“20 Years of Northwest Performance Photography” in Seattle

Posted in NW Arts, Photography at 7:07 pm by Michelle

Last fall, AJ Epstein, old friend and proprietor of West of Lenin, a fabulous new theater space in Fremont (Seattle), approached me about doing an exhibition in their lobby space, finally finished into a lovely gallery. We tossed ideas around for a few months, and eventually settled on some of my theater photos, in keeping with the theme of the space, and my long history of working with performers, many who now put on shows at WofL.

The images are a selection from the theater world, including groups and events like UMO Ensemble, 14/48, Sandbox Radio Live, theater simple, and Teatro Zinzanni. Individual performers include Kevin Joyce, Kevin Kent, Mik Kuhlman, Annette Toutonghi, and Charles Leggett.

One wall of "20 Years of Northwest Performance Photography" at West of Lenin, Seattle, spring 2014

One wall of “20 Years of Northwest Performance Photography” at West of Lenin, Seattle, spring 2014 | Photos L-R: theater simple’s Wonderland, Kevin Kent – Teatro Zinzanni, 14/48, Kevin Joyce – A Pale and Lovely Place, UMO – Red Tiger Tales

I couldn’t forsake my circus and variety photos, or omit some of my favorite promo photos. There are single images featuring Ela Lamblin of Lelavision, Lauren Weedman, the Flaming Idiots, Alex Zerbe, Tom Noddy, Michael Carbonaro, Martha Enson in Gravity of Kindness, and more from the Moisture Festival and other shoots.

I put together a new presentation telling the stories of some of the photos in the exhibition, and adding many more that were never used, with behind-the-scenes images and history. It was great fun to be on the stage myself for a change!

I told the story of creating this image of the Flaming Idiots and how it ended up in Times Square

In my talk, I told the story of creating this image of the Flaming Idiots and how it ended up in Times Square

The show continues through the end of May, and possibly June, 2014. Contact West of Lenin for dates and access information.



2011 fall travels & musings

Posted in NW Arts, Photography, Travel at 3:55 pm by Michelle

I started this post many months ago (OK, January), and while the events may have happened quite a while ago, I like what I shared here, so, a bit late, here it is…

For quite a while I’ve been reporting on my travels, workshops, exhibitions and other photo fun on this blog. I’ve gotten a little behind, and might not try to cover every event in the future – we’ll see how it goes…
So what have I been up to? This past fall I did some international travel; a combination of visiting friends and family, photographing (especially on beautiful Inish Mor), and bringing my toy camera show on the road. I spoke to two classes in Dublin, Ireland, and had a great time showing them cameras, images, and offering inspiration. I asked the teacher I worked with there for some words about the experience:

Today, we were privileged in Griffith College to be Michelle’s first international audience for her one of renowned talks on plastic cameras. The passion Michelle has for the world of Holga and beyond is infectious. Numerous students (and ..ahem staff) could be heard uttering the words, “that’s on my Christmas list” after we were wowed with images that spanned all genres of photography taken on the simplest of devices. The images Michelle showed were mesmerizing and dreamlike and filled with creativity. Newcomers to the medium fell in love at first sight and for the rest of us ignition sparks could be seen as passions were relit. It takes a special kind of skill to not only know your subject well, but communicate it, engage an audience and inspire, Michelle has this in bucket loads. Thoroughly enjoyable!
Sinéad Murphy
Photography Course Director
Griffith College Dublin, Ireland

Of course, that felt great! When I got back, I did my yearly pilgrimage to PhotoPlus Expo in New York, which is always a great time to catch up with Focal Press, my publisher, and Freestyle Photographic, whose advisory board I’m on, as well as the New York photo scene and everyone who comes into town. I’ve been going since 1991, and always enjoy it.
Back in Washington, I gave a presentation at the Society for Photographic Education’s NW regional conference in Spokane. I spoke at this event, nearby in Pullman, in 2005, and it’s amazing to think about all that has happened since then. I know I’ve become a better speaker – I’ve had lots of practice!

And the following week in Seattle I had the honor and pleasure of speaking at TEDxRainier, a day-long event with 30 speakers on a huge range of topics, 700 people in the audience and many more watching online. I love speaking to photo audiences (I can really geek out on the technical stuff), but I also love general audiences; I can wow them with the a wide range of images and amaze them with the idea that something that low-tech can create something so beautiful. This was a great audience, and now I have the video, available for all to see as well. TEDx is a great thing (as is TED, its parent); I helped out in 2010, spoke in 2011, and I imagine will be involved again in 2012.

The rest of this winter has been focused on a massive organization of my images. I started shooting in 1991, and have amassed a huge number of rolls of film, contact sheets, prints, and digital files. With the help of my fabulous intern, Fiona Shearer (who I met at SPENW 2010), I’ve made some order from the madness, in the meantime putting my hands on almost every image I’ve ever made. It’s incredibly satisfying, and I hope will lead to streamlined workflow in the future, and more time and space for making new images. I’m building a darkroom; I’ve always had the gear, but the spaces come and go. I’m looking forward to some play time in my new space, without having to watch the clock. And I’m doing some plotting: hopefully some teaching in Australia, revamping my website, constantly organizing my office and many other things.

One more topic; I know I talk more about my Holga world here, but I spend a lot of time photographing live performance, especially physical theater, circus, vaudeville, etc. In 1996, my first promo shoot was for Kevin Joyce, who was creating a new solo piece called “A Pale and Lovely Place.” One images from that shoot has continued to be iconic for both of us. He remounted the show in December at West of Lenin in Seattle, and I made big prints of those images for the lobby, using the original negatives – so satisfying! I also did production shots, and got this note from the lighting designer/producer/theater owner:

These are so amazingly beautiful, I want to cry.

No. Seriously. No one has ever made my lighting look so wonderful!


-AJ Epstein

Kevin Joyce in “A Pale and Lovely Place” in 2010 and 1996

I continue to grow and learn in my field, both in my skills as a photographer, business person, marketer, teacher, and speaker, and it’s incredibly gratifying to work with people over many years, and meet new ones, and get great feedback on what I’m doing. It’s a pleasure meeting the many photographers, performers and others in my travels.

Happy new year to all, and I hope to see you on the road,



Seattle Talks, Show & Book Release Party

Posted in NW Arts, Photography at 3:14 pm by Michelle

I’ve had quite the run of speaking in Seattle this fall, and things are still happening. Since I love talking about my passions, I’m having a great time!

Back in September, I gave my shortest, and perhaps scariest, talk, at Ignite Seattle at the huge King Cat Theater. The scoop there is all the talks are exactly 5 minutes, with 20 slides that advance automatically every 15 seconds. I’ve given talks from 20min to 2 week-long workshops, so filling time isn’t a problem, but distilling the world of plastic cameras down to 5 min for a geeky audience was something different, and speaking to 700 people my largest crowd to date. In the end, it was lots of fun and the whole night of watching the other talks fun and educational. My talk should be available online soon.

Michelle Bates speaking at Ignite Seattle, Sep 2010 - iPhone snap by Noah Iliinsky

Michelle Bates speaking at Ignite Seattle, Sep 2010 - iPhone snap by Noah Iliinsky

In November, I had the great pleasure of doing a talk about my book at the venerable Elliott Bay Book Co, in its beautiful new home on Capitol Hill. For a month around the talk, I made a window display of the book, a variety of cameras and some of my photos. On November 13th, I filled up the speakers room with friends and fans of low-tech cameras and gave them a beginner’s tour of the world of plastic cameras. Dan McComb filmed it and an edited version will be available shortly for a taste of what my events are like (preview 8 min version here if you’re curious) .

Michelle setting up the window display at Elliott Bay

Michelle setting up the window display at Elliott Bay

Window Display at Elliott Bay Book Co in Seattle for Plastic Cameras: Toying with Creativity

Window Display at Elliott Bay Book Co in Seattle for Plastic Cameras: Toying with Creativity

After the talk and book signing, we moved over to Photographic Center Northwest for a celebration. This event coincided with the PCNW Faculty Exhibition – Picture Us. I had 8 photos from my trip to Thailand and Nepal up for that show, which was a nice opportunity for people to see the work printed and framed.

Faculty Exhibition at Photo Center NW - Michelle Bates photos

Faculty Exhibition opening at Photo Center NW - Michelle Bates photos

Faculty Exhibition at Photo Center NW - Michelle Bates photos

Faculty Exhibition at Photo Center NW - Michelle Bates photos

The following Friday PCNW hosted an evening of talks by faculty members, so I put together a totally different presentation showing the history of my fine-art and other photography, much of which is not done with Holgas. I showed work from other series (all up on my website portfolio section) – and some of my performance photography, which I think relates to the rest in my “quirky sensibility” – so called by a photo editor years ago. I also enjoyed seeing imagery and hearing about their work by Beb C. Reynol, John Blalock, Keeara Rhodes, and Erin Shafkind.

In January I’ll be Author of the Month at Ada’s Technical Books on the north end of Capitoll Hill (across from the Harvard Exit), picking a selection of books to be featured, and giving yet another talk on Sunday, January 23rd at 4:00pm. This one will be geared a bit more to the geeks, but is a great opportunity to enjoy the images even if you don’t like techy-talk. It’s a great new bookstore too – worth stopping in!



Solo Exhibition at University of Portland

Posted in NW Arts, Photography at 8:30 pm by Michelle

I’m thrilled to have a huge solo exhibition – 29 photos – up at the university of Portland, OR Buckley Center Gallery. This is the premier of Holga photos I made on my 2008 trip to Nepal and Thailand, both color and black and white. And it’s the largest collection of my Urban Oasis series shown to date.

Being a university building, the gallery is open long hours: M-F 8:30am – 8 pm, Sat 8:30-4, through September 23rd. There will be a closing reception on the 23rd from 5-7, but please stop by before then so you have time to enjoy the images (and who knows – there could be a freak snowstorm the night of the reception and then you’ll have missed your chance!).

Here are some photos from the opening:

Michelle Bates exhibition at Univesity of Portland

Part of the Asia series

Michelle Bates exhibition at Univesity of Portland

The Buckley Center Gallery has a variety of spaces for the photos

Michelle Bates exhibition at Univesity of Portland

Friends from Seattle made it to the opening

Michelle Bates exhibition at Univesity of Portland

Longtime Portland photographers Eugene Lee and his son, with Patsy

Michelle Bates exhibition at Univesity of Portland

Light from the windows plays with the photos


Benham Gallery – the last show

Posted in NW Arts, Photography at 2:04 pm by Michelle

I’ve known Marita Holdaway since I moved to Seattle in the early 1990’s. It’s almost impossible to be in the Seattle photography community and not cross paths; with her seemingly limitless energy and passion for photography, she’s been making things happen for over 20 years here. Needing a change of scenery, she’s decided to close Benham Gallery, and keep working in the field through Benham Fine Art – stay tuned!

I’m honored to be part of the last set of exhibitions at Benham, with my new series, Exquisite Decay. This series was taken in Israel in summer of 2008, in a field of decaying parade floats. To me, they’re a fascinating combination of my years of parade imagery and the series After the Fire, which I took at a friend’s house to capture the transformation caused by fire.

The show is up through December 12th (possibly a few days after – call to find out).
The reception was on December 3rd, and lots of fun!

Benham Gallery opening
A clump of friends at the reception

Benham Gallery openingBenham Gallery opening
Me and Marita Holdaway

Benham Gallery openingBenham Gallery opening
Friends and visitors checking out the show and the Moisture Festival book (which includes my photos)

Come by Benham on December 20th for the farewell party!
Thank you Marita!!


Moisture Festival Photo Show & Book!

Posted in NW Arts, Photography at 11:44 pm by Michelle

Its first year, 2004, the Moisture Festival was in a circus tent in a parking lot in the middle of Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood. I went to one show, and mostly remember dancing to the band afterward, the cold air blowing in under the tent flaps. What a long way the festival has come since then, and I’m so happy that I’ve gotten to be a part of it! Since 2005, Moisture Fest’s home has been Hale’s Palladium, a warehouse that’s part of Hale’s Brewery on the west edge of Fremont. It’s grown to 40 shows over 4 weeks, at several venues, including ACT Theatre, with partners such as SIFF Cinema (with more venues and partners coming up for 2010).

I’ve been there with my camera since 2005, as have John Cornicello & Mark Gardiner, as the official festival photographers. It takes over our lives during the weeks of the festival, getting to as many shows as we can, hanging out with all the performers, and reveling in the fun atmosphere it creates, and for weeks and months afterward, editing the photos. After all these years, but the time has come for the Moisture Festival Book!!

Working in fits and starts throughout this year, we’ve had a fun and crazy process of collecting the best images from all three of us; for the last few weeks we’ve spent days at a time camped out in front of several computers and screens laying out the photos, making sure we have everyone included, doing the layout, captions, and editing.

Ron W Bailey has been our inspiration, cheerleader, visionary and sponsorship genius, and his infectious laugh has kept us going even after our eyes started to cross from looking at way too many images. Since the idea first came up, we all have had good intentions toward this project, but it probably never would have actually happened if Corey Scheerer hadn’t stepped up to the plate to do the real work of putting it together. It’s been a fun (and OK, sometimes frustrating) collaborative process, and I am profoundly grateful to Corey for making it real! The book is in its last editing phases, and ready to be born next week, November 25th, with a celebratory exhibition and reception at Hale’s, from 7-9pm (the night before Thanksgiving). Please join us! The show will be up for a while afterwards too, so stop in to Hale’s and check it out.

The first printing of the book (100 copies) is $30, and will be available at the reception, the Moisture Festival New Year’s Eve party at Hale’s, at Fremont Place Books, and at the festival in 2010!

Here is the cover and a sneak preview sample spread from my section.

Cover of the Moisture Festival Book

Sample spread from MF book


Connection to the Past in Portland

Posted in NW Arts, Photography at 3:10 pm by Michelle

The last weekend of September, I once again drove down to Portland, Oregon, this time with a van full of photographs, hanging tools, and other show paraphernalia.

I went early, to check out Alberta Last Thursday, which is an art walk crossed with a street fair, in Portland style. They close down the whole street from 7 til 10 or 11, and it’s full of booths, performers, people hanging out, the whole scene. And it was one of the last beautiful warm nights of summer.

On Saturday, with the help of one of my Penland students, who recently moved to Portland, I hung my new exhibition at Camerawork Gallery. And later that afternoon, we had the opening. Camerawork is a fascinating little gallery. It’s the oldest photo gallery in the country, started around 1970 by Minor White, to show work by the students he was teaching in Portland. Part of this is on the gallery website, but also, a man named Eugene Lee stopped by while we were hanging the show, and then came back during the opening, and he was one of those students. Fascinating to hear his stories of those days, and of studying with a master.

Michelle Bates & Eugene LeeIan Dobson & Julia
Eugene Lee, who showed at Camerawork Gallery over 30 years ago. Ian Dobson & Julia

The show is a combination of old and new for me. A black and white series of classic images, near and dear to me, and new to most of the people who’ve been coming in. On the other wall is a brand new series, taken last summer, of a bizarre spot I was directed to in Israel last summer. In this otherwise barren field, the remains of a collection of parade floats slowly decay. Colorful, full of artist beauty, yet crumbling and sad… It’s a strange place, but I’m in love with the photos, and can’t wait to go back another time.

Michelle Bates' exhibition
Michelle Bates' exhibition

The opening was very fun, with friends, photography folks, and Camerawork regulars coming in. I wish I could spend more time hanging out in the gallery while the show is up!

Camerawork Gallery opening

Hurray for Portland!


Circus Heaven in Oregon

Posted in NW Arts at 9:37 pm by Michelle

This past weekend I had a full complement of circusy fun on the road in Oregon. Two days included a New Old Time Chautauqua performance, a killer benefit for Portland’s Circus Project and the classy Cirque de la Symphonie. Awesome!

Starting off, I trekked down to McMinnville, Oregon to meet up with the New Old time Chautauqua. It was a lovely little reunion of some of the tour folks from this summer with other old-time Chautauquans. We roved through a little town park, did our parade (yes, I played my clarinet) and two half-hour shows in the September heat.

The Circus Project, started by my dear friend Jenn Cohen, wowed everybody who was lucky enough to attend the Animare benefit night on Saturday at Disjecta in Portland. The night was long and the weather hot, but I’ve never been to an event so well designed, that kept everyone happy, entertained, engaged, and reached their fundraising goals.

We started off outside with a performance by the Sprockettes, the audience happily lounging on comfy couches.
Inside was a silent auction as well as gallery shows, one up in Disjecta’s gallery, and my showing of photographs of aerial performers from the Moisture Festival, as well as Solstice Parade photos made with my Holga camera.

The night of performances featured several sections, each with one of Portland’s best circus acts (Kazum, Bellini Twins, Nanda & March Forth Marching Band), and one of the Circus Project’s graduates premiering their pieces. Each of the Circus Project acts blew the audience away, not just because we knew they’ve only been working on these acts for 8 months (or, in one case, two), but because all three acts were superb and the performers confident and beautiful. Jenn was the proud leader of the group, but the magic was in seeing the students shine, and hearing their stories in the video (produced by one of them) that left not a dry eye in the house.

Nicolette Render, Jessica Dennis
Jessica Dennis

This project, which teaches circus arts to homeless and at-risk youth, brings together several elements that create magic: use of the arts to give people focus for their energies, the caring of a dedicated mentor, the opportunity to perform for their communities (and eventually, for money), and accountability to earn their place in the group. Circus Project is a non-profit organization which is looking for a new home to host aerial and circus arts classes in Portland, and can always use financial and other assistance. See www.circusproject.org for more information.

Petra de la Rocha

Aaron & Nicolette
Aaron Guerrero & Nicolette Render

The group!
Jenn Cohen & the Circus Project graduates

As the crowning glory of the weekend, the Circus Project and a few of us who volunteered were treated to free tickets to Cirque de la Symphonie. I love the melding of worlds, and seeing the aerialists twirling away high over the symphony orchestra and the clown messing with the conductor just made me smile.

Another fabulous Portland weekend down.


Aqua Chautauqua!

Posted in NW Arts, Photography at 6:11 pm by Michelle

Outside of my life with toy cameras, I spend lots of time photographing performers (yes, with a digital camera!). Mostly these are folks in the worlds of vaudeville, variete and circus, and you can be sure they are always fun and fascinating to work with! This summer I once again joined up with the New Old Time Chautauqua on their summer tour, this time in the island of Washington and British Columbia.
The tour, dubbed Aqua Chautauqua II (last year being I), and also Eau Canada, involved 4 islands and traveling by a combination of boat and land. A logistical challenge, to be sure, but we got to experience Lasqueti Island, which is totally off the grid, in addition to Gabriola, Salt Spring and Orcas Islands, and finished up at the Future Festival in Port Gamble, WA.

In the past, I’ve been exclusively the tour photographer. This year I also added a new role as clarinetista in the band – The Fighting Instruments of Karma Marching Chamber Band/Orchestra – a longtime dream come true!
The group goes to a variety of communities, usually underserved, and does public parades, free workshops, community shows at senior centers and other places, and finishes off with a full-blown show (often free). We partner with community non-profits, have pot-lucks with the locals, and spend time getting to know each other and playing at our various skills. It’s a fantastic group!

A selection of my photos from the tour are up here: Aqua Chautauqua photos.



Ahh, Moisture (Festival, that is…)

Posted in NW Arts, Photography at 6:04 pm by Michelle

When I’m not running around in my little white van snapping away with my Holgas, I’m often in the company of delightfully wacky performers in a variety of contexts. I’ve been photographing the Fremont Summer Solstice Parade since 1994, attending the Oregon Country Fair almost as long, and in recent years have become photographer for both the New Old Time Chautauqua and the Moisture Festival. OK, you probably don’t know what these are, or aren’t sure that you want to. But really, this is fun stuff – a resurgence of a type performance that used to be Americans’ main source of entertainment – traveling variety & vaudeville shows.

New Old Time Chautauqua has been around for over 30 years, taking performers on the road around the Northwest (sometimes Alaska, and the Gulf Coast in 2006) doing *free* parades, workshops and shows in little towns that don’t usually get much in the way of arts. It was born out of the community of the Oregon Country Fair, with the Flying Karamazov Brothers leading the way – they still come along on most of the tours. See my photos of the Big Sky Tour and the Gulf Coast Jambalaya Tour.

The Moisture Festival has taken these performers, and now others from all over the world, to become the longest festival in Seattle, and the biggest vaudeville festival in the world. In its 6th year, it has reached the point where all the shows sell out, and performers from everywhere beg to come to be part of the family, to commune with other performers, and perform to loving and enthusiastic audiences. This year there were almost 40 shows, mostly at Hale’s Palladium in Fremont/Ballard, with one weekend, which included burlesque shows, at ACT Theater. For the first time this year, SIFF Cinema hosted a series of related films during the festival, with live performances introducing each film. See some of my photos from 2007 and 2008. My 2009 photos here, and a collection by all three MF photographers here!
Moisture Festival logo

I love working with these people, making images that both help the performers further their careers and delight in their own right. I’ll be showing prints of some of these images for the first time this spring and summer in the Northwest – stay tuned! See a selection of photos on my website.

love & art,

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