Thalassa Raasch, a student at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in 2012, took this photo of blind couple John Lee and Leslie Gruette as they attended a Halloween party masquerading as bacon and eggs. The photo will be included in an exhibition of student work by the school that will be displayed in a cargo container in Congress Square on Aug. 17-22.
PORTLAND – An upcoming exhibition of photographs organized by the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland will take place in a shipping container.
Salt, at 561 Congress St., will set up a 20-foot by 8-foot metal shipping container in Congress Square later this month and adorn it with a montage of photographs and videos of students' work from the past two years to help promote Salt and its programs.
The container and the artwork then will go to New York City for a large-scale exhibition in a park below the Brooklyn Bridge.
The Portland aspect of the exhibition is called "Photoville ME," and will be on view from Aug. 17 to 22. It will be open in New York as part of a much larger "Photoville NYC" exhibition, which runs from Sept. 19 to 29 at Brooklyn Bridge Park in Brooklyn.
"Port city that we are, we are no strangers to seeing shipping containers," said Donna Galluzzo, Salt's executive director. "We got a bunch of sponsors to work with us to create this mobile exhibition. If it's successful and goes well, our pie-in-the-sky idea is to continue it and do it every year."
This is actually the second year that Salt has done something similar. It had a shipping container promoting Salt and its student work at "Photoville NYC" last year, when about 40,000 visitors saw it. But last year's effort did not include a local aspect.
This year's "Photoville NYC" will be bigger, offering greater exposure. Organizers hope to attract 100,000 people.
Galluzzo decided that if Salt was going to make the effort to create another mobile exhibition, it might as well start in its hometown.
The shipping container is certain to be a curiosity. Congress Square, at the intersection of High and Congress streets, is highly visible and directly across from the Portland Museum of Art.
It also is highly controversial. The company converting the adjacent former Eastland Park Hotel into a higher-end property has proposed buying the site to add a ballroom, which would limit public use of the square.
Galluzzo said the decision to locate the shipping container in the square had nothing to do with the discussion about the future of the park.
"It's simply a matter of convenience. We are right around the corner from Congress Square. This is our neighborhood," she said.
Salt is creating large vinyl banners with student artwork printed on them to hang inside the shipping container for visitors to view. A video of student work also will be projected on a screen in the container.
Among the artists with work in the show is former Salt student G. Ligaiya Romero, whose spring 2012 project involved documenting the Somali hip-hop scene in Lewiston. Her photograph in the exhibition is a portrait she took of Ahmed Mohamed, a young rapper who also goes by Wooh the Kid.
As a first-generation American herself -- her parents came from the Philippines in the 1980s -- she wanted to spend time with first-generation Somali kids from Lewiston to tell their stories about assimilating in American culture while balancing the cultural influences of their parents.
The Lewiston project emerged as an interesting topic, she said, because of the large number of newly settled Somali families there.
"I really liked how the first-generation Americans there were defining themselves in terms of music, and specifically in terms of hip-hop," she said.
Documentary photography appeals to her because it helps create understanding and empathy, she said.
"It is sometimes difficult for us to understand each other, especially when we come from so many different places. If a photograph can provide insight into how another person is living and a little more understanding for a person on the opposite perspective of where you are and where you come from, you have the chance to make this a more compassionate world."
After graduating from Salt, Romero enrolled in the visual communications program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She will earn her master's degree next spring.
Both in Portland and in New York, the goal of the "Photoville" project is simply to give people the chance to learn about Salt, its offerings and its mission, Galluzzo said.
"We just want to create some buzz and some interest," she said. "It's great exposure for the school and for the student artists who do such compelling work. This is a way to take the students' artwork out onto the street."
Salt is a nonprofit school that offers semester-long intensives in documentary writing, radio, photography and multimedia storytelling.
Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at: