening.

Amy: Why do I keep seeing your mug on the news?

Peter: Because we live near a MAX station and cheapskates park in our neighborhood for weeks at a time, take the MAX to the airport and their cars remain here. It's not nice to have no parking near your house, especially around holidays when you'd like to invite people over.

Amy: And what's the proposed solution, a street fee or permit restrictions?

Peter: Nope. We'd like the city to just put up signs telling people it's illegal to park for more than 24 hours. We made our own signs, and it worked. But that's also illegal so they have to come down. We obey the law. Mostly.

[Editor’s note: If you don’t want to share a public street, even as you get all the advantages of living next to a MAX station that everyone pays for but which benefits you and your property values far more than they do mine, maybe Portland is not the right city for you. —Martin Cizmar]

Amy: It's illegal to put up signs telling people what to do? Is this in Oregon in general? Or just parking-related instructions?

Peter: Probably all over the good ol’ USA. I think it's about parking and traffic regulations. My signs about dog poop, not leaving diapers, vomit etc. all will stay.

Amy: Oh good. Then I will keep up all of those signs in my neighborhood demanding that someone please be my boyfriend and bring me wine bottles. Has it surprised you how fast you went from "new in town" to angry neighborhood guy on the news in just a year? It doesn’t help that you have this menacing look.

Peter: I'm not really angry, I'd just like the city to take care of its taxpayers. I keep asking other people in the neighborhood to do the TV stuff and somehow it's all on me. Well they want to but they are never around when they come by and for some reason I do a good interview...I guess. I just love my neighborhood and want it to be as best as it can be. Having idiots parked in your street for months at time while they go on vacation isn't the best. And my baldness isn't a fashion statement, it's a bummer.

Amy: You’re a professional photographer. Have you considered a fun or sexy photo blog of all their cars and license plates? Maybe you could have some bikini-type ladies pose on top.

Peter: We may resort to something like that, who knows. Or we could just leave bird seed all over the offending cars. There was a "French Letter" by the MAX stairs the other day so a lot is going on around here.

Amy: Please explain what a French letter is.

Peter: It’s a condom. The term originated with soldiers in World War II. The condom looked used but I wasn't too close to it. Because it was on the ground and I'm 6'3".

Amy: Another advantage of being tall I guess. You’re farther away from used condoms. Parking issues aside, how is the rock photography business here? How hard is it to find bands in Portland who want some attention?

Peter: I'm hatching some plans. Maybe I’ll put an ad in the local weekly papers. Just get off my ass. It's tough not knowing EVERYBODY, like I did in San Francisco, but it'll come around. It's been slow because there are a ton of talented shooters here already. I did get to fly to Vegas to photograph Mike Tyson recently though. And I'm getting some shoots lined up with some bands who are coming through town. I should become a chef photographer. I think I’ve met more chefs than musicians here.

Amy: Is Mike still trying to scam people into seeing his one man show that somehow Spike Lee never wants to mention he is involved in, even though his name is all over it?

Peter: It's working I guess because that's what the shoot was for. His visit to Denmark—he's huge there, I guess. He was on the cover of the Sunday magazine for the largest newspaper in Denmark. They might just like a rags to riches story about a guy who punches people in movies in time to Phil Collins songs.

Amy: And beats women.

Peter: He’s no saint. That’s for sure.

Amy: So you’re gonna stick it out. No plans to move back to San Francisco?

Peter: Nope. In Portland, we can afford a house with walls. We have a daughter and lived in a loft with curtains for walls in San Francisco. Good school near our house too. And we have always loved Portland. We came to Portland because we already loved it from afar and now we are in love with it inside it. It's a great town. Where else can you get tater tots in so many forms? San Francisco is a hard place to be an artist or a musician now. I knew a few and that all had rent controlled apartments. I'll bet that in a few years a lot of the friends I miss will be here.

And I will eventually slay the competition. The best rises to the top, right?

Amy: I sure hope so. What else do you miss?

Peter: A really fantastic burrito. Other than that it's great up here. A good music club near my house would be a bonus too. I lived about 5 blocks from the Bottom of the Hill in SF and miss just deciding to go to a show and being at one in a few minutes.

Amy: So if we get close to poverty because our respective artforms don’t work out for us, can we open a food truck called "Mission Burrito" together and make a million dollars? We can even wrap them in aluminum foil. Who thinks this tissue paper shit is a good idea? You can’t save half in your purse for later and the bean juice leaks all over your clothes.

Peter: Seriously. But I always have a hankie anyway. Dads have to deal with a lot of different liquid situations. Maybe I should carry foil as well as hankies so I can wrap my burritos. Oh, and please fix my Parking problem, Portland City Government.

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