“People need to know this side of Portland,” says White Box Gallery Manager Ashley Gibson about Portland Creative Community 1.0., an exhibit of Craig Hickman’s potent pictures from 1966 to 1978 that zoom in on the life and politics of local artists who helped make Portland the creative hub it is today.
“It was 40 years ago. It was an instant that was frozen. As you move away from it, a funny magic happens where you get this poignancy,” says Hickman. He estimates he took an average of one photo per hour back then, documenting a vital, yet often overlooked, part of Portland’s creative history.
“When people think about the history of artists and the creative community coming out of Portland, Ken Kesey and his band and his influence are really well known,” says Gibson. “Hickman’s photos bring to light people who are crucial to Portland’s art scene, but are not household names.”
The exhibit features pictures of Tom Taylor, who helped establish the Northwest Film Center, Bill Plympton, an Academy Award-nominated animator, Terry Toedtemeir, the late photography curator at the Portland Art Museum, Frank Foster, the first head of the computer graphics division at Sony Pictures, and Chris Rauschenberg, acclaimed photographer and co-founder of Blue Sky Gallery, just to name a few. Hickman helped found Blue Sky and invented a children’s drawing software called Kid Pix. He’s also a professor of digital art at the University of Oregon (UO).
They all started their artistic careers when Portland was far from being a hip city.
“Back then Portland was something you sort of apologized for, where today it really has a national, worldwide image. I don’t know if the image is accurate or not,” says Hickman.
In the ’60s and ’70s, Hickman took pictures for the Portland State University (PSU) yearbook and later became a staff photographer and photography teacher at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. His camera captured friends, lovers and strangers in unguarded moments.
“Craig’s always had a great eye. The photos are of a time, yet they transcend it. They’re opening a window. They’re amazing,” says photographer Harold Hutchinson, who was surprised to find himself in a picture taken 40 years ago at PSU.
“I had to pick my jaw off the floor,” he says.
Some of the most powerful pictures in the exhibit highlight the student-led protests against the Vietnam War. One of Hickman’s friends remembers when he and other young filmmakers at PSU’s Center for Moving Images made a 30-minute documentary about an anti-war protest in 1970 that shut down PSU for two days.
“That film went on to win a National Student Association Award, which the university wouldn’t allow us to accept because it was about shutting down the university,” says Jack Sanders.
Hickman’s large images of anti-war protesters and riot police in the Park Blocks unnerve a lot of younger people who come to the exhibit, says Gibson.
“It’s hard for the younger generation to comprehend that it’s happening in the Park Blocks. Even though we’ve seen the Occupy Portland movement. It feels so different in those photos,” she observes.
Hickman only recently decided to bring these photos to life after storing the negatives for four to five decades. He never even made contact sheets. To convert the negatives, he put them on a light table, took digital photos of the negatives with a macro-lens, inverted the negatives with Photoshop, and then made prints. He later used Photoshop to correct dust scratches and other problems caused by the old negatives. Using this process, he converted 20,000 black-and-white photos.
“Once I got started I couldn’t stop,” Hickman says.
He posted his images on Facebook to rave reviews, and that gave UO arts officials the idea to exhibit the photos in their Portland gallery. White Box decided to enlarge the images to pull the viewers into the photos, allowing them to viscerally experience important moments in Portland’s history.
Hickman’s prints are up for auction with proceeds going to White Box Gallery. The auction and Portland Creative Community 1.0 will run through November 23, 2013.