How One Photographer is Showcasing Artists of Color in Her Community
For all its so called progressiveness, Portland, Oregon can be an incredibly homogenized town. In response to the extensive and widespread exclusion of people of color in the arts community of her city, photographer Celeste Noche launched Portland in Color, a series that showcases local creatives of color through photography and short profiles. Through her gorgeously shot portrait photography, Celeste captures artists from a number of creative disciplines in their homes or studios, offering a glimpse into their world and work.
Describe Portland in Color in your own words.
Portland in Color is a visual diary highlighting artists of color and their lived experiences living in a city deemed the whitest city in America.
How long have you been in Portland, and if you’re not native, what brought you to the city?
I just reached my four year anniversary! I used to work with a tech company and originally came to help them build out their Portland office, but I stayed to pursue freelance photography and immerse myself in a small, creative community.
What was the inspiration behind Portland in Color?
Although I came to Portland in hopes of connecting with the creative community here, I found myself very isolated-- as a photographer but especially as a person of color (especially coming from San Francisco!) In trying to break into the scene here, I realized how insular and homogenous the media was here. I’d ask companies why they didn’t hire more people of color and they’d say, “we don’t know any” or “there aren’t that many.” Portland in Color is my response to that.
How do you find and choose the artists you feature?
This project has (up until this month) only existed on my blog, so I’d mostly reach out to friends or friends of friends. My main goal is to showcase the spectrum of talent found within communities of color here.
What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned from conducting this series?
Unfortunately, most of the experiences of isolation, dismissal, and microaggressions aren’t surprising at all, so in a weird way, it was surprising to realize how similar our experiences were. Each one of these artists has felt alone, unheard, and underrepresented in this town.
What is the most common problem artists of color face in Portland, and what can be done to address it?
I think the toxicity of performative white allyship has been the most tangible thing we see and need to change. Portland is known for being progressive and therefore “on the right side of history,” but it also means that a lot of white liberals are unwilling to see how their actions are harmful. The microaggressions are rarely intentional, but they’re still damaging all the same. The only way we’re going to dig ourselves out of this hole is when white people start listening and acting on behalf of the people of color their claim to support. Protesting for Black Lives Matter is just as important as protesting during the Women’s March. If your company’s “diversity” chair is white, you need to ask why a person of color isn’t in that position of influence and mediation. And if you’re given a seat the table-- whether an opportunity or a position of influence-- ask yourself who is missing from the conversation. Better yet, give your seat up for them.
Soleil Ho and Maya Vivas for Portland in Color
What has been the response to Portland in Color, both in communities of color and the overall Portland community?
I’m still working on reaching out to the overall Portland community, but I’ve received really encouraging notes and features from publications like Street Roots, Portland Monthly, and Oregon Public Broadcasting. I appreciate everyone who takes the time to read about these artists. The most gratifying responses have come from communities of color themselves. They tell me how refreshing and inspiring it is to see people from their own communities-- their friends or people just like themselves-- highlighted and celebrated this way. It’s the best feeling.
Why do you think it’s so important to address and discuss issues of diversity and inclusion in the artistic community?
Sometimes it feels like art transcends these issues, but I think it’s just the opposite-- the challenges and victories as people of color often dictates how our art takes shape. Being an artist is already one of the most unstable, unsupported, and undervalued professions, but being an artist of color can make that struggle exponential. We hear all about the artists who struggle to make their art, but for a lot of us, making art is the only way to keep going.
Why do you personally care about this issue?
Because I know what it’s like to be overlooked both as a woman of color and an artist. I’ve seen my peers-- who are almost too talented for this world-- struggle to make their living. And I’ve seen homogeneity of the media and arts community-- how so many resources and opportunities are recycled within the same social circles. I care because there’s a wealth of talent being overlooked or not even considered because Portland is synonymous with being “the whitest city in America.”
How has conducting this series affected you personally?
I’m tired (lol) but I’m so fulfilled. I wish this series didn’t feel necessary. But because it is, it’s my greatest honor to help tell these stories. To photograph these artists as the beautiful people they are, and to remind this city that yes, we’re here, too.
What is your goal for Portland in Color? Why do this?
I want to see more perspectives in the media! I want to see artists of color celebrated for their talent, not because editors now feel pressured to mark a checkbox for diversity. I want to see money going to these artists, supporting their livelihoods and confirming that their art-- their voices matter. When we don’t actively support and promote marginalized artists, we perpetuate the idea that POC don’t have a place in the creative industry.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about yourself or this series? Even if it’s just a five-minute stream of consciousness rant…feel free to write anything more below!
Choosing to be an artist is such a privilege. I hope we’re all using our positions to recognize that and level the playing field for other artists who don’t have the same opportunities.
Learn more about Portland in Color and support Celeste's work here.