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Going twice
Tanja Alexia Hollander on BPiCís "photo a go-go" auction

Underneath the white paper wrapping is a stunning photographic print of a worn, stuffed, pink bunny rabbit, perched in the gap between mom and dadís pillows at the head of a bed. The right side of the image is soaked in sunlight that feels more like the glue holding the space together than a warming presence. But for a few trickles and pools, the light is sucked straight on into the bedspread, comprising the bulk of the image, in both senses of the word. At the top of this cascade of fabric, the bunny sits and holds a felt sunflower in its mitts. This warm, fuzzy creature bears the full burden of the responsibility of being and providing the single and painfully obvious note of cheer. Suffocating. Over its right shoulder, a corrugated plastic tube from a sleep apnea machine snakes and tangles its way around the knob on the bedpost.

This photograph by Daniel Davis is one of over a hundred photographic works available in the fourth annual Photo a Go-Go auction at the Bakery Photographic Collective this Friday. Sales from the work, all of it donated, help fund the Collective, which provides darkroom working space, equipment, even a budding reference library, to a growing group of Portland artists.

"This is one of the reasons I love working here," BPiC honcho-type Tanja Alexia Hollander says as she peels back the paper on yet another from a randomly stacked pile of several dozen framed prints and gets first look at the image inside. Watching her, it seems that each unwrapping is something like opening a birthday present from a friend, even though she wonít get to keep it; indeed, most of them were made by friends, fellow BPiC members, and occasionally former students. After she gets a look and gives me one, too, she wraps it back up and shelves it, where it will sit until everything goes up on the wall for Thursdayís auction preview.

Phoenix: Can you tell me a bit about the history of the Bakery Photographic Collective, when it got started, how and why, and by whom? And about the nature of your involvement with it?

Hollander: It started after the old Maine Photo Co-Op went out of business [in 1999]. Scott Peterman and I were desperate to print because we both had shows coming up. Originally, we were going to temporarily set up the color machine and a makeshift darkroom in the basement of the bakery, then our space became available, and we decided to pull together a group of people. There were a core of us who printed at the old place, so we started with them and then just spread the word.

The original group was 10 people, but quickly grew for financial reasons. We decided that our monthly "dues" needed to cover all operating expenses and debt ó we bought all the equipment from the co-op, and I took out a personal loan ó and that income from renting out the space would go to purchasing new equipment and replacing broken stuff. We all have jobs within the organization. Scott Peterman and I are co-directors ó I think thatís what itís called ó and we also maintain the color machine. We have a comptroller, renter co-coordinator, black-and-white chemistry person, maintenance, and so on.

Q: I imagine that being part of this large and dynamic group of artists must provide a sense of kinship and community. Has your relationship with BPiC impacted upon your own work? Speaking of which, whatís new with your own work these days?

A: I am sure it has, but I doní t know if I can qualify it. It is really nice to work in an environment that I built from scratch, and to know Iím not in this ó crazy art business ó alone. I really like seeing images on the wall and trying to guess whose they are. I like being able to borrow paper, film, cameras. We are starting a pretty good library, so it is great being able to look at fabulous books and music. As far as my own work, Iím working on sexy landscapes and very small works ó two and a half by two inches. The little ones are really fun and a nice breath of fresh air.

Q: What are the primary challenges to sustaining a working space like BPiC?

A: Well to be very honest, for me, itís letting go. I tend to be a bit on the controlling side; I have a very specific way of how and when I want things done, and you just canít do that with 20 other people who also have their own views. Itís learning which battles to fight. We donít have a staff person, so sometimes just the business-type stuff gets to be an issue. Something like checking voice-mail becomes a huge deal. It blew up and we spent an hour trying to figure out how to deal with people not checking it, and finally it was settled that if we had an answering machine that blinked, it would be better. I couldnít believe it, but it worked! After months of me harassing, begging people to check and return calls, all we needed was a machine that blinked.

Q: If it isnít too incendiary a question, can you name a couple of your own personal favorites in this yearís auction?

A: To be honest with you, I have only seen about 20 percent of the work. Most of it doesnít come in until the day before hanging, or even the day of. Have you ever tried to organize a hundred artists to do anything?!

From what Iíve seen, we have some great student work from the Maine College of Art: Dan Davisís pink bunny is fabulous, and Liz Sofarelliís yellow bathtub is just gorgeous. Scott Petermanís print of São Paolo is great. Youíll have to be fighting me off in the bidding wars. I think itís a shame that most people gravitate towards the "names" and overlook some real gems. And as you know, they are so cheap!*

Q: Any closing thoughts on this yearís print sale?

A: I just want to say how much I really love doing this event. It is amazing to me how many people come out of the woodwork to participate. The event seems to grow every year and it really shows how vibrant photography is in Maine. I think weíll have some out-of-town bidding this year and the event has the potential to get some regional recognition. I anticipate that we wonít always have to do it as a fund-raiser, and can start to kick back some real cash to the folks who donate ó right now we give them two hours of darkroom time, a $200 value.

*Note: The author somehow managed to walk away from the 2001 Photo a Go-Go with a photograph by Scott Peterman ó a lone ice-fishing shack at the center of Sebago Lake on a horizonless winter day ó for around $200 (framed, beautifully, by Zero Station). Thatís one to tell the grandkids about, and proof that this auction is a place where season-appropriate miracles really can happen.

Chris Thompson can be reached at xxtopher@hotmail.com

BPiCís Photo a Go-Go, with music by King Memphis, is Dec. 5, from 6 to 8 p.m., with a preview Dec. 4, from 1 to 8 p.m., at Bakery Photographic Collective, Bakery Studios, 61 Pleasant St., Portland; see www.bakeryphoto.com

Issue Date: December 5 - 11, 2003
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