OFF THE COST



SMALL TALK COLLECTIVE

Audra Osborne, Briana Cerezo, Jennifer Timmer Trail, Kelli Pennington, Kristina Hruska, and Marico Fayre




Published on January 26, 2021

Small Talk is a photography collective of six women: Audra Osborne, Briana Cerezo, Jennifer Timmer Trail, Kelli Pennington, Kristina Hruska, and Marico Fayre. The collective formed in Portland, Oregon in 2015. Our first book, We’re Always Touching by Underground Wires, was published in April 2018.


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Collectively, we explore the nature of what it means to be a visual storyteller, pool resources, provide support and critique to one another, and facilitate community events and discussions. We engage in the best kind of “small talk,” that which binds us together both as a collective and within a larger community of artists, fostering stronger work and collaboration. Looking forward - as a collective we are proactively working to support to each other as individual artists, as well as photographers outside of our collective (particularly individuals who identify as womxn, LGBTQ+, and BIPOC) by offering consultation, sharing our resources and knowledge, and creating collaborative opportunities and exhibitions within our gallery + studio space, Strange Paradise. We also hope to continue publishing books together and aspire to exhibit our collective work nationally.




Jen Bacon: Hey y’all, thank you for taking the time to spend with us, much appreciated. To start I’d like to ask about how the collective got started and why the members decided to join?

Kristy Hruska: When Small Talk began in 2015, I was preparing to leave my position as Education Director at Newspace Center for Photography, and as a result, felt I was going to be losing my connection to the photo community I had put so much time in building and nurturing. This was the second time I had experienced this, having left a job at the Rocky Mountain School of Photography years earlier. I had been supporting artists for a long time as an arts administrator and advocate, and I wanted to finally dedicate more time to my own work. I knew I wanted and needed accountability in my process, so I knew I needed to create a new community for myself that would foster that.

I invited the women who came to make up Small Talk based on my own intuition and instinct. I admire each member for such individual reasons, as each has a way of practicing and working that I knew would push me. In some ways, it was very selfish. I wanted to absorb some of what each of these women had and I wanted to foster our relationships as friends and photographers. It was very organic in that most of us didn’t know each other very well, or at all.


Audra Osborne: When Kristy asked me to join Small Talk, it had been 4 years since I graduated from SCAD and moved to Portland. I chose Portland specifically because I knew there was a large photo/art community here with institutions like Newspace, Photolucida, and Blue Sky and I was interested in finding a community of like-minded artists - I wanted to replicate what I had had in school. Even though I was volunteering and working within the photo community here, 4 years later I still hadn’t found what I was looking for. When Kristy invited me, I was absolutely on board. I was excited to join a tight-knit group to discuss and critique work with and to encourage me to start making work again. The accountability aspect is what drew me in, but this amazing group is what made me stay.


Marico Fayre: I moved back to Portland in August of 2015, after being in New York and Mexico for 4 years. I was teaching photography full time in a graduate program, but I wasn’t making a lot of work. On the road trip back home, I was thinking about what I wanted in the next chapter of my life there - it was really important to me to have strong roots in the photo community and to have artist friends I can talk to about my practice. I was an early member of the Women's Photo Alliance in NYC (WPANYC) and felt sad to leave just as the group was getting started - I was determined to find or create a collective of women photographers in Portland.

Kristy and I had been friends for years, so one of the first things I did when I moved back was to meet her for lunch. I brought up the surprising lack of a collective of women photographers in Portland and said we should start one. She looked at me and said, “I did! Last month. And I really hope you’ll join us.” I was lucky enough to make it back in time for the second meeting.


Jennifer Timmer Trail: I was brand new to Portland in 2015 and had a very small network coming in consisting of just 3 classmates from grad school, all of whom were involved in Newspace Center for Photography to some degree. I met Kristy at Newspace because I would go to openings and events there, searching for a community. I had recently finished my MFA and desperately needed a local support group of artists to share and critique work with. I felt so honored to be asked by Kristy to be a part of this collective! It was exactly what I was looking for, plus the needed accountability to show up with new work monthly. I was amazed at how compatible we were from the start. We may not look so diverse on the outside, but there is actually a lot of diversity among us as far as our backgrounds and experiences go. We all bring different strengths, skills, and ideas to the group. It’s been a wonderful collaborative process of sharing and learning. We’ve been able to accomplish some incredible things as a group that would have been much more difficult to do on my own.


Kelli Pennington: Originally, I thought I missed the boat. I was in Italy when everyone first met, I misunderstood an email I got from Kristy after that, thinking that because I had missed the first meeting I was out. I was so disappointed, but luckily, I was wrong.

I think our history shows that we make and create simultaneously, near one another, and we make work that interacts with one another and have intelligent conversations about who and how we are as individuals in the world right now. This group is such a multi-faceted thing for me that it’s hard to explain to other people.


Briana Cerezo: In 2015 I was a volunteer at Newspace Center for Photography. It was a pivotal time for me because choosing to volunteer there represented a decision to take my photography seriously for the first time. Unlike the other members of Small Talk, my college degree is not related to photography, so my time at Newspace and the classes I took there comprised much of my formal photography education. I most looked forward to my shifts when Kristy was there working with me, because we had really nice conversations and a connection that helped me feel like I belonged there. When Kristy asked me to be a part of Small Talk I honestly didn’t really know what it was. I thought it might be a critique group and I didn't realize at the time what an honor it was to have been personally selected to participate. I was still only beginning to recognize that I had a unique photographic talent and voice.

My involvement in Small Talk has truly been a delight. I learn so much from each member and our collective conversations and projects. As the only member without a photography degree, I think I spent a lot of the first few years just listening and observing everyone and trying to understand how the photo world operates. It’s been really helpful to me as I navigate my own career and essential to building my confidence in my own photography and process. I feel like I finally get it -- who I am, what my voice is, and what I want and need to be doing to have my photographic voice in the world. I’m so grateful for the opportunities and connections that come with being a part of this amazing group of women.



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Jen Bacon: As a collective, what do individual members contribute? Are there meetings, talks, emails… what is contributed, and how?

Small Talk: It ebbs and flows so much! We meet at least once a month, but sometimes multiple times a week when we have a special project or deadline. We each have special and unique skill sets, so we often divide into smaller groups to work on the design, grant writing, event planning, or simply showing up to a gallery opening together. With six of us, it's great, because we can accomplish a ton with all hands on deck, or with smaller tasks, we can let some people carry the load while others of us need to attend to work, family, or other things.


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JB: Is this a collective of artists? A collective of curators? What is the power that is Small Talk? This is open, the background experience of the member of Small Talk is immense, what is the main derogative or mission of Small Talk, what is the main objective?

ST: We are all photographic artists who make our own work, and many of us have and/or do work in the “art world” as teachers, art administrators, editors, curators, designers, grant writers, and some create artwork in other mediums too! We all bring our individual energies from these experiences to our collective. Officially, our mission is as follows: “As a group, we explore the nature of what it means to be a visual storyteller, pool resources, provide support and critique, and facilitate community events and discussions. We engage in the best kind of “small talk,” that which binds us together both as a collective and within a larger community of artists, fostering stronger work and collaboration.” Unofficially, we are $10 wine tasters, gluten-free snack connoisseurs, pet lovers, and quirky characters on your favorite sitcom that never made it to the second season.



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JB: Can you speak to your most influential moment as a collective thus far? Where do you feel you made the most difference or cultural impact in the community? I’m referencing my own experience at the latest event at Disject, magical.

ST: As individual artists and as a collective, we felt deeply impacted by our first big creation, We’re Always Touching by Underground Wires. Funded by RACC, we were not only able to create a cohesive exhibition with our work, but also self-published a beautiful book. This really helped us see what we are capable of, interweaving our different voices together in order to make something we feel proud of and inspired by.

In the community, we have been excited by the success of both of our community events. Our first event, Small Talk Conversations, included an interactive portion where guests could print a photo from their phone and paste it on the wall, and move the images around throughout the night in different configurations as a way to see how images can be paired together collaboratively in a variety of ways to make different connections and meaning in the relationships. We were thrilled and surprised by the level of engagement with this and the positive responses we received from people who attended.

Equally, we were blown away by the attendance and participation in our Light Conversations event in November 2019. We had over 250 people in attendance and over 60 photographers featured in our slideshow presentation. It was magical and so much fun to have so much of our community together in one place, and we cannot WAIT to host another one!


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JB: What advice would you give to other young, emerging artists looking for a community and/or collective platform like yours? What resources are available for these artists right now?

ST: If you can’t find one, create one! Reach out to friends or other artists in the circles that you admire, you’d be surprised how receptive people are to creating this kind of community. Take the time to get to know each other before you get down to business. And then put things down in writing - what do each of you want from the group you are creating? Collaboration, critique, shared resources, funds? And make an agenda before each meeting - this was instrumental for us! Making sure everyone gets to touch with something that is a priority for them made everyone feel included and made our meetings more productive. Meeting minutes and action-items for after the meeting are great ideas too.

A great resource is Instagram, honestly. Search hashtags like #artistcollective #photographycollective etc to find groups that are already doing this so you can learn from them.


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JB: As a collective, what have you all learned from each other? Especially now, short-term through the pandemic, but also since your beginnings?

ST: Not to sound super cheesy, but we’ve learned that we really are stronger together! Having the support and camaraderie of our group has been such a grounding and important presence in all of our lives, before the pandemic but especially during. Continuing to work on our zine through these last 8 months over many, MANY zoom calls has given us a small sense of normalcy and something positive to focus on through it all. We could not be more excited that it is finally in our hands! But throughout the last 5 years that we have been meeting, we have all grown individually as artists and humans - supporting each other through collaborative and personal projects, huge life events and grief, sharing resources, and really creating a space to be completely open and true to ourselves. Our meetings are more like hangouts (and often like therapy) and we truly love each other deeply. It’s pretty amazing we found each other and we joke often about how surprising it is that we work so well together!


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JB: Where is Small Talk going in the future?

ST: Well, our guess is as good as anyone’s with the current state of the world, but here’s what we’re working toward:

Just two weeks before lockdown, we signed a lease on a small gallery space inside Disjecta Contemporary Art Center, adjacent to the Photolucida offices. During this intense period, we’ve created a new body of work together, and it is about to be printed. The work is meant to coincide with the opening of our gallery and we’re really excited about both! Though the gallery opening has been postponed for the time being, we are still moving forward with our zine release. It is titled Strange Paradise, which is also the namesake of our little space!

For the larger photo community, our vision is to elevate and celebrate other photographic artists' work through our Light Conversations series (that project is being generously supported by a RACC grant), and also to provide workshops and consultation. We have plans to show work in our new space (ours and other photographers), and also are excited just to have a solid meeting space so we can get back to our roots of making collective creations and continuing to share our work with one another and support each person’s individual art careers.


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Small Talk Collective

Audra Osborne, Briana Cerezo, Jennifer Timmer Trail, Kelli Pennington, Kristina Hruska, Marico Fayre







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