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I learnt about Bill Washburn‘s series Taxi years ago (on a recommendation from Blake Andrews). The pictures stuck with me, especially during a recent two-year stint living in San Francisco. Now I’m back in Portland and Bill Washburn is my neighbour and I’m so happy to have been able to write about Taxi for Timeline: These vivid 1980s photos show gritty San Francisco cab life in the days before Uber.

“As a taxi driver, I had a very privileged viewpoint,” says Washburn who drove a cab between 1982 and 1986 to supplement his income during art school. “It was an opportunity to get to know San Francisco intensely. It was a dynamic city, I worked it all, not just downtown.”

Washburn’s unorthodox portraits are strange nostalgic triggers for a city we may not have known then but know now, through daily headlines, of a city drastically changed by decades of housing market spikes, mass displacement and gentrification. There’s loss as well as discovery in these photos.

I asked Kelly Dessaint, cab-driver, San Francisco Examiner columnist and author of I Drive SF, what he thought of Washburn’s images.

“It’s always a mystery who’s going to climb in the back of your taxi,” says Dessaint. “The uncertainty of where a ride will take you can be exhilarating and terrifying. Sometimes simultaneously. These photos really capture the randomness of taxi driving, as well as the awkward intimacy that comes from sharing an enclosed space with a stranger for a prolonged period of time.”

Dessaint, who drove for both Uber and Lyft before signing up with City Cabs, laments the loss of spontaneity and unpredictability brought on by ridesharing

“With app-based transportation,” he explains, “the pick up and drop off points, along with the route, are recorded. You know the passenger’s name before they get in the car. They know yours. It’s not a random encounter like when someone flags you on the street. And with the rating system, the passenger is always in control. Drivers know that if they step out of line, they can easily get deactivated. Which limits spontaneity and creates a passive experience for the driver. As a taxi driver, you’re always in control.”

The power of these photos may lie in the fact that they show conversation not merely transaction; that they depict a time before profiles, stars and likes. For Washburn, now in his seventies, the differences and decisions are obvious.

“I’ll never take an Uber or a Lyft. I’d feel like a traitor,” says Washburn.

See more and read more here.

 

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bryan wolf-M9-eclipse watchers copy
Bryan Wolf, “Eclipse watchers” (Grid M9).

On Saturday, my article The Grid Project: A Photo-Survey of Portland was published in The Oregonian. It was my first ever piece for The Oregonian, a paper which was founded in 1850 and predates official Oregon statehood which came about in 1859.

I wrote: “In 1995, Christopher Rauschenberg assembled a team of a dozen photography enthusiasts. Together, they sliced up a AAA map of Portland into square mile segments and resolved to hit the streets of each corresponding square and photograph, once a month, until no more squares remained. By 2004, they had documented all 89 squares within the city limits. At that time, the only thing to do was to start over. In September of this year, the Grid Project will complete its second full photo-survey of the Rose City.”

I wrote the article because The Grid Project is raising Kickstarter cash to replace its old, limited-function website with a new-spangly site with full on search, more images and happy-wide-eyed-users. With four days to go, just over $600 more is needed, so it looks like it’s going to make it.

When I arrived in Portland 18 months ago, folks at the Grid Project were some of the first I wanted to meet. Even though I don’t shoot photographs they let me join them for a meeting and look over images. Many of the Gridders are now friends.

The Grid Project is amazing. Here’s why:

1. It’s all about community.

2. It’s done for the love of photography; no one’s getting paid.

3 It’s a simple premise, but collectively 20 or so photographers have documented a changing Portland over nearly two decades. The estimated 40,000 images they’ve made is an incredible resource.

4. The Portland Grid Project invented the formula. The methodology has since been repeated around the globe in towns and cities such as Bradford, England; Toronto, Canada; Vancouver, WA; Victoria, BC; Rome, Italy; Providence, RI; Eugene, OR; Central Oregon; Napa Valley, CA; Philadelphia, PA; Forest Grove OR and Santa Fe, NM.

If you fancy a fancy print you should throw some money in the pot. Here’s some fine Grid Project images to stroke your eyeballs

Ann Kendellen, Pendleton Park, SW 53rd and Iowa, January 2011 (Grid N6) copy
Ann Kendellen, Pendleton Park, SW 53rd and Iowa, January 2011 (Grid N6).
BlakeAndrews, 2007, (Grid J12) copy
BlakeAndrews, 2007, (Grid J12).
Bruce Hall, Kid on the Sandy Blvd overpass for the 205 freeway, (Grid J12) copy
Bruce Hall, Kid on the Sandy Blvd overpass for the 205 freeway, (Grid J12).
CaroleGlauber FrankiesFranks copy
Carole Glauber. “Frankie’s Franks” SE 82nd, 2011.
ChristopherRaushenbergL9 copy
Christopher Rauschenberg, SE 15th Avenue, 2008 (Grid L9).
David Potter. %22Inside of Marci MacFarlane's car%22 North Interstate Avenue and Going Street, May 29th, 2005 (Grid J8) copy
David Potter. “Inside of Marci MacFarlane’s car” North Interstate Avenue and Going Street, May 29th, 2005 (Grid J8).
Lisa Gidley. NE 42nd Avenue near Sumner Street, September 2011 copy
Lisa Gidley. NE 42nd Avenue near Sumner Street, September 2011.
Nancy Butler (Grid N9) copy
Nancy Butler, “Untitled” (Grid N9).

Bruce Hall, Off of NE Fremont, (Grid K11) copy

Bruce Hall, Off NE Fremont, (Grid K11).
Mark Barnes Jessie
Mark Barnes, “Jessie”
Mark Barnes Foster Rd copy
Mark Barnes, “Foster Rd”
Rich Rollins
Rich Rollins
Lisa Gidley
Lisa Gidley
Ann Kendellen
Ann Kendellen
Ann Kendellen
Ann Kendellen
Faulkner Short
Faulkner Short
Barbara Gilson
Barbara Gilson
Alexis Pike
Alexis Pike
Patrick Stearns
Patrick Stearns (one image in a set of three) (Grid K8, 04/99).
David Potter
David Potter, (M14, August 2000).
George Kelly
George Kelly
Patrick Stearns
Patrick Stearns (one image in a set of three) (Grid G4, 04/00)
Faulkner Short
Faulkner Short

Eye On PDX is an ongoing series of profiles of photographers based in Portland, Oregon. See past Eye On PDX profiles here and here.

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