Photo by Art Kennedy

Photos of the Washburne

An exhibit winding up at New Zone captures the warmth of a historic district in Springfield

Coronavirus restrictions have made this a forgettable spring on Eugene’s art gallery circuit. But as we turn the corner into summer, things are beginning to pick up. 

New Zone Gallery has resumed a schedule approximating normal. You’ll still need a mask to enter, and large groups are prohibited. But for the first time in months, individuals can see the offerings up close and in person.

June’s spotlight artist Art Kennedy deserves a firsthand visit. His show Washburne Warmth spreads across a small wall in the rear of the gallery. Shot in Springfield’s titular neighborhood, the photographs document its historic porches at dusk.

Kennedy is an amateur — or “lover of” — photography, the purity of his vision untarnished by professional artifice. Instead, he sharpened his observational skills working 28 years as an LTD bus driver before stoking the camera hobby in retirement.

Most scenes in the show were photographed in passing and captured casually from the sidewalk. They possess an everyman quality befitting the neighborhood’s understated resilience. “Do not look for spectacular architecture or camerawork here,” reads his artist statement. “These photographs are about the warm feeling I get when I go walking of an evening in the Washburne Historic District near my home.”

Warm feelings aside, at least a few of the photographs were shot in winter months, their timing signaled by holiday displays and bare tree limbs. This is the season when such scenes are close at hand. Homeowners decorate with outdoor lighting to guard against the winter’s chill, and twilight arrives promptly in the afternoon. The mix of artificial lighting and ambient sky creates endless possibilities for curious shutterbugs.

Photographers, including Henry Wessel, Todd Hido and Gregory Crewdson, have been tempted by this terrain, and Kennedy follows in their footsteps with his own local take. Why seek the spectacular when evocative treats lie right around the corner? 

Part of the appeal with these photos is their historic nature. Most homes in the Washburne date back to the early 20th century. It’s one of the few dense pockets of early architecture in the region, unique enough to garner historic designation. The local homes and alleys are a photographic motherlode, especially when couched in complementary color.

Whether by code or custom, the neighborhood’s porch lighting — at least in the homes documented by Kennedy — is generally modest and simple. Set against a range of gray-blue skies, campfire hues harken back to the age of candles, lending the scenes a strong whiff of nostalgia. Nevertheless, Kennedy’s wide-angle lens and multihued palette keep his pictures rooted in the present. Viewed right now in the season of peak light they take on a jarring resonance, their currency enhanced by a mounting technique that oddly substitutes facsimile reproductions for multicolored matting. Peculiar, yes, but also charming. And priced very reasonably, too.

“I just like to share what I see,” Kennedy writes on the New Zone website. “Some things are obviously perfect while others are more quiet and subtle, requiring interpretation. I accept the former gratefully and try to be alert for the latter. The proof is in the eye and the heart — yours and mine.”

Washburne Warmth runs through June at New Zone Gallery, 22 W. 7th Avenue. Gallery open noon to 6 pm daily. Wear a mask.