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A career spent chronicling Northwest’s art scene

Frances McCue’s creative impulses have evolved from punk rock in her young adulthood to writing, teaching, and instigating various literary initiatives in the Puget Sound region for the last couple of decades. What a trail she has forged!

We have McCue and her writer friends Andrea Lewis and Linda Breneman to thank for Hugo House, the innovative Seattle literary center named in honor of poet Richard Hugo, that has provided inspiration and workshops to a generation of writers.

We have McCue to thank for “The Car That Brought You Here Still Runs,” her inventive 2010 fusion of memoir, road trip observations, and Hugo homage, illustrated with photographs taken by the incomparable Mary Randlett.

And now we have McCue to thank for further celebrating the career of her nonagenarian photographer friend and colleague in “Mary Randlett Portraits.”

This volume follows the elegant 2007 book, “Mary Randlett Landscapes,” which featured 80 beautiful, mist-swathed duotones of mountains, trees, and tides.

“Mary Randlett Portraits” has a different kind of beauty, perhaps more hard-won – human subjects can be prickly or self-conscious. But Randlett seems to have a knack for putting people at ease, as demonstrated even early in her career with her beatific image of seminal photographer Imogen Cunningham, who was known for her acidic personality.

This book is a collaboration of the first order. Both Randlett and McCue are committed not only to pursuing their own art, but also to illuminating the energy and essence of their colleagues.

The result is a remarkable, generous body of work – it captures the creative ferment of the Pacific Northwest in portraits of the painters, poets, sculptors, photographers, playwrights and arts patrons who have made this region their home.

The 95 black and white photographs in “Mary Randlett Portraits” stretch over 60 years – Randlett has documented visual artists from Mark Tobey to George Tsutakawa, writers from Roderick Haig-Brown to Rebecca Brown, and cultural leaders from her own mother, Elizabeth Bayley Willis, to Upper Skagit elder Vi Hilbert.

The images selected for this book capture the boldest practitioners of creative expression, sometimes at work and sometimes at rest. Helmi Juvonen nestles with a kitten, Morris Graves hugs his dog. Paul Horiuchi affixes materials to a canvas and Neil Meitzler sketches at the riverbank. Historian Murray Morgan grins at the camera. Poet Theodore Roethke naps.

Accompanying the portraits, McCue’s essays smoothly combine biographical information with Randlett’s anecdotal recollections of the shoot, or perhaps with informal comments from the subjects themselves about their approach to their art. But don’t let the easy tone fool you – these writings are underpinned with significant research.

In addition, McCue often interprets the pose of the subject in the photograph, repeatedly drawing viewer consideration to the artistic intentions behind Randlett’s choice of lighting, framing or other variable.

These multiple dimensions make “Mary Randlett Portraits” a pleasure to engage with on several levels – as a document of regional history, as a work of art, and as a reflection on the artistic process.

The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at bkmonger@nwlink.com.

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