Alabama & Gracen © 2011-12 Bobby Abrahamson

North Portland Polaroids, Bobby Abrahamson

St. John’s is one of the more interesting neighbourhoods in Portland. Geographically isolated from the rest of the city, many people in St. John’s – for the longest time – considered themselves distinct from the rest of the city. That sentiment still remains, but throughout the nineties and early noughties there was an influx of youngsters looking to make home and St. Johns in the historically more blue-collar North Portland afforded the cheapest homes. This isn’t to say that gentrification has taken place – by the standards of other cities,  the curious and lovable outpost of St. Johns cradles as much of it’s original modesty and allure to outsiders (me and others like me) than ever before.

Photographer, Bobby Abrahamson, bought a house in St. Johns just over a year ago, but his making of portraits using 5×7 Polaroid film preceded his move into the neighbourhood. North Portland Polaroids is a gentle homage to the photographer’s immediate surroundings and supports the theory that one needn’t travel the earth to make interesting photography.

As well as being acquainted with Bobby and really liking the work, another winning factor is the Portland-based collaborative championing of North Portland Polaroids. It is currently being shown at two stalwarts of the PDX photo-scene – Blue Sky Gallery (downtown) and Ampersand (Alberta Arts District, NE).

Abrahamson was in discussions with Myles Haselhorst at Ampersand about producing a book before a show at Blue Sky was confirmed. When Blue Sky said ‘Yes’, instead of the two venues competing against one another they coordinated their ventures. Ampersand is a bookstore with gallery space and finely curated photobooks and ephemera, whereas Blue Sky is a more traditional gallery space with programming and workshops. In terms of international exposure, Blue Sky is the place in this city, but in terms of making books with local binderies and a keen curatorial eye, Ampersand fits the bill.

Just as Weegee “took over” New York last Fall, now is Abrahamson’s moment in Portland. North Portland Polaroids is of and for this town.

I’d like to hear readers’ suggestions of other keenly local projects that have been embraced by the locals, the subjects. [Comment below, please]

I should take this opportunity to say that living in Portland has worked out very well for me; the photography community here is active but relaxed; intelligent and open. Ampersand, The Grid Project, Lightleak, NewSpace, Blue Sky and Critical Mass/Photolucida are all PDX businesses, non-profits and ragtag bunches of friends with capital in the culture of photography. I digress but perhaps those observations speak to my own fondness for photography in Portland … and as to why I write this post.


Bobby Abrahamson, Julia Dolan (Minor White Curator of Photography curator at the Portland Art Museum) and Myles Haselhorst (Owner, Ampersand) on KBOO Portland Community Radio. Here.


Bobby’s website and blog.


Buy the book at the Ampersand website.

5 x 7 in.
Perfect bound soft cover
100 pages
46 photographs
Printed on Mohawk Superfine paper

Foreword by Julia Dolan, The Minor White Curator of Photography, Portland Art Museum

Designed & published by Ampersand
Printed & bound in Portland, Oregon

Edition of 150