Perhaps the only place that could have been more apropos than the Portland City Grill for the Above Portland book launch would have been the summit of Mt. Hood. But, for a rainy November night, downtown’s iconic Big Pink, with perfect views of the glittering downtown, the Willamette, and the Western hills, was the only place to be for passionate Portlanders.
Guests included the book’s creators, Mayor Sam Adams, city commissioners, urban planners, journalists and one person who entered the party on a Seguay.
Above Portland comes from a long line of coffee table photography books published by Cameron + Company. In 1969, founder Robert Cameron published the first in what would become a series of Above books with his own aerial shots of San Francisco. Since that first book, the press has produced books and calendars for such grand cities as Chicago, London, Paris, Mexico City, and now Portland.
Why Portland? “When it comes to planning, urban design, transit, parks and greenspaces, historic preservation, and sustainability, Portland is much better known that just about every other city in the country and compares to several European cities, which are leaders in these areas,” says Chet Orloff, the book’s lead writer. Orloff, the director emeritus of the Oregon Historical Society and a professor of urban studies and planning at Portland State University, was the perfect choice for the author of Above Portland.
Bruce Forster, Above Portland’s photographer, settled and started his photography career in Portland in 1970 and has since become one of the region’s most influential photographers. City commissioner Nick Fish called Forster the “foremost photographer of our built environment.” Forster is also the “photographer of choice” for all of the city’s elected officials—and to transform “a motley bunch” like that is, Fish joked, quite impressive.
Forster faced a different, but perhaps equally challenging, task with the Above Portland assignment. As George Olson, director of Sunset magazine from 1995–2005, explained at the book launch, Forster had to breathe new energy into images that much of his audience knows as daily views. “He knew [the city’s] iconic images but was able to translate them into something that wasn’t trite,” Olson says. “On one hand, they were iconic; on the other hand, extraordinarily different.”
In one of Above Portland’s two-page spreads, the reds of Union Station are in clear, deliberate concert with the rusts of the Broadway Bridge and with the cargo ships emptying their wares. We also see the squared streets of the city sharing space with the jagged curves of the Gorge; the powerful rush of Cascade Head with that of the city’s airport; and the curl of the Vancouver Land Bridge with the boxy Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.
“Because of the illustrations and the text, this book tells not just the what but the why” of Portland, says Orloff.