Sketch comedy show Portlandia is meant to be a caricature of the city it portrays, but sometimes, it’s more reality TV than satire, inserting real-life Portlanders amidst actors into a show that playfully makes fun of the stereotypes about inhabitants’ obsessions with food, bikes, and political correctness. Now some of those same subject-turned-actors become subjects once more in Bay Area photographer Kirk Crippens’s photo-series “Potraitlandia,” created during a five-week photography fellowship in the Rose City.
Crippens says the aim was to capture some of “the most interesting, iconic Portlanders” he could find–everyone from former Mayor Sam Adams and tech entrepreneur and former fugitive John McAfee to a nun, a mechanic, and a beekeeper. A ginger-bearded bartender poses for a photo in a lion suit. A tattooed stripper relaxes on her couch.
“I was just going from interesting person to interesting person,” Crippens says about the project. He wasn’t really thinking too much about similarities between real-life Portland icons and characters on the show–until a group of Portlanders who previewed his project insisted that he name the series “Portraitlandia,” after he jokingly suggested it as the “worst title you can give a portrait series made in Portland.”
“They were insistent,” Crippens says. He assumes they liked it “because it was silly and playful, because the body of work, as it turns out, ended up being a diverse and eclectic group of characters. And I think it connected with the show in a subtle way, because part of the power of the show is that they really appear to love Portland and enjoy all the silly joyfulness that Portland has.”
Many of his subjects, it turns out, love the show enough to take cameo roles in it. After completing the project, Crippens noticed that in a single Portlandia episode, three “Portraitlandia” subjects appeared in bit parts, “transcending from a TV show to being a reminder of my experience over the past month,” Crippens says. “It was a strange moment of life meeting reality.”