Displaced Citizens

 – Homelessness in Portland, Oregon

exhibition by Adam Simmons

Portland’s rapid growth and status as one of the hottest real estate markets in the country have added to the pressure on those without homes or on the brink of houselessness. As rental property prices rise, affordable homes demolished, or remodeled into luxury spaces, more are forced out onto the street. The slow violence of wealth extraction from the working class exacerbates this displacement as well, with more people slipping off the edge into the abyss of poverty.

As property values go up, the “hip Portland” aesthetic becomes commoditized and protected by investors and property owners. The monied interests then apply pressure to City Hall to us police enforcement remove the unsightly camps from the city center. This displacement of the homeless into suburban neighborhoods shifts the weight of supporting these populations from the affluent, onto those of working class.  These housed residents themselves are but a few paychecks away from being without a home. This pits underserved housed neighbor against the incoming displaced citizen.

As a Lents resident, I’ve witnessed a large influx of new houseless neighbors while simultaneously seeing the camps around my college in Downtown Portland grow.  The camps grow, get swept away, and spring up again and again. I’ve witnesses an explosion of luxury developments and tent cities. This exhibition is my reaction to this change in our city.

The images are of many displaced citizen’s campsites were taken in the public right of way, the air from 400ft, using a 90mm lens. This lens and altitude were specifically chosen for their ability to show a “zoomed” in image of a camp, without exposing too much of the surroundings, leading the viewer to identify the camper’s living conditions removed from the context of their surroundings. Other than this selection of lens and altitude, no other efforts were made to hide the locations of those living in public spaces. This series is meant to be a transparency, a documentation, of the large number of people who are currently living out of doors.

The exhibition is a series of 75 aerial photographs, all taken at 400ft AGL (Above Ground Level) using a 90mm lens.  The companion video installation is shown positions the viewer in a manner reflecting the manner at which most in society view the homeless.  The exhibition also features a short film by Kevin Neidorf, Hazelnut Grove.  Kevin spent some time living with the residents of Hazelnut Grove while making the film.

Video Installation

Three video loops displayed on floor-mounted screen accompany the series of photographs.  These videos depict scenes of displaced citizens where they live, filmed from above..  The presentation of this footage is done with awareness of the privilege exhibited in using such a detached manner of filming.  The use of a drone is analogous to the manner in which civic organizations view the homeless in a detached and pedantic perspective without a real connection to those evaluated.

The screens represent three different levels of relating to the homeless.  With conflicting perspectives it shows those who seek escape along the Springwater, compassionately those seeking to build a supporting community in Hazelnut Grove, and with much disdain, those in Beggars Tick Wildlife Refuge that are destructive to themselves and the environment.

Film Screening

While asking around for information on where people were living out of doors, I was introduced to Wynde Dyer.  Wynde is a working artist and volunteer at Hazelnut Grove.  She informed me of Kevin Neidorf’s film Hazelnut Grove and put us in touch with one another.  After viewing the film, I knew that it was needed to give the exhibition a voice as my own work in the exhibition intentionally avoided taking on that role.  Kevin lived at Hazelnut Grove while getting to know those shown in the film, giving it an honest and intimate perspective on those living there.



Displaced Citizens

The Exhibition’s Success

I was fortunate enough to have my show up concurrently with Converge 45, while not a part of the event, a major portion took place across the hallway.  This brought with it a crowd of affluence that may otherwise not have gone out of their way to see the exhibition, most notably Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish.  It is viewers like city council, neighborhood leaders, and those in direct contact with the homeless that I had in mind when putting together this exhibition.

The exhibition brought out both sides of those working around the issues of homelessness.  Jessie Sponberg came out and shared with me his stories of working with some of the same people who live in the camps, inviting at-risk homeless women to camp in his backyard, and his recent call for Springwater campers to move into the park across from home of Portland’s Mayor.
I was also very fortunate to have Jeff Jahn come out and select my exhibition for his short list of 1st Thursday picks.  It’s humbling to have my work get such visibility while still an undergrad student.  He had this to say, “Adam Simmons might still be in art school but he’s doing some of the most important historically sensitive work in the city. His latest exhibition Displaced Citizens at PNCA traces and catalogues the very prevalent homeless encampments throughout the city. Ignore what the PNCA calendar says, the exhibition is not over… just like the crisis.

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Pacific Northwest College of Art

Exhibition Information

Displaced Citizens exhibition will be on display at Pacific Northwest College of Art’s Undergrad Gallery at 511 NW Broadway, Portland, Oregon July 17th through August 12th (tentatively), with the show’s opening reception July, 20th at 6pm.