It is easy to miss the Photo Center Northwest in its modest building at East Marion Street and 12th Avenue, but its excellent 20th-anniversary benefit show makes it obvious that it sits at the intersection of far more than just two Seattle streets.
The show’s title is “NW Focus,” and its curators have taken many different routes in mapping what photography is and might be in our corner of the country: There are photographers who are native to our region and those who have migrated or worked here.
There are subjects — human, geographical and philosophical — that are either of the Northwest or have a direct relationship to it. There is a photogravure that was made in 1909 and a video that was completed earlier this year, and there is as wide a range of styles and techniques as you can imagine or put a name to.
You will find shots of Quincy Jones, Nirvana, John Cage and Merce Cunningham, and Michael Stipe taking a leak. There are pictures by Imogen Cunningham, Edward Curtis, Carrie Mae Weems and Eirik Johnson. There is Native American pride, a bevy of Courtney Love impersonators, a Boeing spaceship intended for Mars and 18 men and a horse atop a single tree stump.
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As well as some remarkable individual works in the show, decisions made in its hanging have thrown up some delightful and thought-provoking juxtapositions. Two haunting waterscapes hang side by side and seem to speak much the same visual language, but it turns out that one is the work of Mary Randlett (born 1924) who is among the oldest artists in the show, and the other is by Canh Nguyen (Cornish BFA 2012) who is one of the youngest.
On another wall, a stunning Bob and Ira Spring photograph of a mountaineer captured in mid-rappel sits above the Lance Mercer image of Eddie Vedder hanging above the stage at the 1992 Drop in the Park concert.
Elsewhere, and most surprising of all, there’s a strange echo of the ecstatic facial expression in Jock Sturges’ 2003 portrait “Eva, le Porge, France,” in Jim Marshall’s legendary 1968 image of Jimi Hendrix.
It is always risky to claim that an exhibit has something for everyone, but it is rare that a show offers so many first-rate options. As the curators explain, “Where the photographs take you depends largely on where you are coming from. And where you decide to go.”
Note: The entire show is for sale, with proceeds directly benefiting PCNW. You can see everything on the PCNW website, place a bid online and in some cases actually buy the piece outright. Live auction is Oct. 18.
Robert Ayers: email@example.com