Bringing identity into focus: Photographer captures Boiler Room life

Katie Kowalski, arts@ptleader.com
Posted 2/7/17

Walk into Northwind Arts Center this month and you’ll see a black-and-white photo of a young woman’s face staring back at you from the end of a hallway.

Her dark, unwavering gaze draws viewers …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

E-mail
Password
Log in

Bringing identity into focus: Photographer captures Boiler Room life

Posted

Walk into Northwind Arts Center this month and you’ll see a black-and-white photo of a young woman’s face staring back at you from the end of a hallway.

Her dark, unwavering gaze draws viewers into a room filled with other large-scale portraits juxtaposed with snapshots of daily life from the place that welcomed the young people: Port Townsend’s Boiler Room.

“When the photographs arrived, we were all just floored,” Northwind director Michael D’Alessandro said of the series titled “I Have a Name: Identity and Belonging in Small Town America” by local photographer Raymond L. Ketcham.

“There’s such a sense of trust and identify and confidence in these images – it’s just overwhelming.”

A SOLUTION

Many years ago, Ketcham was caught up in documenting problems: taking photos of homelessness and poverty. Then, he turned to documenting solutions.

“The Boiler Room show is evidence of finding a solution,” he said.

In 2012, Ketcham began to observe the young men and women at the youth center downtown. Having seen other youth centers come and go, he was curious about the success of the one in Port Townsend.

From an onlooker he became an advocate; he became part of the family. He experienced firsthand the individuals’ journeys as they figured out who they were, and he captured moments of their lives on camera: moments of art, of music, of camaraderie and loneliness.

“You would not believe the wealth of talent that has wandered through there in the last five years,” he said. “The kind of stuff you don’t find other places.”

He discovered a place were people appreciated others’ differences. It provides a home for at-risk kids and welcomes individuals discovering who they are in the world, he said.

“The work that they’re doing – and the way that they’re doing it – is very unique,” Ketcham said.

ABOUT PEOPLE

“Photography as an art form deals with something real, something that was physically there,” Ketcham said.

And as an art form, it functions best in social and moral areas.

“All art is political, social, moral, philosophical,” he said. “If it doesn’t deal with ideas, it’s basically a decoration, not art.”

For Ketcham, photography also is about people. “If it doesn’t have people in it, it should remind you that it is about people,” he said.

In the Boiler Room portraits, he captured the young men and women looking directly into the camera, vulnerable. The photos show unedited human features: a stray eyelash on the cheek, dandruff in the hair, smudged makeup – a single moment in time on their journey to self-identity.

“They capture an honest approach to the subject,” said D’Alessandro of the portraits.

“It’s a loud statement, but it’s also a quiet kind of firm understanding of an individual in their space.”

All the photographs Ketcham took are reproduced in a book that also includes each subject’s response to the question “What is your identity?”

Answers vary:

“Listener.”

“I’m a lot of stuff, and not a lot of stuff.”

“Irish Celtic Pixie.”

“Traveler.”

“I don’t know.”

After seeing the series, one of the young women Raymond photographed said the photographs completely captured their experiences.

“She told me that I’d nailed it,” he said.

THROUGH THE WALL

Northwind Arts Center shares a wall with The Boiler Room, and Ketcham’s show is emblematic of the partnership between the art gallery and the nonprofit.

For the past two years, the two organizations have offered free art classes to Boiler Room youths and other community members through a series called “Through the Wall.”

The program, designed to support young and emerging visual artists, is set to be offered again in April of this year. Art from students who participated in past classes was recently displayed alongside instructors’ work during a two-week show in January.

For more information, visit northwindarts.org/news/wall.

Comments

No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment