An artist with a computer Time and Again and a photo file creates a dream Portland By RANDY GRAGG that was and ____________________________ is but never of The Oregonian staff will be
A pair of horses drawing a carriage peek out from around the corner in Gregory Cosmo Haun's photograph of the corner of Southwest Sixth Avenue and Yamhill Street in downtown Portland. But whether they are the dusty steeds of 1910 that were once the city's only source of transportation or the current couriers of tourists isn't clear.
Haun replaced the grand Portland Hotel to its former Southwest Sixth and Yamhill site.
In Haun's picture, the grand Portland Hotel-demolished in 1951 to make way for the modern civic amenity of a parking lot-still stands. Yet, a modern MAX train slides down the nearby tracks. The horses seem lost, stuck somewhere between nostalgia and irony in this fusion of historical and contemporary photographs that Haun has made with his computer.
Turns out, the horses are from the older photograph. But with 15 similarly ambiguous images in his current exhibition at Nine Gallery, Haun beams buildings, people and animals from the past to the present and vice versa. In an era in which photographs are merely the raw pieces for an electronically perfectible vision of the world, Haun has reinvested the digital image with something approaching traditional photography's inherent mystery.
His pictures comprise a modest, subtle but fascinating show that had viewers at the opening reception looking so closely that they practically left nose prints on the art. Like cartoons in
which faces and animals are hidden in the background, Haun's images reveal their rich mix of humor and poignancy slowly, and only to those who look very carefully. Haun has taken the powerful digital technology that can move mountains for the covers of National Geographic or blend Oprah with Ann-Margret for TV Guide, and steered toward a deeper meditation on the history of a city.
Gregory Cosmo Haun has digitally placed the crowds from the 1907 opening of the Baker Theater at the site as it currently looks.
For instance, in front of "Beauty Secrets," a hairstyling salon now located at Southwest Third Avenue and Yamhill Street, Haun has conjured the crowds from the 1907 opening of the Baker Theater, the building that once stood on the same corner. Outside the [Please turn to page B6]
A Reed College alumnus and recent master of fine arts graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Center for Advanced Visual Studies, Haun has impressive credentials. But where so many so-called "computer artists" seem to get lost in the backroads of obscure technical issues-producing what, to those more interested in imagery, can best be called "fanciful"-Haun steadfastly aims at the more consequential interface of technology and culture.
For his MIT thesis, titled "The Timely Self-Portrait Machine," he created an optical computer that grabbed every image of a human face broadcast on Boston television and mixed them into an electronic composite based on Haun's own face.
In a more recent effort that led to the current show, Haun created what might best be described as a "distance-lapse" movie camera to make a film following Portland's old trolley-car lines. Modeled after timelapse cameras, Haun's contraption, instead of firing its shutter every few seconds, clicked off a frame for every revolution of its motorized wheels. It allowed the resulting film to take the viewer over the now-asphalt-covered trolley tracks in a continuous motion, unhindered by such modern inconveniences as traffic lights.
The trolley film project led to a deeper interest in the city and to 1 hours looking for potential source a photographs at the Oregon Historical Society.
Essentially, Haun has taken a process traditionally used in architecture to visualize new buildings in the urbanscape. But he has reversed and broadened it by imagining how the civic life of the past-street vendors, canvas awnings, thickly dressed pedestrians and the buildings-might affect the present.
The pictures that pluck the deepest chords are those in which the streetscape has altered most subtly but in ways that signify more dramatically changing values.
In his haunting look at the past and present of Weimar's Hardware on Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Haun blends the building's two distinctly different facades. The ghosts of storefront windows that subtly reflect the parked autos, awnings and pedestrians of the era are like age marks on its current face, turned away from the four-lane strip development, its windows boarded up against potential thieves and vandals.
In Haun's image of Southeast Grand Avenue and Morrison Street, the buildings are virtually unchanged. In the impressively preserved row of Victorian structures, the most visible additions are a Realtor's "available" sign atop one building and a Chevron Station advertising "car needs." The trolley lines, now restored by Haun, are the main subtraction.
Even at their most obvious-and funny - Haun's pictures offer canny observations. In an 1867 picture of the muddy little settlement by the Willamette, Haun has plopped a building whose cool sculptural modernity continues to seem out of place on the still-Stumptownish Portland skyline: the U S Bancorp Tower, better known as "Big Pink."
Though one of the goals of this show clearly is to confound the audience with the images' veracity, Haun hasn't shied from the fantastic. With a tilt of Haun's mousewielding wrist, the elegant promenade of gazebos and fern-sprouting columns leading to the U.S. Government Pavilion of the Lewis and Clark Exposition now hangs like Oz over what was once the Guild Lake wetlands but now is filled with warehouses.
In one of the most head-cocking images in the show, a group of firefighters from 1910 stretch a blanket to catch a dog falling against the dark, corporate-modernist atmosphere at Southwest Fourth Avenue and Mill Street.
Haun likens the process of creating these images to painting: blending images, creating a more convincing chiaroscuro and smoothing the seams. And, indeed, before the advent of digital photography, Haun's palpably dimensional texture of subtly distorted perspectives and ghostly visages, intermingled among the bolder lines of his combinations, would have been something achievable only in painting.
But Haun's comparison of his high-tech medium to ever-low-tech paintbrushes up against the larger consequences of digital imaging's steady replacement of traditional photography.
In his book on digital imaging "The Reconfigured Eye," William J. Mitchell heralds "the post-photographic era." Just as painting was eulogized with the arrival of the silver image, and then reborn in increasingly abstract form, so too is photography being reincarnated.
The discovery of photography went hand-in-hand with a dawning era of rational, scientific positivism. Digital imaging seems the soul mate of genetic engineering and poststructuralist theory, in which meaning is continually shifting. It's an exciting possibility, a danger and an inevitability.
But where the vast majority of electronically manipulated images are designed to promote consumer desires for everything from perfect bodies to automobiles that travel in space, Haun, with his disarmingly simple black-and-white pictures, is attempting to appeal to other human mysteries-such as deja vu and premonitions.