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.

Penland, Week 2

Posted in Photography at 4:52 pm by Michelle

My second week at Penland was indeed lots different from the first week.

I had the chance to really get to know the students, their work, and personally, from spending huge amounts of time in different situations together. We took a road trip to Asheville on Tuesday, and the students really put everything they’d learned to work, creating lots of images that they spent the last few days printing. They worked super-hard, and I kept throwing more information at them, mentioning matting and framing in the home stretch, which all of them tried to do for works in the auction and show ‘n’ tell.

I think the magic of Penland is in that second week. I can’t speak for all of the classes – the pace is completely different for clay, for example, which stops work and spends the last several day firing. But in the photo lab, everyone was off and running with everything they’d learned, turning out awesome prints, and getting into some advanced dodging and burning techniques, when a few days before they didn’t know what fixer is. Just amazing! Even getting frustrated that they couldn’t get this or that print (from horrible Holga negatives) perfect, I had to remind them that these things take time to master, and that they all were doing incredibly well.

studio shootingshooting the pig
Stretching the Holga’s range in the studio, and photographing art swiped from the clay studio

One student declared that he was going to make a 10 print portfolio, which seemed kind of crazy to me, but he took images he’d shot on Tuesday, stayed up pretty much all Tuesday and Wednesday nights, then learned matting, and hung a beautiful display of 10 matted prints on Friday – just amazing! That’s really the way to take advantage of a place like this.

gallery display
Saul’s display at the Show ‘n’ Tell – see other students’ displays here

I also got much more of a chance to visit the other studios, get to know the instructors a little, and even arrange visits to a couple of them after the end of the session. Being part of the crew of instructors was very interesting, since we were all teaching different subjects. Hence there was a respect and an interest in what the others were doing, without the need for any comparison or competition. We all in fact wished we had the chance to sit in on the other courses and learn some new techniques!

Teaching at Penland was a unique experience; for what I have to teach, it was a very fun and effective set-up. The studio facility had everything we needed (and it’s got a whole new set of enlargers waiting to be installed), and two weeks was a gloriously long amount of time. My first darkroom class (back in 1991 at Maine Photo Workshops) was also two weeks long, and you really need that long to absorb the information and learn it by practice, which of course, is the only way. If I had had more advanced students, we could have also explored camera modifications and gotten into advanced darkroom techniques. Maybe next time at Penland!

Toying with Creativity class
The Toying with Creativity class photo

Class photo
The class, taken with the Holga Pinhole Wide camera

More photos of the Penland workshop

I hope to make it back to Penland again, and I can’t wait to see what the participants do with their Holgas!