Call for Entries: Curatorial Prize at Blue Sky Gallery

Call opens:                                               November 10, 2017

Call closes:                                               December 27, 2017 (extended from December 8th)

Decisions announced:                      late January 2018

Exhibition held:                                    May 3 – June 3, 2018

Blue Sky Gallery in Portland, OR is seeking proposals for a Curatorial Prize for a one-month long photography exhibition in May 2018.

Founded in 1975, Blue Sky’s mission is to educate the public about photography through exhibitions, publications, and dialogue; and to further the careers and artistic development of the artists shown. Our main programming focuses on an ambitious exhibition schedule of 22 -24 photography shows each year in Blue Sky’s two galleries. Exhibitions represent a wide variety of work from local, national, and international photographers.

Our newly established Curatorial Prize provides an opportunity for curators to present an exhibition of photo-based work, along with related programming and publications at one of the nation’s most highly regarded photography galleries. The program seeks exhibitions of 2- 5 artists who use photography in traditional or experimental ways. Video/film are welcome.

Blue Sky Gallery’s ambitious exhibition schedule does naturally limit the extent of work possible (we only have 1 -2 days for installation and 1 day for de-install). Within those parameters, we commonly hang shows of approximately 20 – 30 images, generally either framed or hung with magnets. If your work is installation based, or is otherwise rigorous to install, please be sure to directly address a manageable approach to installation/de-installation within our fast-paced schedule.

Scope of Work

  • Solicit and select 2-5 artists for a May 2018 exhibition, working with Blue Sky’s Exhibition Manager to confirm artists, contracts, etc.
  • In collaboration with Blue Sky staff, oversee exhibition planning, shipping of work, and coordination of artists’ schedules for events. Artist schedules and events will be finalized 3 months in advance of the exhibition.
  • Write about the artists’ work/your vision for various venues including:  an exhibition catalog, press release, and the Blue Sky blog.
  • Present a talk about the artists’ work/your vision at Blue Sky to the public during the opening weekend of the exhibition (or at another mutually agreed upon time, decided 3 months in advance of the exhibition). Attend the opening night if possible.
  • Align with the mission and goals of Blue Sky Gallery while bringing a unique curatorial vision to the Gallery.
  • Prepare exhibition models and sketches as required.


  • Awareness of contemporary photography issues, practices, and artists.
  • Ability to work responsively and collaboratively with Blue Sky staff.
  • Ability to organize and communicate messages effectively through writing and public presentation to different audiences.
  • Ability to manage an exhibition, stay within budget, and meet deadlines.

Financial Considerations

Curatorial stipend is $750. An additional total pool of up to $4,000 for artist stipends, travel/housing (artists and curator), honorariums for writing, printing, and shipping will be available. Blue Sky will work with selected curator to establish budget for programs and publications. Blue Sky can provide black frames for photography at no cost if the photos are of a standard size. Other alternates to framing include magnets or mirror clips.


Proposals are due to Blue Sky Gallery by December 8, 2017. Please submit to, and be sure to put the phrase “CURATORIAL PRIZE” in the subject line. Applications will be reviewed and a curator chosen by Blue Sky’s staff and Exhibition Committee. Applications should include the following documents merged into a single PDF:

  1. Curatorial statement and vision for the Curatorial Prize, including estimated costs.
  2. Professional resume/CV, including a link to your website if applicable.
  3. Examples of past curatorial work, including images and critical reviews.
  4. Samples of work the artists you have chosen for your exhibition (and/or links to the websites of the work selected).
  5. A writing sample of previous curatorial statements or published writing.

Note:  The Exhibition Committee reviews proposals projected onto a screen; keep this in mind when formatting examples of past curatorial work. The preferred format for viewing images in a PDF is with one image per page on a black background with no borders. All images should be free of watermarks. Please be sure that the total size of your emailed file does not exceed 25MB. For videos, please include a link to view video(s) online in your PDF.

For questions, please email Please note that Blue Sky is unable to give feedback on your application or the application process.

For more information about Blue Sky Gallery, please see


You are invited to share a once-in-a-lifetime experience with Blue Sky:

Join us for a viewing party of the 2017 TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE (well…TOTALLY 99.3% ECLIPSED IN PORTLAND) on the DeSoto rooftop terrace!

Monday, August 21

What to expect:

  • A light breakfast, coffee and orange juice
  • Eclipse viewing with safe viewing glasses provided by Blue Sky
  • a fun photobooth!
  • a unique view of Downtown Portland
  • an exclusive tour of The Eclipse Show
Please join us for this Blue Sky fundraiser, and celebration of the Solar Eclipse!
Tickets are $30 and can be purchased HERE
After the event, please join us in the gallery to enjoy the August exhibitions:

Kris Sanford, “Through the Lens of Desire” and

The Eclipse Show, curated by Blue Sky co-founder and photographer Christopher Rauschenberg. The exhibition will feature over 100 artists in honor of the total eclipse of the sun in Oregon on August 21, 2017. In addition to the gallery exhibition, Blue Sky is pleased to collaborate with student photographers from Young Musicians & Artists ( to feature the work of 19 young photographers working with the theme of “eclipse” in our Library Gallery.

[Event cover image: detail shot of Eclipse © Adam Ekberg, part of the Eclipse Show on view in August in the Blue Sky galleries]

Ima Mfon in Conversation with Dr. Derrais Carter

To provide a more in-depth look at our June exhibition, Ima Mfon’s “Nigerian Identity,” Portland writer and scholar Derrais Carter recently interviewed artist Ima Mfon about the series, which is currently on view at Blue Sky through July 2, 2017.

Nigerian Identity: Untitled 17

Nigerian Identity: Untitled 17, 2015 © Ima Mfon. Courtesy of Rick Wester Fine Art, New York.

Derrais Carter: In your artist statement, you describe yourself as more than “just black.” How do you see that showing up in your work?

Ima Mfon: When I say “more than just black” I mean that being from Nigeria, I’m used to thinking about tribes, not race. In Nigeria, no one is really going to ask you about your ethnicity because we are all black. People are going to ask “what’s your tribe?” or “Are you Yoruba?” or “Are you Igbo?”

But, when you step outside of Nigeria, in America for instance, people don’t even ask you if you’re Nigerian. They just see you as African. And, even just seeing a black person as African is still kind of specific in American terms because you can also still generalize and be like “oh, the black guy.”

In America we tend to see things in terms of color. There’s black guys, white guys, Asian guys, Mexican guys. That’s kind of what I mean when I say I’m more than just black. There are so many levels to being black. I’m African, I’m Nigerian, ¼ Yoruba, ¼ Efik, ¼ Cameroonian, ¼ Ghanaian.

It shows up in my work through me talking about the things that I want to talk about, the things that are important to me. I think that a lot of people exploring African identity are going in certain directions, for instance they are going home to shoot landscapes or textiles and fabrics. What makes me “me” is what’s on the inside. I’m a very emotional person and I think that’s why my work is the way it is. I try to examine people and look at them, engage them…as people. I look into their eyes to see them and not simply reflect cultural things you might want to associate with them. I ask, “Who is this person?”

DC: I’m glad you say that. Since the homogenous cultural narrative we impose on African people often prevents us from seeing African people’s interior lives in meaningful ways, do you see yourself trying to create a space for intimacy in your work? If so, could you talk about the cultural work of black intimacy?

IM: To be honest, a lot of times I just go with how I feel. I’m not consciously trying to promote black intimacy or start a movement around that. I think I’m just saying, “this is me” and “this is how I see things.” As an artist, you do have the responsibility to delve deeper, to explore more. So maybe that’s something I can learn from a professor like you. You know, it would be great to read about people who have explored similar themes, but to be honest, I haven’t analyzed it to that level.

DC: I was also wondering about your use of the white background. I believe in your artist statement you say that the white background allows you to remove context from your black subjects. But, could you talk about how black skin brings context into the picture? You know what I mean?

IM: Yeah. You know, there’s only so much you can say in an artist statement, so you have to pick a cohesive thread, especially when you’re not there to clarify. The white background represents a lot of things. In the image, there’s white space with a black person occupying that white space. In a lot of ways, that’s me. That’s a lot of black people. I started my career in corporate America and a lot of times I would feel like a blot of black in a sea of white. So that was something that I wanted to figure out how to convey. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked into a place, just acting normal and having a good time. Then, all of a sudden, it dawns on me that I’m the only black person in the place.

I darken the skin in my work for two different reasons. One reason is that when you are a black person living in an all-black context, like Nigeria, you’re not conscious of your skin color. But when I’m in America, I begin to feel very conscious about my blackness. I feel more black. I don’t know if that makes any sense. You hear people talk about having to modulate their blackness, especially in the workplace. Even at parties. I think the idea of being so self-conscious of one’s skin color is something I wanted to convey.

Another reason is that I love black skin. I think that black skin is extremely beautiful and I wanted to portray that.

DC: Looking at your work made me think about Kerry James Marshall’s paintings in his Mastery exhibition at The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Are there artists who have taken up black skin in their work that inform your practice?

IM: I haven’t been exposed to Kerry James Marshall’s paintings, but there’s a photographer called Valérie Belin. She’s done a lot of typology. I also like Jean-Paul Goude. Both Belin and Goude are photographers whose images are nice and clean to me. But there was something a little bit too objectifying in their work. I wanted to shoot black skin, but I didn’t want it to become a fetish. I didn’t want it to be objectifying people. I wanted some level of pride and dignity.

Richard Avedon in probably one of my biggest photographic inspirations. For one, he always shot with a white background and he was good a conveying emotion. He could do anything with anyone. Whenever he shot someone, he could give you a glimpse into their soul. And that is something that I strive for in my photography. There’s also the Nigerian photographer J. D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere. He does a typology of women’s hairstyles. He shot hundreds of Nigerian women’s hairstyles. He’s one of my favorites. When you look at my work, you might see some similarities. He shot his subjects from the back to emphasize the hairstyles, but I shoot the front to highlight the person.

DC: Could you say a bit about emotion in your work? I like the stark contrast you create between the white background and your rendering of black skin. That contrast, for me, creates an opportunity for viewers to think about the nuances of black expression. Were there particular emotions that you wanted your subjects to convey or did you leave it up to them?

IM: I pretty much left it up to the subject. I told them what I was doing and what the project was about. I shared a few experiences with them and we shared stories for a bit so that they would be comfortable. Then I would take their pictures.

For the most part I would tell people “whatever you want to express, try to do it through your eyes.” I didn’t want people laughing or crying. I didn’t want extreme emotion. But whatever emotion they chose, I wanted them to convey it with their eyes. That was the direction I gave. Beyond that, it was all about what they felt.

DC: As somebody who is historically-minded and often works in archives, I’m wondering if you kept records of your interactions with each subject, even in the form of a cache of written material related to these interactions that won’t ever be published with the photographs? Or did you just meet your subjects, have them sit for you, and part ways?

IM: I think there’s a mix of both. For people who I already know well (roughly 40% of the people in the pictures) the documentation process was less formal. They are my friends and relatives. For the people I was just getting to know, I conducted interviews with a voice recorder to learn more about them. I don’t know that the material will be published, though. I don’t think I’m organized enough to publish it the way I want to, but I thought it would be nice to do a book with stories and thoughts related to the project.

DC: I’m really struck by your comment about wanting your subjects to communicate through their eyes. What do you want that communication to do for your viewers?

IM: I don’t want to say confrontation, because that’s not the right word. But, when it comes to the black experience, there is always something that is left unsaid. In a way, these portraits are all self-portraits of me. A lot of them reflect my experience. There are a lot of ways that we respond to situations. I don’t want to speak for everyone, but I know a lot of people, including me, who have these moments when somebody says something racist to you or makes ignorant assumptions about you. I tend to let it go, let it fly. Keep my head down.

With the photographs, I get to look back. I return the gaze. When making the photographs I went back to the feeling of being the only black person in the room and having all of these eyes on me. The photographs allow me to look back.

DC: Your subjects reflect various genders and ages. Thinking about “Nigerian Identity” as self-portraits of you, the artist, what do you want to communicate through this range of gender and ages?

IM: One key aspect of Nigerian identity is about being part of a larger community, a support system. I don’t know if you have any Nigerian friends, but we tend to support each other on the sole basis of being Nigerian. No other reason. With the ages and genders, I wanted to convey a sense of family, a sense that we are all in this together.

DC: This final question is a bit of a departure. If “Nigerian Identity” had a soundtrack, what three songs would you choose to include?

IM: That’s tough, in part because I toyed with the idea of having music as part of the exhibition. I wondered if the music would be Afrobeat or emotional. I know I would have something by Fela Kuti. Yeah, Fela would be on the list for sure. I’d also pick some jazz, like Miles Davis or Charlie Parker. I’d also add “Shades” by Wale (featuring Chrisette Michele).

Dr. Derrais (pronounced like Paris) Carter is an assistant professor of Black Studies at Portland State University. His research interests include 20th century African American history, gender and sexuality studies, and black cultural studies.. He is currently writing Obscene Material, a book examining black girlhood and scandal in 1919 Washington, D.C.

Ima Mfon is an editorial and fine-art photographer based in Lagos, Nigeria. He also spends a great deal of time in New York City, where he recently earned his MFA in Photography at the School of Visual Arts. Mfon was a recipient of the 2015 Lensculture Emerging Talents Award and he has exhibited at the Klompching Gallery and Rick Wester Fine Art in New York City, San Francisco Camerawork Gallery, and the Detroit Center for Contemporary Photography. Mfon also periodically collaborates with Bloomberg, covering stories that showcase less reported aspects of Nigerian culture.

Nigerian Identity is part of the Embodied: Asserting Self exhibition series that is generously supported by Arlene Schnitzer and Jordan Schnitzer

Our 2017 Viewing Drawers and Library Exhibition

From now through May 19th, our Library is featuring Relief – ten thematically-intertwined prints by Nickolas Hurlbut, Rachel McLain, and Hazel Glass, curated by Claire Bassett. These three artists are also select participants in our 2017 Pacific Northwest Photography Viewing Drawers. Hurlbut and Glass are based here in Portland, while McLain is based in Eugene, Oregon.

In keeping with our Library exhibition tradition, we wish to consider our current theme and convey its thread through our featured prints. Relief: reassurance and relaxation following release from anxiety; alleviation of pain or discomfort; a temporary break from tension. Amidst tremendous political tension in the States, we wonder whether moments of relief soothe our spirit, and refocus our mind.

 Nickolas Hurlbut. Spell (left) and Cleanse (right). 8 x 8 inches each, cyanotypes on watercolor paper, 2016.

Take the prints of Nickolas Hurlbut, for example, whose Cleanse, Lush, Spell, and Willow showcase softness and beauty in men. His subjects offer gentle gestures, harmonious with natural landscapes or rooms inside one’s home. According to Hurlbut, “femininity and masculinity [are] in one form, in each human.” Gentle and powerful is not a dichotomy, but a truer understanding of what it means to be human, irrespective of gender. With emphasis on masculinity, though, Hurlbut’s cyanotypes on watercolor paper allow repressed qualities, namely vulnerability and sensitivity, to reemerge. His prints legitimize feeling.

Rachel McLain. Flutter (left) and Pointed (right). 16 x 20 inches each, photography on plates, 2016.

Similarly yet distinctly, Rachel McLain’s three Untitled photographs offer “relief” through acute sensitivity to nature’s detail and organic structure. McLain, like Hurlbut, finds beauty in what is natural, but also emphasizes transformation: “I use minimal post-processing because I want to show what really existed in that moment …. [dew]drops are tenuous, light is right for only a short time, flowers droop and die, or become seeds.” The inevitable is prefigured with grace and maturity. Moreover, there is comfort in remembering what is delicate is not fragile; what is subtle and often overlooked is strong.

Hazel Glass. Salted 1 (left) and Salted 4 (right). 11 x 14 inches each, fine art digital prints, 2016.

Turning to Hazel Glass’ Salted 1, Salted 4, and Salted 5, we see larger organic structures – salt pools in the middle of a Mexican desert – haunting with everyday grace and enchanting with otherworldly contrast. Glass’ “shining lens eye” is ready for magic: playful shadows and reflections; beauty in unexpected places; the full spectrum of ambient light. These moments sing to her and to us. We feel the possibility of wonder without escapism and attention without force. May we value the gentler parts of ourselves, reflected within nature and our bodies in continual abundance.

Please note: All prints on our Library wall – and in our Viewing Drawers – are for sale, purchasable at our Front Desk.

Written by Claire Elizabeth Bassett.

The intersection of photography and performance

Tracy Broyles dance with Lauren Semivan (photo by Stephen A. Miller)

There are many ways to explore photography and over the next few months, we will spend some time exploring our exhibitions through the performing arts. We kicked off this concept in March, when dancer/choreographer Catherine Egan responded to the work of Magda Biernat’s Adrift series.

This Saturday evening (April 1), Blue Sky hosts dancer Tracy Broyles and musician Adrian Hutapea in exploring Lauren Semivan’s series, Observatory. I will join Adrian with voice and sound (answering for some of you the question of what I do in my spare time).

Broyles will begin at 7pm, performing throughout the space for about 90 minutes, interacting with Semivan’s work, exploring wind, geometry, alternate viewpoints, and re-arrangement of linear and perceived time.

Audience is invited to come and go observing for as long as they choose.  Sip on a drink (thanks Pike Road Wines), wander, observe, and reflect. A suggested donation of $0 – $10+ will help pay for this and other collaborative programming.

Lauren Semivan’s and Tara Sellios’ exhibitions close on Sunday, April 2, so don’t miss this (almost) final opportunity to engage with this amazing work.

- Lisa DeGrace, Executive Director