Photographer Teresa Christiansen fled a stressful life in New York City three years ago and moved to Portland. Here, she took interest in Portland’s more relaxed way of life, particularly its porches — she had never before lived in a house.
For the past two years, Christiansen has photographed more than 400 porches around the city, painting a picture of its residents without actually meeting them. Her work will be displayed at an exhibition at Pacific Northwest College of Art September 4 to October 14, and in a forthcoming book Portland Porches. You can find more photos on her blog.
Arts & Life talked with Christiansen about her work.
Arts & Life: So, why porches?
Teresa Christiansen: In New York, everyone leads very internalized lives where their belongings and their personal attributes are sort of hidden. You never get to see inside their apartments. So when I moved to Portland it was really interesting to see these really big expressions of residents who lived here in their gardens, their front yards and then specifically, their porches.
A&L: What was the first picture you took?
TC: A set of steps that is rainbow colored. It leads up to the porch, where there are two giant branches that are propped up to form an entryway. It was my first spring in Portland, and I was drawn to all the colors coming out of the ground and also all the colors the houses are painted here. It’s just a very vibrant city compared to New York, and I think that’s because the weather is just so gray here, people feel they need to be colorful.
A&L: Do you ever think about who lives inside the homes?
TC: Yes, a lot, and that’s why I think it being a mystery is better than meeting the people. I like trying to imagine how they are using the porches as clues as to who they might be.
A&L: What part of town has the best porches?
TC: I would say the Mississippi area and near Alberta, as well. I like the individual characteristics of them, things that are very unusual. When I go somewhere in a fancier neighborhood, like Northwest or the West Hills, the porches are usually clean and don’t have a lot of interesting elements on them.
A&L: What makes a porch interesting to you?
TC: Things that are unexpected. For instance there’s an image with a giant fish head in front of the porch that is just so fantastical and strange to me. There’s another image with a whole coat of arms. There’s one with a carousel horse that’s hanging off of the porch. There are some rocking horses on another porch — those little details.
Do you ever feel awkward photographing people’s homes?
TC: There are times I feel like I shouldn’t be taking a photo or I’m not allowed to. I wonder if I am trespassing into someone’s private territory. That’s one of the things that drew me to the porches: The idea of a porch is it’s a kind of a blurred boundary between a public space and a private space.
A&L: What’s on your porch?
TC: There’s not much on it. I have some wind chimes, and I have a little two-seater glider to sit on, and a potted plant. I don’t really have that many characteristics that I’ve been talking about that reveal who I am, and maybe that’s intentional because I come from New York City where people are private about who they are.
Editor’s Note - June 2, 2014: A previous version of the photo slideshow in this article stated John Mock was a musician and that his former home was rebuilt in 1891. In fact, John Mock is often referred to as a Portland pioneer.