Portland in March Days 2-3: Museums, Meetings and the Best Tea Ever

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As much as I love writing, particularly in entertainingly depicting my travels (and often misadventures), sometimes all I want to do is make photos. So, for this latest trip to Portland in March, that's exactly what I did. However, now that I've stayed put in Asheville for over a month and am itching to get back out on the road - or even better, the plane - I'm having to satiate my travel bug my reliving my pleasant week spent exploring more of the city I've fallen in love with. 

In particular, I keep daydreaming of the hour I spent enjoying tea by myself in the Chinese Gardens as the rained pattered off the tin roof, so to get myself back in the same headspace I'm writing this from Dobra Tea enjoying a pot of puer and tea cake. 

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Because so much time has passed and because I'm really more interested in sharing my images than anything else, I'm only going to tell two stories in this post: the first of one of the best photography exhibits I've ever experienced. Now on my third trip to the Rose City, I'd been waiting to visit the Portland Art Museum until I saw an exhibit I could spend several hours immersed in. This one was the obvious choice.

From the curator's statement: 

"Common Ground: Photographs by Fazal Sheikh, 1989-2013, is a survey of the nearly 25-year career of the critically acclaimed photographer Fazal Sheikh. Born and raised in New York City, the artist has focused on raising awareness of international human rights issues through his documentary-based photography practice.

The exhibition features more than 170 portraits and landscapes chronicling individuals living in displaced and marginalized communities around the world, many times as the result of war, exploitation, and poverty. Photographs in Common Ground span a period from 1989 to 2013, offering deeper insight into major world events, racial strife, and mass global displacement in places such as East Africa, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and the Netherlands. Stories told through Sheikh’s pictures focus on survivors, orphans, and victims of violence and abuse."

Each individual print was beautifully created, showing the photographer's technical expertise in creating a striking tonal range that immediately catches the viewer's eye. But, to me, the most important part of Sheikh's work and what sets him apart from almost any war and poverty photographer that I've ever studied is how he depicted each subject in his portraiture. Rather than posing each person how he wanted in order to convey his own message, he asked them to choose how they would like to be portrayed. His aim wasn't to prove any sort of political point (though his work certainly does create idealogical discourse) put to truly tell these people's stories from a multidimensional humanistic view, showing them as people and not just nameless statistics ravaged by war. 

The second story, the one that got me out of the house today, is of the best afternoon tea I've ever had. After spending several hours reading about and examining 24 years' worth of refugee photographs and stories, I wanted to decompress, to think about the exhibit's influence on the collective refugee story, on photography as a whole and on my own work in particular. So I set off for the Lan Su Chinese Gardens smack in the middle of downtown in the Pearl District. Immediately when I walked through the high walls into the garden, the sounds of the city disappeared and I could only hear the chirping of birds, the melodic gush of a waterfall and the gentle breeze rustling the flowers. But it was the tea that I enjoyed most. As the storm clouds rolled in, I sought shelter in the tea room inside the gardens where I ordered the full Puer tea ceremony, a pork bun and a lotus seed mooncake. While I'm not sure I really mastered the art of brewing my own tea, I certainly enjoyed getting to learn the tricks of pulling out the best flavor, and in pouring 5-6 cups to sip. The pork buns were, of course, scrumptious but it was the mooncake that I savored most - the perfect blend of slight sweetness, a hint of earthiness and a lovely fruit finish. I turned my phone off, put my cameras away (after snapping a few shots, of course) and simply enjoyed my tea by myself as I watched the rain drops roll down the window. After several months of nonstop work, this was exactly the respite I needed. While I typically like to try all new eateries each time I travel somewhere, I think this tea will have to become a tradition. 

The rest of that day I spent drinking coffee and eating dessert while chatting with other local wedding vendors, planning the styled shoot I'm hoping to do when I'm in town in November. The next day I simply journaled in my favorite coffeeshop, enjoyed a two hour Indian dinner date with myself and took my camera out for a spin around the river. I'm already daydreaming of being back in Portland!