Christopher Trotchie’s photo show at Dot Dotson’s is well titled. It’s called Face Me Where I Stand, and it features pictures of fellow residents in Klamath Falls doing exactly that. Each person peers into Trotchie’s lens with equanimity. It’s not clear what instructions he’s given — maybe he’s asked them to remain still, or not to smile? — but by some means he’s managed the crux of good portraiture: His subjects are open to his presence, and his untitled photos penetrate below the surface.
Taken collectively, they also poke below the surface of Klamath Falls. Trotchie describes his ongoing project as “an opportunity to connect to who you are and what you are part of.” It might be viewed as a form of occupational therapy, easing his settlement into his adopted home. We viewers are just along for the ride. “When I started taking portraits, I discovered that I was helping people connect,” his artist statement declares. “And with that sudden realization it was like a place in the world opened up for me, and I fell in.”
If Trotchie’s portraits are rooted in place, it could be a response to his peripatetic childhood. His military family moved often as he grew up. He attended middle school in Corvallis and high school in Montana. Eventually he found his way to the wonderland of photography in his late 20s. This led him to Eugene, where he studied photojournalism at the University of Oregon under Sung Park and Dan Morrison. “I basically did everything wrong,” he remembers.
But he was a fast learner, and the shutter bug bit hard. Photo assignments later took him to various locations, including Alaska, Florida and Standing Rock. Meanwhile, his focus was shifting inexorably from candid photojournalism toward collaborative portraiture. Now based in Klamath Falls for several years, his daily portraits are an active record of the city and its 20,000 characters.
Trotchie winnowed his archive down to 22 photos for the show. They’re displayed as smallish color prints mounted to foam core. Most are verticals, which helps them squeeze into the three-cornered display at Dot Dotson’s. The photos were originally shot on film and boast artifacts of analog imperfections: full frame borders, light leaks and scattered dust specks. The palette is filmy too, mixing afternoon light and color with warm chromogenic charm.
These aspects enhance the appeal, but Trotchie’s subjects steal the show. They are straight out of American small town casting. A cowboy exhales a beard of smoke, a wounded man sports an immaculate necklace, a fair goer returns his gaze in a carefully ripped AC/DC T-shirt. “I like the eyes,” Trotchie says. “They convey so much and there is a real human moment that exists. It’s like proof we are all good in some way.”
“I think Klamath Falls and the surrounding area is really interesting and has cultivated a culture very much its own,” he says. “The winters are hard and the summers are the same. The industries are difficult and people here know how to survive, and it shows on their faces and in their fashions, and most of all in the look in their eyes. If you mess around out here you are going to find out. I feel honored to be allowed to document here, and I don’t think there is any end in sight to this amazing place.”
All subjects are photographed in situ, seemingly encountered in passing. “Sometimes photos land in my lap, but not that often,” he once explained his process. “Most of the time I need to walk a 4-mile loop wasting a bunch of film, and then nail the best portrait of my life right next to where I started.” They say you can’t go home again, but Trotchie’s process hints otherwise, as does Face Me Where I Stand. It’s Trotchie’s first exhibition in Eugene. Hopefully there will be more to come. ν
Christopher Trotchie’s Face Me Where I Stand is showing at Dot Dotson’s, 1668 Willamette Street, through August 30. Hours are 10 am to 5:30 pm Monday through Thursday. A reception will be held 4:30 to 6 pm Friday, August 18. Visit @_trotchie on Instagram to see more portraits from the series.