The Portlanders

  • Photographs by David McCarthy
  • Introduction by S. Tremaine Nelson

Available at a subversive bookseller near you.

Black and white photograph showing two men on motorcycles outside Kelly's Olympian, a bar in downtown Portland Oregon.
Black and white photograph of a parent walking on a sidewalk while holding a young child's hand and pushing a stoller.

Introduction

Here we are, then, on the streets of Portland, Oregon. What would Elliott Smith think of all this? This book is the first feature title we’ve published as Northwest Review. Originally conceived as a literary magazine, Northwest Review was started by writers and artists in the English Department of the University of Oregon in 1957. The first issue ever published included Ken Kesey’s debut short story “The First Sunday in September.” The journal went on to help launch the careers of Raymond Carver, Gary Snyder, Ursula K. Le Guin, Louise Erdrich, and George Saunders. The University of Oregon cut funding in 2011, and the journal ceased all operations.

Nine years later, a team of volunteers collaborated to bring the journal back into print. We’ve published six issues so far – and every new issue surprises us. We publish debut poets and Pulitzer Prize winners alike. We publish from the “slush” pile and we seek out our literary heroes and ask for their work. Sometimes, they say: yes. Often, they say “not right now,” and we keep reading, editing, and collaborating on what we consider the tomorrow of literature.

Black and white photograph of a woman sitting on a table outside, smoking and looking at the screen of a device in her hand.
Black and white photograph of a smiling man in a hooded sweatshirt sitting in the back of a panel truck.
Black and white photograph of four people sharing a meal at a picnic table underneath large fir trees at Sellwood Park in Portland, Oregon

Our home, Portland, has become an economic frontier. And in this collection of photographs, David McCarthy has given us a portait of Portland that shows the city’s resilience and humanity in the face of unthinkable housing costs. Rare is the human soul that chooses to live without heat or running water; rarer still is the heart that refuses to look away. Look, now. This is real.

The Portland of my childhood was gritty and green–an industrial maze of trainyards, tugboats, creeks, sloughs, and leafy public parks. My dad worked as a fifth grade science teacher in the Portland Public School system and bought our family’s first house for $48,000 in 1988. That same house is worth more than $1,000,000 now, and by any reputable metric the median cost of owning a home in Portland now exceeds $500,000. The consequence is that more and more people here are renting–or giving up–and the nightmare is not knowing how to help.

Black and white photograph of two kids on bicycles with helmets and backpacks, waiting to cross SE Tacoma Street at SE 13th Avenue in Portland, Oregon.
Black and white photograph of a newspaper distribution box in downtown Portland for The Epoch Times. The box is covered with empty packs of cigarettes, an empty pint of vodka, an bottle of liquid iron supplement, and flowers.
Black and white photograph of two dome camping tents on a sidewalk outside of First Christian Church in downtown Portland Oregon. A sign in the church display behind the tents reads 'Be Loved'.

The first image I ever saw of David McCarthy’s work was an old garage. Something about the mixture of the oil-stained concrete and smooth river stones caught my eye; home builders in the early twentieth century here in Sellwood used to pull sediment out of the Willamette River to make concrete in the basement of our houses, and a good home inspector, I’ve heard, can tell you whether your house was made in the winter or the summer depending on the types of rocks they find in the walls of your basement foundation. This is a book for Portlanders, but/and it’s a book for anyone who has ever formulated an opinion about Portland without living here.

In taking these pictures over the course of seven years–from 2015 to 2022–David McCarthy has surveyed a wider swath of the city, more granular and revealing, than what our distant relatives may believe to be true about our hometown. These pictures are intimate–and painful. They show a city learning how to survive, and a city refusing to die. These Portlanders are emblematic of the Kesey spirit that has long guided Northwest Review: never give up and “never give a inch.”

–STN
Portland, Oregon
10/3/22

Black and white photograph of a visibly wet camping tent on a sidewalk in Portland Oregon. A can of Pringles brand potato chips sits near the entrance of the tent.
Black and white photograph of a makeshift campsite near the Willamette River in Portland Oregon. Many wooden pallets are visible, along with a charcoal grill, a shopping cart filled with discarded items, and a dome camping tent near the river.
Black and white photograph of a fifth wheel trailer parked near a deck outside of a house in Portland Oregon

About the Author

David McCarthy is a third generation Oregonian who’s been taking photographs since he was 7 years old. He grew up in a variety of small towns in Oregon, spent the 1980s in four different cities across the United States, and has lived in Southeast Portland since 1990. His daughters attended the same neighborhood school in Portland that his mother attended.

Born the same year that Northwest Review was founded, he graduated from the same high school as Ken Kesey, studied poetry at the University of Oregon with one of the editors of Northwest Review, and graduated from UO with a degree in Architecture. He worked in the profession for 40 years, and retired during the Covid-19 pandemic.

David’s photographs can be found at Sanslartigue.com and on Instagram @david_at_sanslartigue. His photos have been published in Northwest Review, Shots Magazine and The Architectural Review.

Black and white photograph of a fifth wheel trailer parked near a deck outside of a house in Portland Oregon
Black and white photograph of a man on a sidewalk pulling a wagon filled with bicycle tires, bicycle inner tubes, water containers, and an open five-gallon bucket.
Black and white photograph of a makeshift food distribution box in front of a house in Portland Oregon containing cans of tomatoes, a bag of dried beans, and several onions.