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Portrait Slam

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Last fall 50 photographers and models mobbed the Medford Elks Lodge, half striking a pose and the other catching that moment with a camera.

A second event crashed the Inn at the Commons, and another took over a warehouse of architectural odds and ends. November’s meetup was in eight different downtown Medford locations, small groups cycling through each in rapid succession. Local photographer Travis Toll organized the meetups as a way to bring Southern Oregon’s creative souls together. Toll calls the meetups “portrait slams.”

“I’ve been trying to create an opportunity for people to come together as a group,” explained Toll. “There’s definitely an artistic community in Southern Oregon that’s been restless, and this is a way to ignite some of that. It’s a way to give downtown Medford a fresh excitement.”

The word “meetup” came into common usage in 1995 — meaning a physical gathering of those who share an interest — and by 2007 use of the word had exploded. The meetups that Travis Toll organizes bring photographers and models together, a collection of beautiful bodies and imagery that reflect a Southern Oregon youth culture and energy.

Meetup websites can help to organize birds of a feather who want to flock together. The meetup.com website shows more than 120 groups near Medford having interests that range from green drinks and kayaking to pets, and the website’s calendar makes it easy to see what’s going on. But while Toll facilitates a MeetUp.com group, it was Instagram that showed him the real talent in his own community, and now the Medford Portrait Slam galleries have more than 30,000 likes.

“Models are really excited, because it’s a great networking opportunity. The models get to work with many different photographers, and both get a chance to figure out their styles,” Toll said. “When you get so many people together, there’s a huge outpouring of images and everybody gets to see each other’s work. We can see what other photographers did with that location and all of the different ways they used that location and how they were able to interact with the models.”

Lauren Davis, a student at Southern Oregon University, is not a professional model. She never expected to have an opportunity to see herself through a photographer’s eye. Davis worked with three photographers over the course of the afternoon, and found that the final photograph, taken by a woman who goes by the tag StephanieAnnPhotography at saphotovideo.com was exquisite.

“It’s very rewarding and a very special kind of art, really humbling to see how a photographer builds your trust and make images of you turn into art,” recalled Davis. “There are thousands and thousands of photographs. How am I going to create the image that this artist wants to come to life? How am I going to work with this person to view it? It’s a dance, a give and take, whatever’s feeling right in the moment.”

Portrait slams also showcase the work of hair stylists and makeup artists who volunteer for each event, and local clothing shops are also involved.

Tia Creative, Men’s Fashion, Refashion Consignment and the Discovery Shop opened their collections to the models, the American Cancer Society even sent a photographer for the Discovery Shop event.

Courtney Toll, director of sales and marketing for the Inn at the Commons, helps to facilitate the portrait slams. She jumped at the chance to host a portrait slam at the Inn at the Commons in December. She said guests stopped to watch in amazement.

“As a business it’s a great exposure, to welcome a group of people through the door to create such visually focused images and to see our business through the eye of the photographers,” Courtney Toll remarked. “Each photographer brought a unique perspective to what I see every day — some of it dark and moody, some light and happy.”

“It’s all about community,” Travis Toll said. “Southern Oregon is an exciting place right now, and there are really a lot of talented photographers and models in Southern Oregon. Working together is exciting for everybody, making everybody better. It’s tying people together.”

Work generated by the 2018 Medford Portrait Slams will be exhibited in the Boise-Cascade Gallery, Marion Ady Building at Southern Oregon University from Jan. 11 to Jan. 24.

To view photos from the 2018 meetups, check out the following Instagram galleries: #MedfordElksLodge, #MedfordWarehouse, #MedfordDowntown and #MedfordInn.

The next Medford Portrait Slam is planned for spring 2019 and is by invitation only. For more information, email Travis Toll at TravisTollPhotography@gmail.com. See his work at The_Highway_Is_Green on Instagram and Facebook.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Maureen Flanagan Battistella at mbattistellaor@gmail.com.

PHOTO COURTESY STEPHANIE ANN PHOTOGRAPHY Southern Oregon University student Lauren Davis in a photo by Stephanie Ann, wardrobe provided by Refashion Consignment Shop. “One of my favorite pictures taken so far at the Medford Meetups — I love how beautiful Stephanie made me feel in this shot, and I adore the tones and movement she captured here,” Davis said.
COURTESY PHOTO A group photo from November’s Medford Portrait Slam, held at the American Cancer Society’s Discovery Shop. The Discovery Shop provided wardrobe for the models during the shoot. Photos from the event can be seen by searching #MedfordDowntown on Instagram.