Institutional memory is not nostalgic. It archives and annotates the past not out of sentimentality but a sense of official duty. Colby Chester has taken on the task of maintaining the institutional memory of Seattle through photography. His images of the city—part landscape photography, part architectural, part anthropological, part purely artistic—are unflinching, almost objective. Almost. Taken as a whole, his series Seldom Seen Seattle celebrates the city not for its past or its future but its grand potential as it is right now. And it is a celebration. Chester’s high-contrast colors and classical framing display a deep appreciation for form and palette in their natural state.
Up until recently, Chester, 72, has divided his time between Seattle and France, where he has a home. But since last December he’s focused his lens on the parts of Seattle that he finds most emblematic. Not the obvious tourist traps and civic landmarks but the significant details: historic friezes on downtown skyscrapers, Freeway Park, the first frost on the lawn of Volunteer Park, a random stone doorway. Places and spaces we pass unnoticed on a daily basis that comprise the soul of Seattle.
“We seem to be incapable of living in anything over 10 years old,” Chester says. “I find that infuriating because this city has some phenomenal architecture and great art. Out of that repsect and appreciation I want to put up a show that says something about what we’re losing and also acknowledge what we have.”
Colby Chester’s Seldom Seen Seattle photo series will be on display at the Elliott Bay Cafe inside the Elliott Bay Bookstore through November and December.