feature: photo-documentary project ‘the black portlanders’

March 10, 2014

This is an open letter to Portland & the world from ‘The Black Portlanders’. My name is Intisar Abioto. I am a photographer and explorer here in Portland. I’m writing about ‘The Black Portlanders’. Since February 2013, I’ve taken over 500 portraits of Black Americans in Portland for a photo-documentary work and blog called ‘The Black Portlanders’. It has been featured in The Oregonian , Al Jazeera America, Oregon Public Broadcasting, The Skanner , Portland Mercury, The Portland Observer, and among others. ‘The Black Portlanders’ has a goal of introducing the stories and dreams of Black Portlanders to the world. At this moment, I’m in the midst of a great challenge and fight to keep this project going. I am in the last hours of an Indiegogo campaign to fund the continuance of The Black Portlanders. We are raising a total of $15,000 for essential equipment, development funds, and to save a crucial crashed hard drive that holds the entire first 8 months of The Black Portlanders. Yes.
We must reach our goal by 11:59 tonight.

By Intisar Abioto, AFROPUNK Contributor

The Black Portlanders is about celebrating the presence, lives, and dreams of Black people here in Portland, Oregon… no matter what. It’s celebrating Black presence in a state where we were told we were never meant to exist and certainly not to thrive. Black people were legally written out of Oregon’s 1857 constitution:

“No free negro shall come, reside in, or be within this state… the legislation shall provide by penal law for the removal of all such negroes and for their exclusion from the state”

I am a storyteller. Oregon’s founders were storytellers, too. They wrote out Oregon’s future with their ideas, words, and stories of exclusion. They wrote a story, signed it in ink, and published it throughout the world. The exclusion laws were repealed in 1926, but in 2014 — 88 years later — Oregon has a Black population of 2% and Portland has a population of 6%.. That’s the power of story.

155 years later, The Black Portlanders uses the raw tools of story — word, photography, film, and heart — to celebrate the lives of Black Portlanders, present, past, and future. We are here in the world. We are not going anywhere. We have been here and we will be here.

I’ve wandered Portland’s streets — meeting, speaking with, and photographing over 500 distinct Black Portlanders – approaching pure strangers! I’ve shown these images to Portland through The Black Portlanders blog to revive our spirits.. to show that come what may… and what might have been… we are here in the world and we are here in Oregon. I believe in us! I believe in our intrinsic value within the world. I believe in us so hard and deep!

There’s a silent haunting erasure about Oregon’s exclusionary racial history and its current reality — within Oregon and the world’s understanding of this place. Last April, I found out that the city of Portland razed N Williams Ave., Portland’s historic geographic Black community. This process occurred throughout the 50s, 60s, and 70s . It took me three years after I moved to Portland and two months after I started the Black Portlanders to find out about N Williams. I read Lisa Loving’s “Portland Gentrification: The North Williams Avenue That Was — 1956.” That article blew my mind and broke my heart. It identified the hundreds of Black businesses that were lost and never replaced.

How could this be? I didn’t have to know what happened here to feel an emptiness in the heart of this city. I knew in my bones there was something wrong here. Where were the Black people? Where were their communities? Where were we on the Portland map? Today there are other streets, all changed through today’s form of exclusion: urban gentrification – Mississippi St., Alberta St., and others. Again, Portland’s already small Black population has been scattered.

We can alter the path of our future and present right now, every day. Someone thought up a state with no Black people. No Black children. No Black women. No Black men. Can you believe that? And they first used their thought to make it so.

What are we going to think up?
What are we going to create in this time? What story are we going to tell that the future will feel.
How powerful is your imagination RIGHT NOW to create it?
How powerful is our action?

My name is Intisar Abioto. I am putting my heart and arts down on the table. I am throwing down everything I can to support the lives and dreams of all people through this work. You see, we can’t exclude a people and yet be whole. I’m giving my time, my photographic art, my voice, my money.. to this story of Black Portlanders and of Portland. You see WE are happening right now. It’s our time to tell a new story. Can’t you feel that?

I need your help! Will you contribute your money, equipment, resources, and contacts to the development of The Black Portlanders? Whatever you can give, please give. I am using my art to shake the foundations of this city.. through story! Will you help me? Here’s how you can help right now:

1. Contribute! The Black Portlanders has until Monday evening at 11:59 PM PST to reach $15,000. You can contribute on Indiegogo. Anything! $1…. $50.. $100…. $1000… $2000…. $5000.. matters ! Please give today!

2. Forward this! open letter to all of your contacts! PLEASE. I need everyone to read this. Portland. Salem. Eugene. Your mother. Your father. The governor. The president. Forward! through your social media channels. Email it. Can we get everyone contributing something?

3. Contribute equipment and actual things. I’ve raised enough to purchase a camera. These are the other things I need to craft the story.

NEW hard drives to store The Black Portlanders photographs, film, interviews, and media….
Hard Drive Recovery — $875 as quoted at Happy Hamster Repair on MLK. This will save the first 8 months of The Black Portlanders work. 400+ portraits. 200 yet unreleased.
Tascom or Zoom H4N Audio Recorder to record audio interviews..
Sennheiser EW 100 ENG G3 Wireless Mic System
Canon 580 EX or 430 EX flash unit
Lightroom and/or Photoshop Subscription
FinalCut Pro or Adobe Premiere Subscription
CF Cards, A Battery Grip, Tripod..etc.

Some added things:

I would love some Canon Prime L series lenses to work with or some Leica lenses. Maybe you have some lenses hanging out in your house or studio that you are not using? I envision beautiful imagery and colors that image Black Portlanders.. Don’t you?

Let’s tell a new tale of Portland. What will The Black Portlanders images mean in 50-100 years and who’ll need these images? The Oregon Historical Society will – Artists, students, historians will all need these images, but most importantly a child, a community of children born in 2015 or 2054 or 2213 will! An Oregon of inclusion will need these images to inspire their path. But right now The Black Portlanders needs Portland ..and the world to make it happen.

There is no categorization on the earth’s surface. We are all connected here. The progression of Mississippi affects Oregon, Oregon affects Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka affects Djibouti and on and on… until there is a ripple in the new 72+ planets discovered by NA SA. When one group is excluded or included, we all feel the effects.. wherever we are. This is not a work about Portland. This is a work about the world. This is one story of the world told through the images of Black Portlanders.