Blue Sky Gallery

Photographing Arthur Tress

by Adrain Chesser on March 21, 2013


The photographs of Arthur Tress were a huge influence on me as a young gay man. While I wrestled with the notions of how to be an artist using the medium of photography, Arthur’s work pointed to the way in which I could make images that helped me interpret my life.


Being a part of the Exhibition Committee at Blue Sky gave my husband and I the amazing opportunity to host Arthur while he was visiting Portland for the opening of his March 2013 show. I was already excited about being able to hang out with him. Excitement turned to giddiness when he mentioned in an email that he had been asking photographers to photograph him in the nude, and asked if I would be interested.


So, of course it was great to hangout with one of my Art Heros, to run around Portland and break the law trespassing on Ross Island while he made photographs. It was invaluable to have him look at my work and give me feedback and he was incredibly endearing as he tried to infuse me with some “Jewish Moxie”, but what really rocked my world was photographing Arthur Tress.


I have been working on a new photo series about clowns, and I thought it might be the perfect fit to incorporate Arthur’s request to be photographed in the nude into this new body of work. We had been tossing around ideas for a few days and we scheduled the shoot for the morning of his last day in town. My hopes were for a pretty straightforward portrait: clown face, clown shoes, and little else. Arthur wanted to do an homage to Emmett Kelly’s famous clown persona “Weary Willie,” whose iconic act involved sweeping a pool of light under a rug.


I wanted to shoot outside and, of course, it was classic Portland spring weather: 40 degrees and drizzly. We start shooting and it’s going well; I was getting the photos we had intended to make. We had been working for about 30 minutes and we were doing the homage with an oversized rose and a mound of flour and I felt like we had got it. Arthur is 72 years old, he’s naked and starting to shiver, so I said “it’s good…we got it, were done.” There was a moment of exhale, a letting go, and then it was like a switch flipped and Magic happened. Arthur grabs a handful of flour and starts rubbing it all over his body, he then proceeds to fill the giant rose with flour and pouring it over his head in an insane enactment of pollination. Then he starts spewing mouthfuls of flour into the air, ending the crazy clown act with a mouthful of overtly sexual spittle. For me, it was a moment of transcendence when the photographer and the model become true collaborators, when the intentions of both parties is surpassed to create something new and unexpected.


It’s in these moments that I as “the photographer,” “the artist,” disappear and the machine that is in my hands is no longer a machine, but something more akin to the eye of God and for a few brief shinning moments we are elevated above the mundane.


Adrain Chesser, March 2013





The Stranger

Walk The Art Tonight!

by Jen Graves on August 9, 2012


It's an especially strong edition of Capitol Hill's Art Walk tonight. Jed Dunkerley is at Joe Bar (below), Stranger "What You're Not Wearing" columnistTimothy Rysdyke's I Think You're So Famous: Hillebrity Superstars is at Cairo, and two of my favorite Northwest photographers, Adrain Chesser and Steven Miller, present We Are Such Faggots (above)—which is so juicy, you're not even allowed inside unless you're over 18—at True Love.


See you out there. And I should also add that West Seattle has its art walktonight too, so get on over there as well.



True Love Art Gallery

We Are Such Faggots

By Staff on August 9, 2012




True Love Art Gallery presents We Are Such Faggots: Creating the Homonormative Adolescent Experience, featuring the art of Steven Miller and Adrain Chesser.The two northwest queer artists explore and reinterpret the sexual fantasies of their youth through hand-crafted porn photographs, t-shirts, and writings.

with DJ Freddy King of Pants and tasty treats from Popcycles

Adrain Chesser returned to the fundamentalist Baptist campground of his childhood, which has since become a gay campground. His staged and documentary photographs recreate scenes from his childhood and capture the sexually playful men that go there now. Gay Campground appears at True Love with the work’s more explicit aspects brought to the fore.


Steven Miller recreates the voyeurism of a childhood game he called “The Photographer.” With an invisible camera and a disrobing cousin, he intimately and forever tied his sexuality to art-making. For True Love, he manifests the game with the resulting photographs silkscreened onto t-shirts. While most of the shirts are too obscene to legally wear in public, he encourages people to do so anyway.

Together the artists create a space that honors their burgeoning sexuality, merging playfulness with high faggotry.

Due to the nature of the work, no one under 18 may attend.

Exhibition runs through September 9th



The Stranger

Beyond The Western Lands

by Jen Graves on Septermber 20, 2012


When the early-20th-century American regionalist painter Thomas Hart Benton thought the East Coast was getting overrun by “aberrant” effetes and homosexuals, he praised the West for its manly-manness. Screw that and take this eight-foot-long chalk-on-chalkboard drawing of bulls’ balls with Benton’s words superimposed above them, says Seattle artist Brian Britigan in this exhibition of four openly queer Western artists. They’re all dudes (Britigan plus well-known photographers Adrain Chesser and Steven Miller, and beloved ceramicist Jeffry Mitchell), but in the back gallery is a nice corollary: three luscious, semiabstract landscape paintings that Susanna Bluhm created for her wife and son. (SOIL Gallery, 112 Third Ave S,, noon–5 pm, free)



The Photo Center NW Blog

Lecture: Steven Miller & Adrain Chesser

by PCNW Staff on March 8, 2012


Join us Friday, May 4th, for a lecture by Author and Subject: Contemporary Queer Photography artists Steven Miller & Adrain Chesser


Steven Miller and Adrain Chesser are both photographers in their own right who began collaborating in 2010 after discovering that they were both men in their forties who love to play dress up. Through their trickster alter egos, Beaster and Bear, Chesser and Miller create complex narratives that explore the politics of gay culture, spirituality, and man’s relationship to nature. The photographs have two distinct styles: one mythic and rooted in art history, the other using the conventions of documentary photography – together they create a universe that brings archetypal forces into the here and now. Miller and Chesser are Seattle-based artists.

In a second series, “I Have Something to Tell You” Adrain Chesser confronts people in his life with important news and documents their reactions. When Chesser tested positive for HIV and was diagnosed with AIDS, he had an extreme physical reaction whenever he thought about having to tell his friends and family. He realized that it was the same reaction he had as a kid whenever he had to disclose something uncomfortable to his parents, fearing rejection or even abandonment if larger secrets were revealed. He worked at overcoming this fear by photographing his friends as he told them about his diagnosis. At the beginning of each shoot he would start by saying, “I have something to tell you”. Each sitter’s reaction was unique depending upon their own experience of loss, illness and death, creating a portrait of unguarded, unsettling honesty.


Friday, May 4th, 6:30pm, Tickets: $10, $8 Members
This lecture is in partnership with Decode Books.




Artist Lecture: Steven Miller & Adrain Chesser on Vimeo

Posted by Photo CEnter NW


Artist lecture with Steven Miller & Adrain Chesser at Photo Center NW on Friday, May 4th, 2012, in conjunction with Author And Subject: Contemporary Queer Photography exhibition 




A.I.D.S. Widow

by Paula Sunnjensen on September 20, 2012 


Over the past three years I have been working with the photographers Adrain Chesserand White Eagle in their Art Camps . The first project I worked on with them has the working title “A.I.D.S. Boy Camp” , I was cast as the A.I.D.S. Widow the image that was generated above is now simply entitled “Widow” . Their work is of a ritual nature and they bring real life into their work, and as I am in real life an A.I.D.S. widow I was included in this project. It was a lovely cathartic way for me to revisit a very challenging and difficult time is my life and an opportunity for me to release a lot of the energy that I had been carrying around since the 80‘s and 90’s.

The camp was mostly made up of HIV positive men and we spent three days exploring shame , the past, the future and the banishing of A.I.D.S.  I very much look forward to when these images are shared with the world. I am very grateful to Adrian and White Eagle for including me in this project and have continued to work with them when ever possible.


Here is an interview from the Stranger Slog by Jen Graves with Adrain Chesser about another one of his series “I Have Something to Tell You” containing 54 images in which he takes a photo of a friend as he tell them he is HIV positive, this series was acquired by the Museum of Fine Arts Houston.




Accidental Bear

Contemporary Queer Photography:: Bear Galore in Seattle April 6 - May 27, 2012

On Thursday April 12, 2012


Artists’ Reception: Thursday, April 12, 6-8 pm
Lecture: Kelli Connell & Sophia Wallace, Friday, April 13, 6:30 pm

Artists: Adrain Chesser, Kelli Connell, Katie Koti, Molly Landreth, Steven Miller, Rafael Soldi, Chad States, Lorenzo Triburgo, Amelia Tovey, Sophia Wallace


This exhibition focuses on ten contemporary queer photographers who explore ideas of identity, gender, courage, relationships, sexuality and the human form.

Kelli Connell’s images appear to document a relationship between two women. Their idiom looks familiar: a young couple caught up in everyday moments of pleasure and reflection. The first flicker of unease comes as soon as the viewer registers the similarity of the two subjects, who seem to be twins–and incestuous twins at that. In fact, Connell has photographed the same model portraying both of the women and then digitally combined the two images so seamlessly that not a trace remains of their construction. Connell has been at the forefront of artists using digital technologies for the past decade, but her art is not about Photoshop, her photographs extend far beyond their duplicity into larger and more complex issues of identity and visual rhetoric. Connell is a Chicago based artist.


Katie Koti’s series, Asunder, reflect her exploration of gender and its relationship to sexuality. The landscape works on various levels in her images. She uses the seductive aesthetic appeal of landscape to engage the viewer, but the landscape is simultaneously represented as ambiguous. Koti challenges rigid dichotomies of identity and exposes the struggle an individual can go through inside of their own skin — a struggle that is not only psychological, but also social and physical. She explores the intersection of pain, clarity, and spirituality that can come from this struggle. Katie is based in New Haven, CT.


Molly Landreth offers a more extensive approach to queer portraiture with her project, Embodiment: A Portrait of Queer Life in America. With her photographs she addresses queerness as a multi-dimensional and national experience by collaborating with diverse and often-times invisible communities around the United States. Landreth is a Seattle based artist. Amelia Tovey is a New York based Australian filmmaker whose work focuses on documentary realism, social commentary and live musical performance. Between 2009 and 2011 Amelia co-produced, directed, filmed and edited several short documentary films for Embodiment.


Steven Miller and Adrain Chesser are both photographers in their own right who began collaborating in 2010 after discovering that they were both men in their forties who love to play dress up. Through their trickster alter egos, Beaster and Bear, Chesser and Miller create complex narratives that explore the politics of gay culture, spirituality, and man’s relationship to nature. The photographs have two distinct styles: one mythic and rooted in art history, the other using the conventions of documentary photography – together they create a universe that brings archetypal forces into the here and now. Miller and Chesser are Seattle-based artists.


Chad States taps into the mysticism and secrecy that still exists and surrounds queer culture. He documents hidden points of encounter in public spaces where homosexual men meet to engage in sexual interactions. “Cruising” has always been a part of gay culture; the word itself is a code, innocuous to outsiders, but representing an incognito hunt for sexual partners to those in the know. From the Pacific Northwest back east to Pennsylvania and New York, States obscures his subjects in the foliage of the forest and exposes this time-honored, gay tradition, dragging it out of the woods and into the light of the public eye. States is a Philadelphia based artist.


Peruvian artist, Rafael Soldi, approaches homosexuality from a cultural perspective. These images represent his struggle to surface from darkness, panic and hopelessness. He uses his relationship with a previous partner as an anchor for coming to terms with and defining his sexuality while transitioning from one country to another. Soldi is now living in Seattle.


Lorenzo Triburgo’s, Transportraits, are a series of portraits focused on transgendered men. These works explore identity and representation. Triburgo’s subjects are photographed against oil-painted backdrops that the artist created using the landscape painting instructions by Bob Ross, The Joy of Painting. Each subject is photographed to evoke a ‘classic’ portrait, recalling both renaissance portraiture and popular photography. Triburgo is based in Portland, OR.


Sophia Wallace explores the gendering of aesthetics and how the concept of beauty is tied to sexual objectification. Wallace photographed male subjects using the unspoken rules that dictate the way women are conventionally posed in photographs and paintings. Shorter than most of her models, she used a ladder to shoot them from above while directing them to look at her only with soft expressions. Mostly she asked them to look away – to be looked at. She uncovered aspects of their masculinity which might otherwise be downplayed for fear of appearing effeminate. As viewers, can we look at aestheticized vulnerability without inserting a gendered, sexual agenda onto it? Do beautiful men fall victim to the virgin/whore dichotomy or does their masculinity protect them from this reduction? Wallace is a Seattle artist based in Brooklyn, NY.




The Stranger


by Jen Graves on May 16, 2012


Adrain Chesser lined up 44 appointments with friends—he had something to tell them. Each friend sat in front of a backdrop of crimson and gold curtains that once hung in the Florida house where Chesser grew up. Once each friend settled in, he said, "I have something to tell you." He told them he had HIV, and he started taking their pictures.

The people in the photographs are trying to take it in. Some look stoic. Some look down. Some are about to cry, some already have. One can't contain her horror, grabbing her heart with one hand and a cigarette with the other. Some open their eyes wide on a new world.


"There's this blue-eyed guy—you can just tell that the words right immediately before this were 'Oh, shit,'" said Anne Wilkes Tucker, the leading American photography curator. "There are people who are looking at him like, 'No, no, no, you didn't say that, I'm not hearing you.' God, it must have been difficult for him to say that over and over again."


I Have Something to Tell You, part of which is on display at Photo Center NW, was first exhibited at Blue Sky in Portland in 2004. The following year, it went to Houston. Tucker acquired the whole series—54 pictures total—for the permanent collection of the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. She admired the intelligence and universal power of the pictures: "Even if you just saw those portraits and you didn't have any of the backstory... They're not self-indulgent."


During the telling, almost every friend had to look away from Chesser at some point, he forlornly remembers. But, he adds, they all looked back. This was where the magic of the art was, the art of the art. As in all of Chesser's photographic work, I Have Something to Tell You was not just a situation set up to create artworks. It was a ceremony to heal him from a different disease: shame.


"Any time I had to tell anyone about the diagnosis, I found that I would physically seize up," he says now. "I started to realize it was tied to my fear as a child that people would find out I was queer and abandon me.

"I wanted to transform it. I was doing seven portraits a day. I was having to swear people to secrecy, because it was a very close-knit community. I would take them upstairs afterward, give them a drink, they could be together. About halfway through, I had the realization that it was working. I was healing. No one was abandoning me, and no one was saying, 'Stop, don't take my picture.'"


The bio on his website reads:

I was born on May 19, 1965 in Okeechobee, Florida. I was groomed to be a Pentecostal preacher, studying the bible and taking piano and organ lessons. I spoke in tongues. I learned to cast out demons. I was gay. I left home at the first opportunity.


A friend gave me a camera and I fell in love with light and image. Another friend gave me an enlarger and supplies for a dark room. In a closet under a stairwell, I taught myself how to make a photograph.


I made cash for photographic supplies in many ways. I worked in restaurants as a dishwasher, busboy, waiter. I wrestled alligators at a Seminole Indian reservation. I was a Santa for charity. I have assisted gardeners, photographers, and drug dealers. I hustled sex for money.


Contrary to what you might expect from such a biography, Chesser is an inconspicuous, modest man with warm eyes and an unguarded way about him. Five years ago, he left Santa Fe, where he'd been running a candy store with his former life partner. Chesser decided to "dissolve that life" and fully pursue photography.


He'd already been returning periodically to Florida, to a Baptist campground he'd frequented as a Boy Scout. The campground is now—truth—a gay campground. 


Visiting there, he'd shoot documentary as well as staged photographs, capturing the freewheeling guys ("Just a bunch of good old boys but gay, willing to do anything photographically"), also setting up specific shots inspired by moments, both horrible and beautiful, from his childhood. The series is called Gay Campground. It was completed only recently, after a decade of working on it, culminating in a self-portrait in which he appears to be catching a flash of light in a hat he's holding. As a geeky, nonathletic kid, he'd once surprised everyone by catching a ball and making an out during a baseball game—using nothing but his hat as a mitt. "When I took that picture, it was like, 'Oh, okay, I'm done'" with Gay Campground—and the urgent filtering of an entire childhood.


But back to five years ago, to an equally enormous moment (artistically and personally) in Chesser's life: During a Native American ceremony at Short Mountain Radical Faerie Sanctuary in Tennessee, Chesser met Timothy White Eagle, who became his life partner and photographic collaborator. Both men grew up in the country; White Eagle, a White Mountain Apache, was adopted by a white family and raised in the town of Montesano, Washington, in Grays Harbor County. Now they live together in an old, gorgeous, rambling house in the Central District; White Eagle has lived in Seattle for years (from 1996 to 2001 he owned Coffee Messiah on Capitol Hill, where Ursula Android, Jackie Hell, and sometimes White Eagle, who then went by Tim Turner, would perform in 2:30 a.m. cabarets). Together they work under the name Mercury Vapor Studios, after the lights their fathers installed in their backyards when they were kids so they could go out and play at night—and where they saw the dark edge of the forest dramatically delineated.


"It was a quantum leap when they started working together," said photography curator Tim Wride, now at the Norton Museum of Art in Florida and before that at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.


Wride was pictured in the first collaborative photograph Chesser and White Eagle made. He's naked in a hot springs at Breitenbush in Oregon, shielding his face with his hands. All the other men in the pool are naked, too, but the central figure is a transgender man standing up and out of the water, surrounded and supported by his peers despite not having the penis you expect.


"We create rituals with the intent of making a photograph," is how Chesser describes their way of working. "The photograph is the spell that goes out into the world as a prayer."


Not all the pictures envision an ideal like that first one. Jingle Dress is White Eagle in a trancelike dance, arms up, the powwow-inspired robe he's wearing weighted down by syringes. He had so many syringes because he'd had to stab them, full of HIV suppression drugs, into his stomach. In the photograph, the ground is littered with syringes that have fallen off in the course of the dance; he's dancing them off.

Chesser hasn't shown much in Seattle until now. Lately, he's been collaborating with White Eagle, the photographer Steven Miller, and others. Some of those collaborations are currently on view at Idea Odyssey, in addition to the works at Photo Center NW.


It's not hard to believe him when he says that exhibiting art is his least interesting ritual. To make their pictures, the artists bring together 10 or so people for a few days at a chosen location, usually wildernessy. Each "camp" has a theme—one was focused on hunting and feminism, another was called The Death of False Optimism—and they pre-create garments, sets, situations. For some pictures, the staging is based on, say, a Caravaggio painting; other times it's improvised ("It's dawn, grab whatever you have and let's go to the edge of the canyon"). Still, boxes of cat litter, or tarps, or power lines—down-to-earth traces—are all kept in the frame. "This is not a mythic other land that doesn't exist," White Eagle says. The prayers are real. pastedGraphic.pdf



Blue Sky Gallery 

2013 Pacific NW Photography Viewing Drawers 

by Staff on June 4, 2012


Beginning on First Thursday, April 4, 2013 and coinciding with Portland Photo Month, 68 regional artists will each debut 10 original photographic prints or objects from a single body of work to as part of Blue Sky’s Pacific Northwest Photography Viewing Drawers program.


On view through March 2014, the complete list of photographers includes:

Bobby Abrahamson * Jody Ake * Troi Anderson * Adam Bacher *Raymond Bidegain * Scott Binkley * Nancy Butler * Michael Cardiello * Brad Carlile * Adrain Chesser * Teresa Christiansen * Kevin Clark * Larry Clark * Susan de Witt * Hal Gage * Clarke Galusha * Raethel Geary * Richard Gehrke * Nicole Gelinas * Barbara Gilson * Joseph Glasgow * Lauren Grabelle * Edward Hamilton * Kate Harnedy * Stewart Harvey * Zane Healy * Carol Isaak * Ryota Kajita * John Kane * Bob Keefer * Ann Kendellen * Angelina Kidd * Heidi Kirkpatrick * Tarrah Krajnak * Bonnie Landis * Larry Larsen * Frank Lavelle * Jim Leisy * Stuart Allen Levy * Fritz Liedtke * Jim Lommasson * Stuart McCall * Robbie McClaran * George Olson * Robert Pallesen * Stepanka Peterka * Alexis Pike * David Pollock * Douglas Prior * Christopher Rauschenberg * Mark Reid * Jenny Riffle * Jim Riswold * Rich Rollins * Paul Romaniuk * Michael Sell * Brandon Sorg * Andrew Stanbridge * Travis Stanton * Elizabeth Stone * Mary Stroud * Jonathan Taylor * Michael Van Buskirk * Terri Warpinski * Kevin Wildermuth * David Wyatt * Carol Yarrow * Kristin Zabawa * and selected photographers from the Portland Grid Project

Jurors Diana Millar and Ed Marquand selected this group from more than 160 submissions to a free call for entries by photographers currently working in Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana. Both were equally impressed by the diversity of subject matter as well as the quality of technique apparent among this year’s cohort of artists.


“Seeing ten images by each photographer gave us a good idea of a consistency of vision and a sense of breadth of creative ambition. I’m pleased by the group we ended up with, and look forward to seeing the pieces in person. The diversity of approaches, techniques, and artistic interests reveals a rich photo culture in the Northwest–but I’m not going to claim that any Northwest style exists. Dedicated artists doing their work. That’s what these photographers are up to.” – Ed Marquand

“While the geographic distribution of the participants covered thousands of miles, ranging from the rough Alaskan tundra, down through the lush green forests of British Columbia and Orgeon, and east to the mountains of Montana, a common theme emerged from many of the photographers who submitted to the Drawers: the exploration of the local. I’m encouraged to see many of the submissions looking at the ‘local,’ their images telling stories that are close to home. By doing so, this invokes a deeper investigation that is rich and deliberate, thus inviting the audience into their world and proving that the still photographic image can still be a powerful storytelling medium.” – Diana Millar



ED MARQUAND is Creative Director and President of Marquand Books, a producer of distinctive, award-winning books for museums and art book publishers in the United States and abroad. His museum clients include the American Folk Art Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Seattle Art Museum, Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Crystal Bridges Museum of Art, Portland Art Museum, National Portrait Gallery, National Museum of the American Indian, Dallas Art Museum, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, and the High Art Museum. His publishing clients include Abrams, Chronicle Books, Princeton University Press, University of Washington Press, University of California Press, Rizzoli, and Yale University Press. He has written several books, including Hector Acebes, Portraits in Africa 1948-1952, distributed by University of Washington Press, and The Devil’s Mischief, Abbeville Press. He is also the Founder of Mighty Tieton, an incubator for artisan businesses in Tieton, Washington.

DIANA MILLAR is the co-owner and gallery director at Lúz Gallery in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. In 2009, she co-founded Lúz with her partner, photographer Quinton Gordon. As director of the gallery, she has hosted and supported exhibitions by both emerging and established international artists including the featured artists from Diffusion IV. In the fall of 2012, Diana and Quinton will expand their vision and open Lúz Studio, which will bring the gallery, workshops and an open studio under one roof. Their new studio and gallery will also be the home of Reciprocity Editions, a small imprint owned by Millar and Gordon, with a focus on creating fine press and handmade artists books. Millar was a reviewer at Photolucida’s Portfolio Reviews in 2011 and PhotoNOLA in 2012. She has served on public art selection committees, and as a juror for numerous exhibitions including Critical Mass 2011 and 2012.

The free Call for Entries for this year’s juried selection was made possible with support from the Oregon Arts Commission through a partnership with WESTAF.





Feature Shoot

Adrain Chesser and Steven Miller, Seattle

by Alison Zavos on April 8, 2011


Adrain Chesser and Steven Miller are both artists in their own right who have been collaborating on photographs, videos and installations for their Beaster and Bear project for over two years now. The two characters at the center of the work are the artists dressed in animal suits who act as trickster figures that expose the shadow side of how we live today. The work is focused on three central themes: to talk about the environmental impact humankind has on the few remaining forests in the Northwest, to establish a mythology that places marginalized people at the center of their own story, and to honor the multiple ways we as humans experience a living connection with nature and spirituality. The trickster aspect of the work insures that even as we honor nature we also acknowledge our personal involvement in its’ destruction; that in idealizing individuals we simultaneously show the shadow side of excess; and that in honoring spirituality we also reveal the dangers of blind faith and zealotry. The work has been shown at Fototage Trier, Germany; and been exhibited in .defaultmagazine in Istanbul.



Greg Kucera Gallery, Seattle

Mars vs. Venus: Images of Male and Female

October 6 - November 12, 2011



Catch Fire

Adrain Chesser: "Gay Campground"

by Adrain Chesser on December 12, 2011


“When I discovered that the Baptist Campground where I had camped as a boy scout was now a gay campground I was in awe. As a boy growing up in the backwoods of Florida I felt that I was the only person in the world afflicted with same sex attraction. I didn’t even have words for my feelings and I was terrified of being found out and cast out.


As an adult, I was giddy with the realization that my childhood fantasies and prayers for a safe zone had manifested in the very space that was once a source of torment. The fact that this haven exists in what is still a hostile redneck environment gave me hope and gave me pause. Returning to the campground, I discovered a group of “good ole boys” who, despite the dangers outside the gates, were ready to play and willing to be subjects in my photographs.”


“In this body of work I am intentionally revisiting childhood memories, restaging and reclaiming the stories that make up my formative years. Owning the stories in a new way, in the physical realm as a photograph, transforms how I experience these memories. Through the process of illuminating my past I have nullified a constant source of fear and a nagging sense of unease that has impacted my life. These little rituals, made with friends and strangers alike, aim to do more than just reclaim a lost childhood; they strive to show the humanity in all of us, outcasts or not.”


Adrain Chesser is a photographer based in Seattle, Washington. You find the complete series “Gay Campground” and more of his beautiful photography on his website and some more works on his Flickr stream.



The Center For Photography At Woodstock


Press Announcement

Becoming Muses

curated by Akemi Hiatt & Lindsay Stern

On View: June 11 - August 28, 2011


Featuring works in photography and video by 
GAY BLOCK (Santa Fe, NM)
ALBERT J. WINN (Los Angeles, CA)

The Center for Photography at Woodstock (CPW) is pleased to announce CAMP: Visiting Day curated by CPW's Director Ariel Shanberg. Inspired by the Catskill's historic ties to sleep away camps, this exhibition features artists who knowingly revisit the magical realm where youth reigns, adulthood emerges, secret selves are revealed, an identity is transformed.


The artists featured in CAMP: Visiting Day bring a reflective perspective to this charged landscape. Infused with personal memories and experience, they use photography and video to draw the curtains back on a world experienced by some, mythologized by many.


The experience of sleepaway camp goes far beyond the concept of summer vacation. Sandwiched between the close and start of school, nestled within the intense heat of summer, sleepaway camp is a condensed stew of character shaping separation anxiety and identity formation, with emphasis on outdoor physical activities. The experience is intended to provide a sense of community and fostered networks of relationships that extended into adulthood. Started in the early years of the twentieth century as a refuge from urban environments, summer camps combined Native-American and American folklore, sports, and arts and crafts activities. Within the contexts of religious groups, camps were established to help foster and reinforce group identity and engender their own allegiances. In modern times specialized camps have emerged, focusing on honing skill sets and interests ranging from specific sports to the arts and sciences as well as those designed to alter personal behaviors ranging from sexual orientation to body weight and fitness.


In 1981, while her daughter attended Camp Pinecliffe in Maine, Gay Block made layered and endearing portraits of the young women at this all-girl camp. Wondering "what ever happened to those friends whose lives we knew intimately well for a few short months each year after we scattered back to our 'real lives,'" Block chose to track down these women now in their late 30s and early 40s and see where they are now. Her resulting diptychs in the series entitled The Women the Girls are Now and video entitledCamp Girls offer a unique opportunity to find the threads that connect the images of these girls whose shared experiences have impacted the women they are today.


For Adrain Chesser, the surprise of finding his boyhood boy scout camp ground following its foreclosure, bought and transformed into a camp for adult gay men was too perfect. Returning to southern Florida from the west coast, Chesser spent time camping and photographing and staging images that echoed his own transformative experiences as a young boy at the very same campground.


As much as camp can be about togetherness, embedded in its experiences is the trials of separation. The shock and fear that can be found in being thrust into such an alien setting as camp can be defining along with the suddenness of being alone. In his 2001 video Nail Biter artist Anthony Goicolea graphically reminds us of those terrifying experiences. Filled with references to folklore and tall tales, Nail Biter calls to mind the affect of hearing those (or perhaps being) one of those haunting tales told around a campfire.


Long before her landmark documentary project Thin, Lauren Greenfield traveled to Camp Shane in Catskill, NY to photograph the young boys and girls who go there to literally transform themselves - at weight loss camp. Greenfield's photographs reveal the pressures, social structures, and mutual struggles and triumphs these campers experience.


In her series The Cruel Story of Youth, Jennifer Loeber travels back to the camp where she spent summers as a teen. Nestled within the woods of Massachusetts, Rowe camp is grounded in the ideals of a counter-cultural past and freed from the forced constraints of a conventional camp experience. Loeber's photographs reveal a society of teenagers empowered through otherwise impossible freedoms and celebrate a community where no ideas are too absurd and eccentricity is the rule, not the exception.


Finally in Albert J. Winn's stark black-and-white photographs, the haunting underpinnings of a camp emerge. Winn's images of empty bunks, mess halls, swimming pools and basketball courts are filled with the echoes of joyful experiences, all the while an unabiding sense of loss intermingles with strong visual references to camps of another nature.


The opening reception for CAMP: Visiting Day will be held on Saturday, June 11th from 5-7pm. 

This exhibition was made possible in part with the generous support of private and public lenders and with funds from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency.



The Print Center

Stalking the Wild Asparagus:
Keliy Anderson-Staley, Adrain Chesser and Timothy White Eagle,
Lucas Foglia, Taj Forer and Justine Kurland
December 16, 2010 – March 5, 2011


Gallery Talk by the Curator and Artists: 5:30pm; Opening Reception: 5:30-7:30pm

PHILADELPHIA: The Print Center presents Stalking the Wild Asparagus, a group exhibition bringing together the work of six photographers who document rural utopian communities in the United States: Keliy Anderson-Staley, Adrain Chesser and Timothy White Eagle, Lucas Foglia, Taj Forer and Justine Kurland. The exhibition, which borrows its inspiration and title from Euell Gibbons’ 1962 bestselling guide to foraging, will feature works documenting groups and families who have constructed alternative societies in rural and wilderness settings, pursuing a diverse array of social, political, religious and spiritual visions.

Organized by The Print Center, the exhibition illustrates the relevance and appeal of utopian communities to contemporary artists. The photographs depict lives that are alternately lushly idyllic and austerely spare. In this exhibition we see homes built by families living off the grid in northern Maine (Keliy Anderson-Staley) and studies of primitive structures by practitioners of the lost skills of hunting and gathering (Taj Forer). Other works include naturists tending gardens (Justine Kurland), families living in the wild (Lucas Foglia) and people harvesting food and collecting water (Adrain Chesser and Timothy White Eagle). 


Each of the photographers in the exhibition has a personal connection to the communities they are documenting, having either grown up in similar circumstances or through their current participation in such societies. Some of the artists are children of families that embraced back-to-nature practices in the 1960s and so offer a second generation’s perspective. These connections complicate and color the relationship between artists and their subjects, challenging the perception of documentary photography as being purly objective. 

Stalking the Wild Asparagus will be on view at The Print Center from December 16, 2010 to March 5, 2011. On Thursday, December 16 there will be gallery talk by the artists and John Caperton, Jensen Bryan Curator, The Print Center at 5:30pm and an opening reception from 5:30-7:30pm. Free and open to the public.



Rebecca Horne Photography

Adrain Chesser at the CPW Review

by Rebecca Horne on December 15, 2010


As one of the most startling and intriguing bodies of work I've seen in a long time, the work of artist/photographer Adrain Chesser defies definition. Some of Chesser's photographs come from a collaborative process. Chesser and his partner, Timothy White Eagle and friends decide on a concept like "the sacred hunt." They research the idea, then they have a "camp" where they perform ceremonial rituals around this idea. The resulting photograph is not an artifact or document of the performance-based work, but instead it is thought of as a spell to be sent out into the world. The above is titled "AIDS Boy Takes One for the Team" from a series called The Hunting Party. I was very drawn to the vitality of the work, the process and the idea that the images themselves could be thought of as spells.




Adrain Chesser and Timothy White Eagle

On Thursday, April 22, 2010


I ran across this image and followed it to the artists site Mercury Vapor Studios. Very interesting photography. Check out their Portfolio.


From the artists site:

"We are a team of two artists who work together under the name Mercury Vapor Studio. Adrain Chesser was given his first camera more than 20 years ago and has been taking pictures ever since. He is a photographer who over the years has developed a working style which often involves using aspects of ritual to capture his photographs. Timothy White Eagle spent his twenties involved in theater, visual and performance art. He spent his thirties diving deeply into ceremonial ritual, working extensively with native American, pagan and Haitian traditions." 


"Together we explore the intersection between art and ritual. We use ritual to create an environment of opening and safety. Together with our subjects we go into an undiscovered country. We ask our subjects to expose their truth. Through our lens we seek that same truth. We do our best not to expect anything in particular from a shoot. We play the sacred fool stepping off the cliff, trusting that we have everything we need." 



Photo Eye

Adrian Chesser's portfolio, i have something to tell you 

by Adrain Chesser on December 6, 2006


When I tested positive for HIV and was diagnosed with AIDS, I had an extreme physical reaction whenever I thought about having to tell my friends and family. Looking at this reaction more closely, I realized that it was the same reaction I had as a kid whenever I had to disclose something uncomfortable to my parents, fearing rejection or even abandonment if larger secrets were revealed.


It occurred to me that it might be possible to overcome this paralyzing fear by photographing my friends as I told them about my diagnosis. I invited each friend to come to my studio to have their picture taken, a simple head shot for a new project. Each sitter's reaction was unique depending upon their own experience of loss, illness and death, creating a portrait of unguarded, unsettling honesty. 


While these photos are probably the worst pictures ever taken of my friends, they are undoubtedly the most beautiful. 

-Adrian Chesser




Suzy Lee, Adrain Chesser

Houston Center For Photography, Houston


The exhibition constructs compelling visual narratives through photographs of actual and constructed domestic interiors. Suzy Lee recreates the tale 'Alice in Wonderland' through images, installation, and a book. Adrain Chesser creates a deeply moving array of emotional portraits of sitters in front of a scarlet red back-drop.

Coming Home: Domestic Sites of Love and Loss 


The exhibition constructs compelling visual narratives through photographs of actual and constructed domestic interiors. This two-person show features the monumental scale work of Joy Episalla (NYC) who creates photographs so large, they lean on the wall resting on the gallery floor (roughly 70 inches long by 40 inches high). The work at HCP depicts an old piece of furniture, and like the work, appears heavy and “in the way.” Episalla included with this a three-channel video installation of the couch and its demise (sold on E-bay to a teddy bear designer who wanted the couch’s worn upholstery). Episalla will present an artist’s talk on Saturday, December 17th at 4 pm at HCP. 


Suzy Lee: Alice in Wonderland 


South Korean artist Suzy Lee recreates the well-known childhood tale Alice in Wonderland through images, installation, and a book (copies will be available for purchase at HCP). Her project depicts low-tech stages constructed in a playful childish manner that mirrors the youthful narrative. Lee actually constructs her miniature stage in her fireplace foyer – a fact that she only reveals in the last few images of her series. 


Her treatment of the image as a narrative window allows her to playfully poke fun at the lack of feminist sensitivity in Lewis Carroll’s late Victorian-era tale. Come see her work to discover more! The artist will be present at the opening reception on November 4th. 

Suzy Lee, Alice in Wonderland, 2001, Inkjet print 


Adrain Chesser: I Have Something to Tell You 


Chesser (Santa Fe, NM) brings another kind of reconstructed set to HCP with his series, I Have Something to Tell You. Chesser asks close friends to sit for a banal portrait then, seconds before clicking the shutter release, he says, “I have something to tell you,” before revealing he is infected with the AIDS virus. The result is a deeply moving array of emotional portraits of sitters in front of a scarlet red back-drop. To underscore his powerful photographs, Chesser creates site-specific installations that include actual elements from the photo shoot, including an empty chair, red back-drop, etc. Chesser will be present at the opening and will participate in a panel discussion the following day. 



HCP gratefully acknowledges support for these exhibitions from the Gay Block & Malka Drucker, Philanthropic Fund of the Houston Jewish Community Foundation, Joan Morgenstern, and Kevin Bassler. 


Houston Center for Photography is supported by its membership and in part by Institute of Museum and Library Services; National Endowment for the Arts; Texas Commission on the Arts; Humanities Texas; City of Houston through the Cultural Arts Council of Houston/Harris County; Houston Endowment, Inc.; Fondren Foundation; The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts; The Wortham Foundation, Inc.; Brown Foundation, Inc.; Gardere, Wynne, & Sewell, LLP; Target Stores; Vinson & Elkins, LLP; ParkerHayden, and Gazer Design Group. 


Members' Preview November 4 th, 5pm 

Artists' Remarks November 4 th, 7pm 



Opening: November 4th 6 - 8pm 





Houston Press

Caught On Camera

Photographer Adrain Chesser has "Something To Tell You"

by Amy Petersen on November 3, 2005


The portraits seem to have exactly the same color and background. It's the people -- their faces and their expressions -- that separate each image from the next. Their fear, sadness and shock are palpable. The stark photographs of Adrain Chesser's family and friends catch them at a weightless and terrible moment: when Chesser says to them, "I've Got Something to Tell You."


"I thought about having to tell people that I was HIV-positive, and I had this physical reaction based on fear, the fear of abandonment and the burden of having to reveal a secret," he says. "Then I realized I could spiritually, ritualistically transform the experience." Hence the title of his exhibit, opening this week at the Houston Center for Photography, which captures his loved ones off guard as he reveals his diagnosis. "Everyone that I photographed did the same little ritual as everyone else -- same backdrop, two rolls of film -- though they didn't know it. And I realized that each person had a reaction based on their own past experience with death and illness."


The photographs reveal real people in real agony, their faces scrunched and tear-stained. "They are the worst photos I've ever taken of my friends, but also the most beautiful," says Chesser. In the moment, his subjects are reaching for the person behind the camera -- and that, ultimately, creates a bond with the viewer.


Chesser hopes his images spark discussion about a subject that he thinks most people would prefer to push from their minds. "In the early days of the epidemic, people died because they were told to," he says. "HIV/AIDS is not just an illness, but also this sex, morality, gay, self-hatred issue. It's this cycle where younger generations repeat all this self-destructive behavior out of ignorance." Yet in the end, Chesser's exhibit is not so much a story about HIV politics as it is about honest communication. "It could be a 15-year-old girl telling her parents that she's pregnant," he says. "It's about human experience and having compassion."


Chesser hosts the opening reception at 5 p.m. Friday, November 4. Exhibit runs through December 18. For information, call 713-529-4755 or visit w Free.

Houston Center for Photography, 1441 West Alabama.



Blue Sky Gallery

Exhibition: Adrain Chesser

December 2, 2004 - January 1, 2005

by Staff on December 2, 2004