Unseen Portland presents an honest, non-touristy portrait of the city

Unseen Portland offers a collection of user-submitted photographs of the city and features a collaboratively captured snapshot of the city. One takes a picture of Portland, sends it to the blog, and if creator and curator Andrew Kessler thinks it fits, it gets posted to their site.

The effort began almost four years ago when Kessler encountered a similar effort in Denver. At first the majority of his focus was on street art, but the focus of the blog has expanded the range of its aesthetic.

Andrew and I met up at Arabica where we chatted about the evolution of his project.

Why did you start Unseen Portland?

I started because of Unseen Denver. I was out there visiting a friend and I saw some street art that made me laugh. My friend took a picture and said that she was going to send it to Unseen Denver, which was then new. I found it online, talked to the guy who started it and started Unseen Portland. There is one in San Francisco, one in New York, which was in the New York Times when it came out.

In the beginning, it was mostly me and friends submitting until finally people started to submit. Matt Robbins—I love his stuff—submitted a lot, Karen Jenkins and Corey Templeton post a lot.

What about Unseen Portland is responsible for its success?

I think it is a window into Portland that does not force a touristy lens. There are no lighthouses, lobster or any of the other crap you typically see associated with Portland. It’s the nitty gritty; it’s everything from street art to flowers seen in the city. I shy away from putting people in the photos so that it doesn’t become a lifestyle blog, though I made an exception for the one of the pedicab and the street preacher because I thought the situation was funny. It has been a very popular picture. Traffic had slowed down a little, but it is still steady and people continue to follow on Tumblr, Facebook and Twitter.

As a younger person who doesn’t feel spoken to by whatever efforts tourism bureaus are engaging in, efforts like Unseen seem more likely appeal to my tastes and get me to consider going to a city I have not yet considered going to. Sometimes I just want to see an inventory of a city.

Yeah, you come to Portland and what do you do? You eat, drink, go to the Eastern Prom. Unless you’re from here, you aren’t going to know what exists outside of a carefully edited, tourist-friendly narrative. How do they find Ruski’s if Ruski’s isn’t presented in that narrative? Or seek out street art?

What have you learned about Portland by maintaining the blog?

There are a lot of people who enjoy street art. That is one of the bigger things I have learned. Before I thought that it was one of those things that people enjoyed in a close because people have generally had disdain for it. It has broken out because of artists like Banksy and now you have people cutting down walls artists have painted on and putting them in galleries. That has changed the culture and levels of acceptance.

There are so many things we have always looked at and don’t give a damn about. There is beauty in everything depending on how a shot is framed. People’s compulsion to capture those moments is awesome to me.

College or California: feedyourhead
Photo of Andrew: Zack Bowen
Sunflower Church: kjmaine
Street Preacher: Maine Pedicab
Maine / Home: LizzieLou (Liz Woodbury)
Take What You Need: Andrew Kessler
Tax the Super Rich: Todd Russell
Obama Watches Futurama: Burnsy06 (Kate Byrne)

Alex Steed

About Alex Steed

Alex Steed has written about and engaged in politics since he was an insufferable teenager. He has run for the Statehouse and produced a successful web series. He now runs a content firm called Knack Factory with two guys who are a lot more talented than himself.