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The Project

Artist's Statement

The Portland Switching District Project is a multi-decade photography project that examines urban change through the disappearing traces of Portland’s historic, urban railway lines.

Sometimes known as “switching districts,” these lines were once the primary commercial arteries of the city, forming a lattice upon which the city grew, an example of the architectural power of infrastructure.

First photographed from 2007-2009, this project aims to revisit specific sites along the city's former switching districts every ten years. A second iteration of fieldwork and photography was undertaken in 2018.

LEFT: 24th and York, West, 2008. York Street, Northern Pacific Terminal Company, now Portland Terminal Railway Company. Y-05-2008. RIGHT: 24th and York, West, 2018. York Street, Northern Pacific Terminal Company, now Portland Terminal Railway Company. Y-05-2018.

In addition to the primary photography, this project seeks to blur the lines between photography, an artistic pursuit, and the practice of history, which is typically a text-centered discipline. It includes not only the photographs made for the project, but also field notes, research, and archival materials as part of the project, troubling the assumed divisions between fine arts and scientific documentation.

Further, the historical aspects of the project are envisioned a practice of public history. As such, public-facing components of the project such as articles, exhibits, and web sites are conceived of not merely as outlets for the "final" work, but a part of the total work itself.

As of 2020, the project consists of more than two-hundred (200) photographs, along with dozens of supporting documents.

About the Artist

ALEXANDER BENJAMIN CRAGHEAD was born in Portland, Oregon. He is a historian of technology, representation, and landscape, and holds a Ph.D. in architecture from UC Berkeley, where he also teaches in the American Studies program. Craghead has curated exhibits at the Architectural Heritage Center (Portland, Oregon), the Brigham Young University Museum of Art (Provo, Utah), and the Durham Museum (in Omaha). His writing and photography has appeared in numerous publications, including California History, The National Railway Historical Society Bulletin, the Oregon Historical Quarterly, and Railroad Heritage.

For post, or to schedule a phone call, please enquire via e-mail.



Val Ballestrem
Joseph Brugger
Dan Haneckow
Scott Lothes
Daniel J. Sheets
Otto Vondrak
Kyle Weissman-Yee


Seth M. Adams
Val Ballestrem
Michael Froio
Dan Haneckow
Mary Hansen
Brian Johnson
Colin Johnson
Linda Martin
Marylhurst University
Multnomah County Library
Portland Archives and Records Center
Sheldon Perry
Portland State University Libraries
Brian M. Schmidt
Kyle Weissman-Yee

Exhibits, Publicity, and Other Support.

Steve Barry
Center for Railroad Photography & Art
The City Club of Portland
Amy Harris
National Railroad Historical Society
Railfan & Railroad Magazine
Jeff Smith
Otto Vondrak