Oregon photographer Cherie Hiser has died at 79. Described by friends as an evangelist for the form, she created images collected by the Portland Art Museum and other institutions, and helped thousands of photographers hone their craft.
Born Sheryl Jenkins, Hiser attended Wilson High School in Portland, and went on to study photography at museum workshops taught by one of the masters of black-and-white photography, Minor White.
Cherie Hiser, Annie and Sandy, 1972, gelatin silver print. Portland Art Museum Collection, Museum Purchase: Caroline Ladd Pratt Fund, copyright of the artist. /Courtesy of Portland Art Museum
She moved to Colorado in the 1960s, where she worked as a newspaper photographer, and met her second husband, David Hiser, who went on to become a National Geographic photographer. In 1969, they founded the influential Center of the Eye, one of the pillars of the community’s contemporary art community. Ansel Adams served on the board, and Hiser’s social circle included people like Hunter S. Thompson and Lee Friedlander. Her generosity and enthusiasm for work were infectious. And her photography developed its own following.
Portland photographer Julie Keefe worked as Hiser’s assistant.
“Cherie was queen of selfies back when you took self-portraits and couldn’t see them right away,” Keefe said.
Hiser’s black-and-white portraits and self-portraits, Keefe said, conveyed volumes of emotional detail, elevating the experiences of her many subjects.
William Galen, Cherie Jenkins Hiser, 1965, gelatin silver print, Gift of the Artist, © William P. Galen, 2007./Courtesy of Portland Art Museum
Hiser lived in Sun Valley, Idaho, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, but returned to Oregon in 1978, working and leading workshops in Portland. She developed a second career as a therapist in hospital psychiatric settings and clinics, and founded the nonprofit workspace now known as Photo Lucida, where artists create and develop their own work.
Her evangelism, Julie Keefe said, fired the ideas of nearly everyone who met Hiser, from formal photography students to bankers to tattoo artists.
“She helped so many people,” Keefe said. “I saw people who’d never picked up a camera understand what value that camera had in their lives by the way she encouraged them that their images had power, that their emotions were valid.”
Friends are planning a celebration of Hiser’s life on what would have been her 80th birthday, May 9, 2019.