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The more things change ...: Photos celebrate architecture in Portland

News, Lifestyle

The more things change ...: Photos celebrate architecture in Portland

PORTLAND — A new photo exhibit shows two sides of the city: one of constant change and one of preservation.

"Images of Change: Greater Portland’s Cityscape Since 1960" is a collection of 72 photographs by 44 artists that focuses on Portland's evolving architecture. The exhibit opened Friday at Portland Public Library's Lewis Gallery, where it will continue through February.

The juried show was organized by Greater Portland Landmarks, a nonprofit group that seeks to preserve the historic character of the city. Hilary Bassett, the group's executive director, opened the two-month show by summing up Portland's appeal.

"The beauty of this area is you've got the real thing – real, authentic architecture and an authentic sense of place," Bassett said. "I think the artists in this show have found a way to express that."

The exhibit is part of a year-long anniversary celebration by Greater Portland Landmarks, which was founded 50 years ago in 1964 in response to the Urban Renewal movement. The show's photographs demonstrate the passage of time through a wide range of photographers – from old to young, pro to hobbyist.

Chris Church, who goes by the name C.C., has three photos featured, including one of the show's earliest from 1968.

"Portland is the city I love. That's basically why I photograph it," said the 69-year-old Portland native.

During his 50 years as a photographer, Church said he's witnessed a lot of changes.

"It's been gentrified," he said. "There's a lot of new hotels and buildings coming up, but there are still places that are unique and beautiful – special places. Those are the things that I like to photograph. I wasn't so much documenting the city as I was taking photos of the things that appealed to me."

On the other end of the age spectrum is Corey Templeton, 27, a self-described hobbyist who maintains a popular photo blog, Portland Daily Photo. His two contributions document Monument Square in 2011 and the corner of Park and Pleasant streets last fall.

Templeton, who grew up in Buxton and settled in Portland in 2007, said he has seen changes sweep over the city in just seven years.

"Portland and its architecture have changed for the better since I've been here," he said. "I've enjoyed seeing different projects being built and documenting them and their interactions with the existing urban fabric."

Photographer and architect Evan Carroll, 31, also has two photos in the show. Carroll grew up in Westbrook and moved into the city in 2006. He agrees that the city has changed, but not necessarily for the better.

"I'd say it became cool, then too cool," said the East Bayside resident.

The city's newer buildings are generally not "the same quality as the old ones," he added.

Bassett said the exhibit embodies change, for better or worse.

"As you look at the photographs, you really see that change is constant," she said. "But it's interesting to see that preservation has been an important part of Portland over that 50-year period and going into the future."

Each year for the past two years, Greater Portland Landmarks has released a list of "Places in Peril," which include the Union Station Clock at Congress Square Park, Western Cemetery and the Grand Trunk Office Building, the "last vestige of the Grand Trunk Railroad."

Midtown project

Among the attendees at the show's opening, opinions varied on the pros and cons of the Midtown project – a proposal to build four 15-story towers and two parking garages on 3.25 acres of city-owned land on Somerset Street.

Basset said the proposed project is outside the purview of Greater Portland Landmarks, which focuses on preserving existing buildings or neighborhoods, not new developments.

"We haven't taken a position on that," she said. "I would say, generally, our guiding principles for Portland include the characteristics that we all love about this city: fine-quality architecture, its human scale, pedestrian-friendliness, the quality of materials.

"If you look around the Old Port, Commercial Street or Congress Street, you'll see the characteristics that give Portland its definition. In any new development, we would encourage the same principles to be applied."

Bassett declined to give her personal opinion on the proposal.

Templeton, who takes an interest in urban design, said he favors the idea.

"I think the current proposal is an improvement over what is there now," he said. "It's easy to nitpick things as an 'armchair architect,' but overall it looks like a step in the right direction."

Templeton cited the position of the group Portlanders For Sustainability, saying Portland should embrace its size.

"People chose to live and visit Portland because it's a city, not in spite of it," he said.

Church said he doesn't have an opinion on the project, but added that he lives in a newly built "green" building – a far cry from the unheated, vermin-infested artist studios he used to inhabit.

"Change is good," he said. "It's inevitable."

Ben McCanna can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or bmccanna@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @BenMcCanna.