Portland

Lloyd Center before the fall

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There is an entire genre of photography devoted to the collapse of the United States’ consumerist structures, notably the shopping mall.

Malls in decay represent a specific type of schadenfreude in a country where consumer activity drives about 70 percent of our economy. The collapse of the venerable shopping mall, a landmark from the 1950s through the 1980s, in mostly suburban American, reveals deeper troubles in our economy and the promises we were told and believed.

The Lloyd Center, a major landmark in the Lloyd District in Portland, has been slowly dying for years. There were efforts to revive it as late as 2021, and it’s all but certain as of late July 2022 the final nail in the coffin appears to have been pounded in.

I made what might be my last visit to the Lloyd center in late July 2022, when I was working at the state office building nearby, on the hottest day of the year. The center was meant to be open as a cooling center. The ice rink was still being used, even as the thermometer outside was pushing 95F. Nearly all the stores were shuttered, and major retailers had closed their doors.

I for one will miss it because it provided an urban retail space to serve many residents who didn’t have cars and who didn’t want to drive to the suburbs. I imagine there are other photographers like me getting their final photographs before the death of yet another American shopping mall is formally announced.

Wild thing

Spring in Portland is now winding down its cycle of magnificent blossoms from the many ornamental flowers that adorn lawns and parks. Because of a cooler and wetter than expected spring, like we used to have before the onslaught of climate change conditions, flowers bloomed a little later than we have seen the past five to seven years. Tulips and daffodils have come and gone.

The last great entrant I am seeing now, on their final leg, is the Japanese Iris (Iris ensata). The iris genus, which has many varieties that are planted by gardeners, is among the wildest and sexiest of all flowers planted by gardeners on the west side of the Cascade Mountains, in Oregon and Washington. It prefers wet soil and shade. Most of all, it is delicate and crazy at the same time, with its sultry mix of delicate petals and bold colors. For me, it is a rare gift from nature, which marks the culmination of moisture, sun, pollinators, and of course the flowers themselves. And, dear readers, because I am not a gardener, please correct me if I identified this one incorrectly.

So, with that, here are a few words describing my reaction to seeing these beauties last night. It was the Jimi Hendrix version I heard in my head too:

Wild thing
You make my heart sing
You make everything groovy
Wild thing ….

New Portland murals and the legacy of cultural appropriation

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In late winter 2021, trail users on Portland’s Springwater Corridor were suddenly greeted with Northwest, Coastal Salish, and Alaskan Native imagery on utility towers and graffiti-covered surfaces of the Ross Island Bridge.

The artist, Stephen Cutler, appears to be a Portland-based creator who has been using Native imagery for years in his work. I do not know if he has Native ancestry or if he has worked with Native artists. I also do not know if groups whose iconography he uses have weighed in on these creations.

Appropriation of Coastal Salish, Tlingit, Haida, and other tribal cultural traditions has been going on for decades, sparking controversy about the rights of non-Native persons to use traditions that are not theirs. These important discussions about cultural appropriation have not ended—and the voices of those whose traditions are being used by others needs to be centered in all discussions and displays of such work.

At the same time, I also know that art is never meant to remain static. It never has been as long as humans have created art since they first painted wild animals in caves many millennia ago. Creation involves taking ideas and inspiration from others and reinventing those creations to make something new. In addition, anyone from the public who encounters art, I believe, can both like something that is beautiful and question the larger story around it.

As for these new murals, I like them, aesthetically. They are vital. They adhere to beautiful traditions I have seen first-hand in Southeast Alaska and British Columbia, including in living studios of Native and First Nations artists in those places. These pieces also bring life to an area that is shared by the public. It is a space used all residents for biking, hiking, walking, and other sports, and it is a de facto home to Portland’s large houseless population, who live in the elements a stone’s throw from where you see these pieces. So far, no graffiti artists who tag the concrete and steel spaces in this area have covered these pieces. It appears there is respect by that community too.

If you find yourself in Portland, take a stroll. They pieces can be found just underneath the Ross Island Bridge, on the east bank of the Willamette River.

Flowers work magic on long, long days

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I have not had a proper vacation in more than two years now. I have had some weekends off, and I did have five days off in February 2020 to attend to my mom’s passing.

But these pauses from my jobs do not amount to a week’s break from work. That means I am, at times, tired and at times less elastic than I ideally strive to be.

For the last five plus months, I have been working in Oregon’s COVID-19 response. My job requires long days and, I have to admit, not enough compliments to sustain one’s energy as a day drags beyond 12 hours, with no lunch breaks. The situation is fluid, because this is a pandemic. The nature of my job means that many people I engage may not be satisfied that their needs are not met to their liking. So there is frequently unhappiness that is directed at the person who provides them what they cannot get.

Some days my abilities to navigate this are tested. When that happens, I have been fortunate with longer daylight hours and the arrival of spring to stop and literally smell the flowers at the end of my workdays.

Portland’s flowers have brought me much joy the past few months. A flower does not criticize you or bear you ill will. A flower also does not harm human health.

Flowers simply bring joy and provide pollen to our insect pollinator friends. Thank you for making my life more joyful this spring!

Snowstorm in black and white

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It has been two weeks since a winter ice and snow storm hit Oregon and Washington. In Oregon, at times up to 350,000 people were without power, due to downed power lines when the freezing ice brought down countless trees and broken limbs. Some people were without power for nearly two weeks. I was lucky. My neighborhood had power out for just two days. I did not lose any food, and my life was not heavily disrupted.

The storm was a great reminder of the power of nature and the fragility of our electricity-dependent world.

I went for runs the first couple of days of the storm and took these shots when we still had a nice base. I love running in the snow. It is quiet and clean. Everything just feels more calm. I began to miss the snow of my old home in Anchorage for six winters. Well, almost!

Eleven Months in and 2 Million Lives Lost

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This week, the world reached a grim milestone since the first cases of COVID-19 were reported in Wuhan China in early 2020. The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Research Center reported the global death count from the pandemic had topped 2 million, and was growing daily.

Some days I feel like I have awoken in an alternate reality, seeing mothers walking by, wearing face masks and pushing baby strollers, like I did this morning. It was jarring. I never thought I would experience this, though I always deeply sensed something like this might happen.

I felt that uneasy feeling of disconnect just after the start of the new year in Portland’s Lloyd Center district. I had come there to visit a dentist around noon.

Ordinarily, the business and retail area on the city’s east side would be filled with people, particularly on their lunch hour. Instead it was eerily silent and devoid almost entirely of the site and sound of humans.

I stopped to spin around in a circle, and realized I was alone. We had already retreated, globally, to the safety of closed spaces, eschewing contact, to avoid catching the highly contagious novel coronavirus.

I took a few shots of empty urban spaces of my cellphone, to capture that moment. Looking at the photos now, they look and feel disquieting, just like the scene outside my window of the mother and children, masked out of fear and caution.

Swimming Is Silenced

 

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I live about a half mile from the Sellwood Outdoor Pool. It’s a public swimming pool located in Portland, Oregon’s Sellwood Park that is loved almost to death by its patrons.

During a normal summer, it would be filled to capacity with screaming kids and their parents, many who are lower income, as public pools remain one of the most affordable ways to entertain kids and keep them healthy in Portland and most U.S. cities.

On a typical summer night, I used to pass by the pool and hear the kids’ yells, screams, shouts, and general pool noises kids make when they were being themselves in water. But not this summer.

The City of Portland, like nearly all major cities in the country, shuttered its public pools in the spring to prevent congregant spreading of COVID-19. This decision makes public health and human health sense. From the perspective of physical, social, and mental health, it represents a cruel outcome of the mismanaged national response that leads all the way to the situation room with President Donald Trump as the one who helped make our country’s pandemic the most lethal and worst managed in the world.

We are heading into Labor Day Weekend now. In normal times, the pool would still be open in the evenings and all weekend, particularly with temperatures predicted to be hotter than 90 Fahrenheit through Labor Day. The kids will have to find something else to do this year, and they will lose the chance to be kids and learn how to swim.

Closed pools and closed schools are taking on an air of dystopian reality, which we have seen created in unnerving films like Alfonso Cuarón’s 2006 thriller Children of Men, where a strange disease had rendered humanity sterile, leading to all schools being shuttered because they no longer served any purpose. Oddly that film’s tension, pitting radical leftists fighting a right wing autocracy, seem to have predicted the spectacle in Portland. The people in the film even resemble the protesters here and the police forces that have engaged them in Portland for more than three months.

I am not fully confident we will be out of this pandemic by next summer. Even with the optimistic timelines given by the United States’ more credible infectious disease experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci, returning to normal is no guarantee by next summer. Right now I do not believe the pool will open next summer.

For me, the posted sign by Portland Parks and Recreation is another naïve promise that we will get back to normal, when everything going on now is entirely abnormal. The professed optimism almost seems insulting with the silence.

Summer Daisies

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Sometimes timing is everything. As a beautiful July 4 evening was winding down, i wandered around the campus of Reed College (on of my alma maters), and found this beautiful floral scene. Even with my mediocre camera phone, the blooming daisies captured the joy and beauty of nature at its eye-popping best.

Mid-April snapshot of COVID-19 shopper behavior in Portland, Oregon

We are now nearly two months into my photodocumentary project on the impacts of COVID-19 on ordinary people. I am doing this by taking snapshots on a weekly basis at one location, my Fred Meyer outlet located on SW Barbur Boulevard in southwest Portland.

Each week I visit aisles where high-value commodities that have taken on almost supernatural powers or larger-than-life powers are kept. The prevalence of those supplies give me what I’m calling my COVID-19 Portland shopper sentiment index.

The goods I have focussed on include: dry beans and rice, canned goods (specifically beans), pasta, cleaning goods (such as sanitary wipes and bleach), and toilet paper and paper towels.

I took these shots at the Fred Meyer, where I also saw that customer adoption of voluntary cloth mask wearing still held at about 35 percent of shoppers, the same as the week earlier.

Here’ is my breakdown for April 17, 2020:

  • Toilet Paper: high anxiety (worsen)
  • Dry Beans/Rice: medium anxiety (same, bulk containers were mostly empty, shelves 1/3rd full)
  • Cleaning Goods: high anxiety for sanitizers, medium for other supplies (same)
  • Canned Beans: low anxiety (same)

Portland’s COVID-19 uncertainty appears to have calmed, sightly

I did my normal check of public sentiment this week by checking out what products were available at stores in my area in Portland, Oregon. I also wanted to check if the stores had implemented systems changes to encourage social distancing of six feet to protect essential workers (the employees who help ensure we are fed with food on the shelves) and the public.

To my surprise, I found that three businesses had indeed put measures into place: Grand Central Bakery (in Multnomah Village in Portland), New Seasons grocery store (in Sellwood in Portland), and Fred Meyer (in Southwest Portland). I visited Grand Central and Fred Meyer a day after the CDC issued new guidelines on April 3, after much delay, recommending people wear a cloth mask in public settings like stores, to prevent aerosol dispersion of the novel coronavirus and reduce the spread of COVID-19, particularly from asymptomatic persons. (See this study how infectious patient bioaeresols are dispersed and their risks.)

Cloth mask use was not widespread at stores I saw today (April 4). At Fred Meyer, I found toilet paper, rice, and beans on the shelves. Hand sanitizer is still no where to be found. Hoarding behavior appears to have subsided a bit, given the trends I’ve been documenting with my cell phone while shopping the last five weeks.

My weekly pulse of public mood focuses on shopping behavior of goods like toilet paper, cleaning supplies, rice, and dry beans. I was able to buy split peas and rice at Fred Meyer and lentils and split peas at New Seasons midweek.