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Inger Klekacz 31 March 2008

Inger Klekacz

Photographer, programmer, reluctant extrovert and messer-up of things

Inger Klekacz was raised by two race car drivers who are also a poet (in the case of her mother) and a restaurateur/snow plow driver/logger (in the case of her father).

That statement, while it initially reads like the treatment for a Wes Anderson movie, is absolutely the truth. And it speaks volumes about the philosophy by which she lives – whatever it is, if it interests you, try it. Said philosophy has resulted in an accidental career in web programming, a vocation in photography, and a long list of hobbies and passions – chiefly: music, massage therapy, chicken husbandry, stained glass work, emergency response, and, yeah, sometimes even racing.

Inger has lived most of her life in Portland.  After taking an 8-year hiatus from photography in her early 20s, she became one of the founding volunteers at Portland’s Newspace Center for Photography, and later joined the team at Blue Moon Camera & Machine to bring photography back to the Everyman. She currently writes web applications for a market research company in southwest Portland by day; at night, you can usually find her out photographing live acts at various bars.

Inger is 32 and three quarters years old. She owns a 1914 money pit in North Portland – the money pit in which she, in fact, grew up.

What are you up to?

By day, I’m a mild-mannered web programmer. I write web applications with ColdFusion, PHP, various SQL flavors and some CSS/Javascript/AJAX stuff. That was a complete accident. I was a photography/film major with a minor in journalism before I dropped out. I randomly took a tech support job at Teleport, where I taught myself HTML to keep myself awake on the graveyard shift. Somehow I ended up learning Perl and PHP, then database stuff. It’s all a blur. I’m an English nerd. I don’t know what I’m doing in programming. But it’s a good job with a lot of creative potential, and I love the people I work with. That goes a long way.

By night, I’m a rock photographer. That was kind of an accident, too. I’m a portraitist by nature, because while I am essentially shy, I just love people so much, and I love celebrating the good that I see in them. And then I saw this band play a few months ago, and they put on a helluva show, and I was like, “I have GOT to shoot these guys doing their thing!” I had a good time shooting them, kept doing it, started shooting other bands that I like to listen to…yadda yadda yadda, before you know it, I’m shooting four nights a week and spending the rest of my nights processing images and catching up on my quite unglamorous home repair.

What are you into?

Just about everything I can get my hands on. My life in general is the result of me saying, “I wonder if I could do that…” where “that” is, you know, something random and different from the stuff I’m already doing. Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time planning some events for the Neighborhood Emergency Team (NET) in close-in North Portland. NET is a group of roughly 2000 volunteers across Portland who are trained in search and rescue, first aid, triage, and fire suppression, in addition to other emergency response stuff. The idea is that when a catastrophe (e.g., an earthquake) hits Portland and overwhelms our paid responders, citizens will naturally want to help each other. The training, and the team coordination, helps ensure that we don’t injure ourselves in the process of being good people.

I’ve also taken music up again. I played a lot of instruments as a youngster, and quit when I went to a high school that had a really crappy band program. I just recently have started to learn bass guitar – my first stringed instrument – and my friend has insisted that I bombard his band with my bad bass sound. Yes, that’s “bad bass,” not “bad ass.” Again, this is a result of “I wonder if I could do that….” As it turns out, I can. Despite my tiny hobbit hands. I don’t know where it’s going, and I’m really not any good yet, but it gives me joy, and that’s enough for me.

What do you like most about Portland?

That’s like asking me what my favorite ice cream flavor is. I don’t even know where to start on this. Okay, here: I love our civic pride. A friend of a friend, who lives in Seattle, remarked recently that he always marveled at how many of us down here are flag-waving Portlanders – you know, people who get all teary-eyed and gushy about how pretty our city is, how nice people are, etc.

I think that when you are grateful to live in a place, you take care of it, and this place becomes more than a geographical location where we eat, sleep, work, and merely exist – it becomes a nurtured, sacred spot, and a community blossoms out of our shared grace and love for a space. That’s not common, and it is something that we should hold up high to the world and say, “look at us, we actively love our town, and here is the result, and here is how you can love your town.”

Portlander is an incubator for a lot of talent. I love its receptivity. You’re like, “Hey, I want to do this thing,” and all of a sudden, there are 20 people who say, “wow, that’s cool, let’s do it Thursday nights, I know a guy who’ll host it for us.” That’s not to say that every fledgling project always works out – but I’ve found that there’s a feeling of exploration here, a willingness to Give It A Shot that you wouldn’t get in a city like San Francisco or Chicago. People here are still soft. In general, they choose not to pull that “Um, that’s not cool enough for me” crap that you find in harder places.

Your MySpace profile lists your occupation as “seer.” What’s that about?

I make portraits. The art of a good portrait is that you have to see something in a person that they thought nobody else could see in them. I love distilling the essence of a person via a photograph. So I guess that’s why I chose “seer” as an occupation. I can hold a camera up and shoot a thousand frames on the street randomly, and that makes me a photographer. But to make a portrait of another living being, you have to really be able to look into them and acknowledge and celebrate what it is that distinguishes them from the dude next to them. You see the person for who they are, and you don’t look away, for better or for worse. It can be very intimate. I am at my most vulnerable when I make a portrait, and often, so is my subject.

That freaks out some of my subjects. Sometimes they’re not ready to be looked at that intently. Maybe because they think I’m not going to find something good. Or they’re afraid of what I’m going to show them. But I photograph with loving intent, and it shows.

“Messer-up of things?”

Yes. Unabashedly. I was out shooting a show the other night and a friend asked me a question that I get asked a lot – “How do you…do…so much?” And I gave the answer I always give – I give myself permission to mess up. I know a lot of folks who are tethered to this idea of perfection out of the gate, this myopic fantasy of savant talent. For example, how many people say they love photography but hardly ever make photographs? At least 80% of those folks are suffering from Final Cut-itis – they are inundated with these images of perfection, with the perfect lighting and the ring-light reflection in a model’s eyes and the Fisheye Lens Puppy Nose Shot (TM), and they think to themselves, “I could never do that.” But if you’re ever going to do anything with your life, you have to remember that we’re only seeing people’s final cuts. I’ve seen some of Robert Frank‘s contact sheets, and he shot some clunkers in addition to the works of genius.  They’re not all “The Americans.” And I bet the Beatles wrote some really terrible, unpublished songs when they weren’t writing “Blackbird.”

You have to be gentle enough with yourself to acknowledge that nobody  bats a thousand, and that you won’t either. But you gotta at least swing. Stop taking yourself so seriously. Life is messy, and so are you. And so am I. Get out there. Make some Crap. And then get better and make some Not Crap.


Website, Flickr, MySpace

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