Kirk Crippens is used to documenting the ravages of the recession and the effects of of economic meltdown on the citizens of the US, the disenfranchised, the forgotten majority who now live on the margins of society. However in ‘Portlandia’ he visited the capital of Hipsterdom and took a wonderful series of portraits that encapsulated the freedom and expression of the people living in the Pacific Northwest, a cold, wet city that has become the byword for everything cool, organic, alternative and experimental. A place that has been immortalised in the acclaimed TV series ‘Portlandia’.
It all began with a month long residency at Portland’s Newspace Center for Photography. Compelled to find the real Portland Crippens embarked on a mission to find citizens as opposed to the stereotypes that have entrenched themselves in our imagination and have contributed to the mythology of this city.
However, rather than finding people who exploded the fiction he found himself in a community that reflected it; clowns, strippers, body modification enthusiasts, sex bloggers, nuns and entrepreneurs, a disparate group that expressed the diversity of the city, a group that represented the freedom this city offered those that lived there. Here’s what he said in an interview with the Huffington Post:
In my opinion the culture of Portland pushes way beyond hipster. It’s a special city and it’s a special time in that city. The Portlanders I met were, for the most part, extremely happy to be living in Portland. You don’t find that everywhere, Hipster or otherwise, Portland is a town that is difficult to define. The freedom Portlanders have to be themselves creates an expansive atmosphere that’s hard to categorize as simply ‘hipster.’
The series was also a technical departure for Crippens. He borrowed a large 4×5 camera that required him to stand underneath a black cloth behind the viewfinder to make sure he got the exposure right. The time taken – often over two hours – to set up the shot gave him space to build a rapport with his subjects, made them comfortable in front of the camera. The process led to him forming new relationships, each portrait reflecting a mutual respect and love for the place and its people.
In some ways it’s ironic that an artist who is known for his searing pictures of an America in crisis has given us a wonderful series of portraits that only serve to reinfoirce the image we have of Portland. But as he says himself:
I like the TV show. I was influenced by it subtly. In the same way Portlandia loves the characters and the good life [in Portland], my pictures share a joy that I saw in the city, both projects are drawn to funky culture.
[The portraits] reflect as much of the city as I could photograph and I can show [and] everyone enjoyed that they’re part of this work that reflects back to the city they love