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Rebekah Rocha

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LPS Spotlight: Rebekah Rocha

Since the photographers featured in the Local Photographer Showcases in each city are supremely talented and excited about reaching new audiences with their work, we will be regularly featuring them to give you more insight into their work and their experience Crusading. Next up is Rebekah Rocha from the Seattle Crusade Pop-up:

Tell us a little about your background as a photographer and where you are now with your work.

I have a background in graphic design and photography, as a photographer I work with various camera formats; in color, black and white and historical processes, whichever method gets the message across for me in the best manner. Photography for me is a way to see the world in a more focused and up close manner.  For the last few years have been fascinated in how we use, change, and attempt to control our private spaces, specifically the backyard. In a society where so much of what we do is public, or we choose to broadcast to the public activities through various media, it is interesting for me to see how people act and what they do in their private outdoor spaces, from a small urban yard or a larger, more rural or wilder space. I have always had an interest in archeology and collecting, and through finding objects at these spaces, photographing the occupants and creating tintype photograms from the objects, I am looking at and documenting what happens there. I also teach art, design and photography courses to high school and university level students, and I love inspiring others to observe and react to the world around them in a visual way.

How did you hear about the Crusade, and what were your initial impressions?

I heard about the crusade through the Photographic Center NW, a photographic gallery and school in Seattle. My initial impression was that the event was an interesting way to engage the public, in a relaxed and fun manner, that I had not really seen before. I love to collect original art, and it makes me cringe just a little when I see all the mass produced prints from Ikea or other stores, when I know original, wonderful art can be collected at all price points. As a teacher I often see amazing art from my students, from teenagers to graduate students, and I know they are thrilled when someone purchases their art! Sometimes it just takes that first purchase at a recent graduate's show, to instill the confidence in them to continue their art-making career.

Were you excited to participate in the Local Photographer Showcase?  Why or why not?

Yes. Sometimes I feel the traditional art venues, such as the gallery space, reach a small audience, in that typically a select group of people attend gallery shows. So to be out in a public space I felt was a way to engage and talk with people who may not see art in a traditional gallery setting very often, and it was a way to speak to people who might not have a specific knowledge of photography as an art form

How did the event go for you?  Was it like you expected or different?  Better or worse?

It went well, I met some really interesting people, many of them from out of town and curious about our project and my work.

I was a little surprised by the negative response from some of the nearby vendors. I understand it is important to value art, and most all artists need to sell their work for cash in order to make a living. I also feel sometimes it is important to do positive things in the world, and not expect to receive something in return. The smiles and genuine excitement from the collectors when they got to hold their piece was awesome to see! and at some points we had a little crowd of people, all there to see and talk about art, in my mind any group discussing art is a positive event.

What do you hope will come out of the experience for you - personally and professionally?  Do you think those are realistic expectations?

I hoped to attract more attention to my project, to encourage people to think about how they use their own outdoor space, or if they don't have them (apartment dwellers, etc) to observe and learn about how others might use theirs.  I am interested in working with the public and at times that can be a bit daunting, I would love to connect with more people who would be interested in having their backyards be documented in my project as well.

Tell us about the image you gave away at the event and how to see more of your work.

The image I gave away was a small modern, dryplate tintype of a "Fox Sparrow" I found in my parent's backyard, my childhood home. The dryplate process lets me explore and collect items, and then in the quiet of the darkroom to create prints. Tintypes are objects themselves, strong and yet fragile at the same time. They have a physical presence and tactile quality that I love, and they will endure as the bird and other objects I collect disintegrate over time. To see more of my work, or to contact me to have your backyard photographed as part of the projects: www.rebekahrocha.com

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Successful in Seattle

Seattle was a fantastic way to end the west coast leg of the Crusade tour.  We had bright, sunshiny days (I’m told not to pack my bags to move West – the weather is not usually so clear) and a really supportive community.  Many thanks to Photo Center NW, Ann Pallesen and the Local Photographer Showcasers. I gave a talk at Photo Center on Tuesday night to an enthusiastic crowd.  I love having the opportunity to talk about engaging new audiences with art – that’s what this whole Crusade is about, after all – and speaking to a group of artists is especially exciting.  I love sharing ideas and helping artists think of innovative ways to build their audience and collector base.  As usual, I meant to film the talk, but alas. . . maybe in Chicago.

The next day we set out on the biggest Crusade adventure yet:  a pop-up event without a pre-determined location.  Fortunately, Lady Blue scored a sweet spot right in the thick of things at Pike Place Market.  There is an outdoor section of artist kiosks where vendors sell jewelry, tie dye shirts, leather things, etc., and parking there seemed like a great fit.  I asked the five local photographers to meet me at the Starbucks.  Ha!  They are everywhere.  The oldest is not the original, and the one I was standing out front of wasn’t even either.  Luckily Ann Pallesen (gallery director at Photo Center NW) was dialed in to the myriad Starbucks locations, and we were able to round up the photographers without too much trouble.

I have mentioned before that the vibe of each pop-up seems to reflect the personality of the city.  Los Angeles was bubbly and an absolute blast – people were practically doing cartwheels about the event, and we had trouble talking to all of the people who stopped to talk to us.  The people on the streets of San Francisco required more drawing out – they walked by quickly, heads down, earbuds in, ready to say, “no – I don’t have any money” at any moment.  Portland was like an episode of Portlandia, start to finish.  So when I first arrived in Seattle, I asked some of the locals what the stereotypical personality of a Seattlite was, and I got this answer across the board:  passive-aggressive.

I wasn't sure how this would manifest itself, but after the first few people manning the artist booths came up to enthusiastically ask what the bus was all about, we were the recipients of lots of icy stares.  Then when we busted out the art and started doing our Crusade thing, the stares turned into glares until one "friend of the artists" declared our event to be inconsiderate to the artists and detrimental to their sales.  First, we were approaching people on the street, not on their sidewalk.  And we were giving away photography, while they were selling anything but.

But it does bring up a concern a lot of people have - how am I encouraging people to collect art if I'm giving it away?  I wrote a long post about this and other criticisms, along with an explanation of the genesis of the project, but here's an excerpt relating to this particular question, which is worth saying again:

My goal is to create an exciting, engaging, transformative experience around art.  I hope people will interact with the pop-up and get a taste for the value art can add to their lives.  I want people to meet the artists who are out creating great work in their own community and make a connection to them and their work.  Hopefully this connection and introduction will get them over a threshold where they will begin to participate in arts programming in their city and will eventually lead to patronizing and collecting original art.

Despite how it may seem, I am realistic (idealistic and realistic) and realize that we are not going to convert every person who walks away with a photograph into a collector.  But this tour is an opportunity to start a conversation about art - not just with the pop-up participants, but also with larger numbers of people through press and social media.

Anyway, the "authorities" got involved, and after a nice chat with them, we decided (the other option being very unappealing) to move the operation to Cal Anderson Park, which was lovely. Three photographers and a very go-with-the-flow art critic (Jen Graves from The Stranger who wrote this article about the event) piled in Lady Blue and we were off to give a new neighborhood a taste of art.

In no time we were out of photos and five Seattle photographers had ten new collectors each. These five (David Adam EdelsteinJoanna Jinselli, Larry LarsenRebekah Rocha, Raychel Rogers) were energetic and fun and super excited to be involved - but not as excited as I was to have an opportunity to work with them.  

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