Archives for category: Curator Interviews
Spot will be located at 6679 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles at Crossroads of the World.

Spot will be located at 6679 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles

 

Friends,

You have been kind enough to read and look at images here over the last few years and I appreciate it. I just wanted to post a quick update to shine some light on my silence over the last months.  I’m embarking upon a new gallery project – a collaboration with my friend, master printer Russell Adams of Schulman Photo Lab in Los Angeles (Hollywood). Together we are opening a contemporary photography gallery called SPOT Photo Works, located right next door to Russell’s lab in the wonderfully vintage Crossroads of the World complex. News will come soon of our inaugural exhibition but in the meantime please feel free to “like” our page on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/spotphotogallery and I’ll make sure you hear of upcoming programming. We’ll also have a blog page for more in depth information, so join us if you like:  http://spotphotoworkslosangeles.wordpress.com. I haven’t posted much there yet as it’s a bit early, but it won’t be long.

I hope to see you in August.

Warm regards,

Kathleen Clark

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Todd Weaver's Monument Valley (c)2011

As a child of the West Coast, I always felt I knew north from south and east from west based on where the Pacific Ocean lies in relation to anywhere I stood.   Family vacations from the low gray cloud cover of the Pacific Northwest more often than not involved piling into a large Chevrolet and barreling southward via the passes of the Siskiyou Mountains and Mt. Shasta through the olive groves and rolling hills of California.  I can still feel the sweat pouring from my pre-teen thighs as they stuck to the vinyl upholstery while crammed in the back seat with my brothers in the years before every car came with air conditioning.

Grandpa, Grandma & our Great Uncle in a late 1920s trip to Pike's Peak, Colorado.

My mother’s family hailed from Southern Illinois and over the years they treated us to a number of animated road trip stories and photos that seemed ancient. Our maternal grandparents took western vacations as soon as the progress of automobiles allowed for such daunting trips and thankfully they brought a camera with them.   A lover of Tom Mix, Buck Jones and Gene Autry, the West held my Grandfather’s imagination and it was a beloved legacy he warmly shared.   There was no destination as grand as Pike’s Peak, the Painted Desert, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone or the Redwoods.

My Aunt and Mother, Petrified Forest, Arizona, 1940.

The girls and Grandpa photographed by my Grandmother in the Redwoods, 1940

Aunty and Mom with the old Ford and a friend, a few years later - early 1940s.

The promise of work at the Columbia River Shipyards in the 1940s was a lure both sets of my Grandparents could not deny as the country struggled to fortify its fleet following the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  As Grandpa told the story, they drove as far West as their gas rations would take them.  Whether it was a tough decision or not, never entered the narrative when my Grandparents seized the opportunity to move west with their children.

As the years progressed everyone in the family became deeply involved in building lives and exploring this new place with its deep wilderness so close at hand.  There were dams and locks, fisheries and rodeos to explore, not to mention the ocean with clams to dig and driftwood and sand dollars and wild blackberries to gather.  We were not hunters – we were gatherers and growers.  And as the photos attest, we were three generations of posers.

The Clark kids at Santa's Village, Skyforest, California, circa 1965

The immensity of the Cascade Range, the Columbia River Gorge and the Sierras remains a compelling backdrop, to say nothing of the roadside attractions along the way. My grandmother often had a box camera at the ready and Dad learned photography while stationed in Alaska in the early 1950s, thankfully documenting many getaways in color transparency.  The family slide show was a rare but beloved tradition and we roared with laughter at the most unflattering photos of the women in the cat-eye glasses of the early 1960s.  The many shots in which Grandpa’s Pendleton wool clad arm hung to his side but pointed his index finger as if at some spot on the ground was rivaled only by Grandma’s giant purse, which she held proudly at every point of interest where she was photographed.

My father was also a reader of historical plaques.  We sulked our way through every trip, rolling our eyes while waiting for him to read another dull bronze text only to find ourselves forty years later reading every plaque we encounter.  I finally get it.  In takes some history to find anything interesting about history.

Mom at Crater Lake, circa 1967, shot with Dad's Argus 35mm rangefinder.

Over the years, Mom was the only one in the family I ever heard who struggled in her longing for the old days and extended family in Illinois. It’s not that she didn’t love the West, but she was torn.  Her childhood family moved in one direction. Her heart moved here and back again. She shared her own children’s sense of dread each time we moved and we moved often, up and down the coast and back and forth.  When I learned about Manifest Destiny at Chinook Junior High in Bellevue, Washington, it struck a chord with me. Both the adventure and the anxiety of exploring or moving are compelling forces. The grandiose title stuck in my mind.  In spite of the politics of the time in which the term was coined, it stayed with me as a kind of lifetime experience.  I write this a month after Mom’s passing and while I wasn’t thinking of her when I conceived of the photography exhibition “Manifest Destiny,” I realize now my family’s role in forming the idea.

That’s enough now about me.  Here’s something about the show:

Cypress Trees, Marina Del Rey, CA (c)2003, Amanda Friedman

Manifest Destiny opens at the Analog Salon in Culver City California on January 28 and runs through March 17, 2012.

My exhibition statement:

We came on foot, on horseback, by train, by ship and eventually by car and airplane. We came west for a multitude of reasons: for adventure, for economic opportunity, to escape the crowds of the East. Our quest over the last 200 years led to the discovery of a great expansive and rugged geography, of open range and potential farmland, of rich forests, wildlife, bountiful rivers and streams, to otherworldly desert scapes and to the vastness of the Pacific Ocean. While the term Manifest Destiny was used in the 19th century to promote transcontinental expansion and provide justification for the war with Mexico, it brought devastation to America’s native cultures. This exhibition is built more broadly around the concept of Western movement, of the need to discover what there is to find beyond the next hill.

Photographers by their nature are inquisitive beings, seeking or creating worlds in which to tell or repeat a visual story. The eight artists in this exhibition, Randi Berez, Claudio Cambon, Larry S. Clark, Nicholas Alan Cope, Amanda Friedman, Michael Kelley, Lisa Romerein and Todd Weaver, come from a variety of backgrounds. Some came to the West for reasons not that dissimilar from travelers of the past. Some have lived all their lives in the west and share a deep and abiding connection to this place as much for its open landscape as for its propensity for other forms of discovery, in architecture, in technology.

Our West Coast of the present has been exploited and broadly tamed by the generations that followed the original intrepid explorers and native peoples before them. The romance of the West still lingers, however, fascinating us with its wildness, its opportunity, it’s modernism, light, water, open mindedness, creative ingenuity as well as with its withering assets.

No. 82 by Randi Berez, (c) 2008

Randi Berez

“As for the rodeo, a friend bought a small dude ranch in Miles City, Montana and was in the market for some cattle.   I had become interested in photographing bull riders after attending a few Professional Bull Riders events.  Trying to get in to photograph the PBR guys was very difficult. They are professional athletes isolated by the same machine that regulates access to celebrities.  By contrast, Miles City was a slow-paced, action-packed drama.  After arranging for a bogus press pass, I could go anywhere, do anything.  Growing up in Los Angeles, the Bucking horse sale felt like an artifact from a period in time that will soon disappear.  It was spectacular.”  Randi Berez attended UC Berkeley and has photographed for Esquire, Fast Company, Men’s Health, The New York Times Magazine, ESPN, Men’s Journal, Outside, Women’s Health, Life and others.  Her commercial clients include Nike, Adidas, Converse, and Samsung.

Michael Kelley's "Blue Curtain" (c)2006

Michael Kelley

“Shooting at SpaceX was like shooting at a top secret military facility. I was struck by the enormity of the space; the building is a vast expanse with super tall ceilings, huge hanger doors, and slick concrete floors.  Of course the best part of spacex is their hardware. I love all things space… so to stand next to, and photograph their capsules, rocket engines, rocket bodies, fuel tanks, etc. was fantastic!  It was cool to imagine shooting something that would hopefully, soon be flying in the outer edges of our atmosphere.”  Raised in Las Vegas, Michael Kelley attended UCLA and then Art Center. He has received awards from the Communication Arts Annual, American Photography Annual, PDN, and the Association of Advertising Photographers.

Larry S. Clark's Train Dreams, Station (c)2011

Larry S. Clark

With roots in Los Angeles, Portland and Seattle, Larry S. Clark is an antique dealer who learned photography in his youth. His recent practice of documenting vintage architecture and iconographic ephemera on the West Coast has grown into the beginnings of a fine art practice.  “Growing up in the era of Look and Life magazines and seeing certain images as a kid, like the burning monk photograph by Malcolm Browne and Nick Ut’s image of the girl running down the road in Vietnam, had a big influence on my interest in photography.  I clearly remember when those photos were published.  Maybe that led to my interest in the photography of the Farm Securities Act.  Though not as horrific, I still want to know the story behind the photos.”

Claudio Cambon, Owens Valley #10 (c)2006

Claudio Cambon

A recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship, Claudio Cambon is currently working on a project on religious festivals in Bangladesh.  Since receiving his undergraduate degree from Yale University Mr. Cambon has photographed all over the world and across the American West where he worked as a hired hand on cattle ranches.  “I have always sought refuge in expanses.  In vastness I feel how much larger the world is than me, and in it I ask whether redemption is possible.  I photograph these spaces to see whether the world can continue to be more beautiful than the sum of our mistakes, and forgive us the havoc we have wreaked.”  His photographs have been exhibited and collected internationally as well as published in The New Yorker and Atlantic monthly.

Lifeguard Station, Santa Monica, CA, (c)2008, Amanda Friedman

Amanda Friedman

“I started this project while in college in upstate New York, but it really came to fruition when I moved to Los Angeles.  Being new to California, I was overwhelmed by the congestion, traffic, noise and general madness that goes along with living in a big city.  As I continued to go out and photograph, I found myself drawn to places that contradicted my daily life.  At first it was nothing more than an escape for me.  Through the years as I’ve continued to grow this project, I’ve come to realize it goes beyond an escape. It’s not just about the city I live in, but also about this idea of loneliness that can be both tragic and inspiring.”  Amanda Friedman studied at Rochester Institute of Technology and has exhibited in a variety of galleries in California and the mid-West.  She won three American Photography Awards as well as a first place award for photo essay from PDN/National Geographic Traveler World in Focus

Nicholas Alan Cope's Azusa, March 2007 (c) 2007

Nicholas Alan Cope

“The images are from a project on the architecture and landscape of Los Angeles. They function as an idealized survey of the city and aim to communicate my vision of the city. My goal is to display a landscape that is both modern and democratic, minimal and egalitarian.  I began the project in college and have just recently started an effort to finish the series and release a book.” Nicholas Alan Cope’s photographs have been published in Interview, Japanese Vogue, Conveyor, Unpublished, The Wild Magazine, DigiFoto, ButDoesItFloat, 500 Photographers, L’Architecture d’aujourd’hui, Good, Surface and Filler. Awards include Communication Arts Photo Annual 2011, PDN’s 30 2011, American Photography 26 Selection 2010, Surface Magazine’s Avant Guardian 2009, PX3 Winner 2008.

Mt. Tabor, by Lisa Romerein (c)

Lisa Romerein

“Growing up in the Northwest It might be a DNA mandate that I love trees. I love to study the light, space and weight of a forest and will forever be drawn to the raw beauty.”  Seattle born Lisa Romerein studied photojournalism at Stanford University.  She lives in Santa Monica where she specializes in food, travel, architecture, interior, garden, and portrait photography for a client list that includes Martha Stewart Living, Vanity Fair, Sunset, Town and Country and House Beautiful as well as major hotel and architectural firms.  In addition, her photographs have appeared in numerous food and lifestyle books.

Mindy by Todd Weaver (c) 2010

Todd Weaver

Born and raised in Kansas, Todd Weaver came to Los Angeles to follow his dream of becoming a cinematographer.  “Along the way I found myself drawn to the pursuit of photography, loving its immediacy.”  His style is a mixture of photo journalism that references filmic story-telling.  There is an implied sense of action, with a loosely directed narrative that often evokes a feeling of voyeurism.   He has photographed for Saatchi, Maverick Records and LADG Architecture and was selected twice for the American Photography Annual.

The Analog Salon is a fine art photographic exhibition space housed at Samitaur Constructs, the noted architectural firm, in partnership with Digital Fusion, a premiere digital photographic rental and post-production facility. The Analog Salon highlights the exceptional talent of new, emerging and established photographers with an emphasis on Los Angeles based artists.

The Entry to The Analog Salon

The Entry to The Analog Salon

The Analog Salon at Samitaur Constructs, 3535 Hayden Avenue, Culver City, California http://www.analogsalon.com/

http://gallery-store.digitalfusion.net/The-Analog-Salon/    Note:  work from the Manifest Destiny exhibition will appear in the online store only after the show opens.

Ed and Tina's Farmhouse, Los Angeles, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

Many things in Los Angeles are reminiscent of the classic Western movie façade.  A willing suspension of disbelief allows us to imagine all sorts of fictions.  No stranger to a rapid pace lifestyle, intense work pressures and mind-numbing gridlock, longtime residents know the importance of finding their spot: a place to take shelter, to make a little green, to calm down.  It’s important.  We live in something of an illusion if we can find it.  On one side, our particular oasis borders a strip of tired old apartment buildings and newer, shoddily constructed condominiums.  The area was once low farmland fed by the runoff from the Hollywood Hills.  It had moisture the rest of the city didn’t have.  Plants were meant to grow here.

A Screen Door Sounds Like Summer, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

The neighborhood’s south and west sides have lovely 1920s homes with ample yards, protected by zoning that is dedicated to the single family home.  Sadly, to the north and east, the buffer of homes that stand between opportunistic development and us, is getting smaller.  As it turned out, our side of the street is zoned for both single family and multiple units. A multiple tenant building in the 1920s meant a quaint Spanish duplex, whereas now it can easily refer to a 20-unit complex of dubious design with twice that number of cars owned by its inhabitants.  When we fell in love with this house, the fluttering leaves out each and every window seduced us away from concerns about the clutter to the north.  The zoning wasn’t something we focused on, although for years we’ve directed visitors to drive here through the prettier route.  Unfortunately, growth is now encroaching and it’s not the growth of gardens, but of more cement, rebar, and lots and lots of stucco.

Up until now we sat in our house and faced away from it all.  We were able to maintain something of an illusion of spaciousness, of a natural world – the mirage of a better reality, right in the middle of the city.

The land where our house now rests is located just below the bottom left corner of this 1923 photograph of Los Angeles. Farmland covered the middle of the photograph with oil rigs dotting the fields at the Gilmore Ranch a couple of miles north and the closest developed neighborhoods nestling the Hollywood Hills at the top of the frame.

It’s amazing how a sense of calm can be immediately altered with a single phone call.  It’s not as though someone died or was harmed, thankfully, but for a household whose members have each moved enough for a lifetime, our sense of feeling settled down was tremendously altered.

The voice on the telephone said he was with a development company.  He spoke of other projects his company constructed, but wasn’t specific.  The website for the company showed grandiose condominiums – shiny steel and glass.  He offered to buy our house and would pay in cash.  First came the carrot and then, the stick.  His plan was to demolish and build a condominium of unspecified size, upon our lot.  When we recovered from the shock at the thought, we asked if keeping the house and moving it to a new location was an option.  He had no objection, yet there is so little available vacant land in the city, that the proposition of moving it would be unrealistic.

One Hundred Years, Kathleen Clark (c) 2011

How ironic to think of the house moving once again.  Ed and Tina, our 90-year-old neighbors across the street tell us of hearing an incredible rumbling one day 32 years ago.  Walking out onto their lawn they saw our little old house rolling down the street on the bed of a truck.  Their home is the first on the street, built in the early 20s when only a few farmhouses sat near Ballona Creek (now a paved viaduct).  They compliment us on the new green we used to paint the house and tell us how fond they are of looking out to the sycamore trees as they go out to fetch their newspaper each day.  I can’t imagine inflicting their last days with the unsightly view of an enormous condominium complex, not to mention the cutting down of the trees and demolition that would accompany it.

Pepper Tree, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

Since that phone call, we’ve gained some information but remain confused.  Not having the heart to sell our wonderful home to developers, it took no time at all to decide it wasn’t an option.  We could not willingly subject our surrounding neighborhood to the monstrosity that would surely be built and we couldn’t live with ourselves if we destroyed the spirit of this sweet house.  It’s also not possible to replace this kind of ambiance, within our means, in the city.

Apparently, the owners of the rental house next door got the call as well, and the fact that they haven’t returned our calls has us spooked.  We don’t know if any of the other five houses left on the block received calls and consequently, we don’t know if people in them have made decisions.  The chance to sell out in a diminished housing market may be tempting to some, while the potential to weaken the value of our investment is something we can’t afford to ignore, even if the light is pretty and the trees are tall.  We may find ourselves forced to offer the house for a regular sale to a person who wants the house in spite of the potential for a 3-story condo next door.  Even writing that makes me feel like a traitor.

Australian Tea Tree, Kathleen Clark (2011)

Not wanting to leave, we research options for trees that grow quickly, that won’t spread too widely and have non-invasive root systems.  We think of planting in strategic locations and staying put.  Then we remember all the cars and all the sounds and all the smells that would accompany a multi-unit building next door.  The sounds of construction and later of arguments and loud music where there have never been any.  The smell of cigarettes and bacon that would surely find their way into our windows make me want to bolt.  I don’t know the answer yet.  It may be that another home would be as inspirational as this one.  Staying or leaving – it’s a gamble either way.  Ultimately it’s difficult to imagine finding another place with such a long glistening throw of light as this one offers.

Above the Table, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

I was photographing the house, its grounds and light long before the developer’s call and continuing to do so feels empowering.  The work was shifting along the way, becoming more abstract.  I’m not sure what role that telephone call played in making the black and white images – possibly a need to isolate an essential element of this place.  The botanical shadows were included in many of the color photos, but the emphasis on shadows rather than on the light itself was a subtle change.  I don’t consider them darker or more sinister but perhaps they are in certain images.  Maybe it’s just seeing the whole picture this time.  I’ve always had a tendency, when others are admiring a sunset, to look the other way.  It’s my contrary nature I suppose, but I just really love the way everything looks when it’s bathed in the light falling at the end of the day.

Hummingbird's Rest, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

If, in the end, we decide to move on, I want a full recording of what happened here in September and December and April and July.  The light and all its changes of angle allow for different photographs every day.  Most of them I do not take.  Generally, I think the camera gets in the way of a lot of experience and I think taking it in is important in life.  For every image I grasp with my camera, a hundred more are embedded in my mind, generally the place where the best photographs live.

Summer Fruit, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

Uplift, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

Spring in the World, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

January Silhouette, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

Sycamore, The Crow's Perch, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

While I set out to write about urban development, I could not get there without writing about home, art, and working process.   Part 2 will address issues I could not cover in this writing;  issues dealing with photography, development and environment, but first things first.

Part 1:

It was love at first sight.  The little old house had our names all over it.  I did a double take as I drove past, in disbelief over the depth of the lot.  The giant flat yard had dozens of shade trees and I recall writing the word “perfect” in the margins of my newspaper clipping from the real estate section.

The house has served us well over the last seven years and we have done our best to shore up her tired spots, keeping true to the spirit of the house’s design.  When the painters were stripping off the old exterior paint a year ago to repaint, they coincidentally found the same cheerful green we had just purchased, already there on the bottom layer – the house’s original color.  In our city, a house built in 1919 is a rare survivor.   In fact, it was spared the wrecking ball some 30 odd years ago and moved from a neighborhood a few miles away when that neighborhood faced development.  It’s not the only old house in Los Angeles, but it’s ours.

Evening Porch, Kathleen Clark (c)2011

Blue Porcelain & Crape Myrtle

Entry with Sycamore, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

In the last few years, working from home, I began to feel this house saved me.  After years of working in large creative groups, the shift to working in solitude was a bit of a shocker.  I had worked so much, that I often wasn’t home long enough or in daylight hours to really experience the pleasures of what  92 years of good craftsmanship had to offer.  Los Angeles is known for it’s harsh angular light.  In fact, exterior photographs taken in LA. often have little graphically in common with photos from New England, for example.  In Southern California, there is more contrast, more extremity.  In New England, there are more middle values.  Ironically, that relates as much to the culture and nature of the two places as to their photogenic character.

After living in ten different L.A. locations over the last 22 years, the light in this house, and around it, is special.  It made working on the photo gallery more pleasurable.  The house itself takes up only a third of the corner property so the land accommodates some thirty trees – sycamore, birch, apricot, grapefruit, persimmon, crape myrtle, lemon, avocado, pepper, eucalyptus, all of which allow the most flickery, gentle light.  If the sun is out, it feels like everyone’s idea of California here.  Minus the surfers and ocean view.  The inside of the house has pretty much the same quality of light with an abundance of original 9×11 blown glass windowpanes.  Old, rattling panes are anything but energy efficient, but for one, who apparently lives for light, it is heavenly.

Sitting Room, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

Honeycrisp at Sundown, Kathleen Clark (c) 2011

In my years of editing photography in journalism, I stopped making art.  My last exhibition closed a month before I took my first publication job and as a result, art died on the spot.  I’m not saying that I stopped taking pictures, but as my primary task was assignment editing and concept development, making photographs was secondary.  While I took many in service of my publications, they were made specifically to fill editorial orders.  It was fun and it was creative, but it wasn’t art.

It’s amazing how things start to come back as soon as there’s a little space.  I had new ideas within weeks away from the job.  I started one series and left it midway, doubting its efficacy, but I know now that it’s something I’ll get back to.  I began to see things at home that I found myself isolating in new ways.  The magic of this place is worth noting largely because it allowed me to find my way back to the love of making images.  It took a year and a half to take picture making seriously and actually consider it a body of work.  Rust takes a long while to chip off.  I’ve only mentioned it to a few people, only shown it to two of my closest friends, and still I have little desire to jump into the fray of struggling for outward attention or reward.  Although here I am, writing about it.

Rose Colored Glass, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

Slats and Beams, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

I mentioned the fact that I was making new photographic work to Chris Rauschenberg as we walked across Santa Fe during the recent photo reviews.  I’m not sure why.  He’s someone I knew only peripherally when I lived in Portland, but I think perhaps, because we knew each other as young artists, I felt at ease in sharing it with him.  I’d kept the art making pretty private until then.  Somehow speaking of it seemed like a big deal.  When I said it was good to be working but I had no plans of showing work, he asked why not?  I realized I didn’t have a reason, but maybe I’d have to work a while and see what comes.

Black Bird of Paradise, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

I used to believe that making art without audience was narcissistic. But that was in the ‘80s and ’90s and much of the most exciting art was based in activism.  Activism is nothing without audience.  Years later, I find I need beauty and nature to take the edge off a rough, exacting world.  My hesitance or indifference, until now, to expose myself to the rigors of public scrutiny has as much to do with a belief the work is in progress and needs to find its way as it does in the simple fact that I’ve spent so much energy putting others into the spotlight rather than myself.  Ultimately though, the pleasure of making art may well surpass anything it’s outward presentation could hope to achieve.  The process really does matter and I’m not sure I care to mess that up, yet I am sharing a few images here, as it’s only right.

Japanese Maple and Birch, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

People often ask what I’m doing.  Even when we opened the gallery, they asked what else I was working on, as if it wasn’t enough to organize exhibitions.  Money is the great legitimacy, I suppose.  I try to think of it as necessity not legitimacy, but I live in the world and it is more challenging now to feel legitimate without earning a good deal.  I do find writing gratifying and while I write about myself now, I will continue writing about the work of others later on. I’m certain that at some point I’ll find another outlet for larger interests and presentation of work by other artists. Now that my gallery is closed and assignment editing is in the past, I search to find that next thing.  It often occurs to me, however, that the new thing may well be the old thing – the illusive making of art.

Blenheim Apricot, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

Meanwhile, the light at my house keeps teaching me new lessons.  One body of work seems to lead to another and even though it’s far from the conceptual work I did in the ’80s and ’90s, it has visual links to both those periods and most importantly to my family and its collective love of gardens.  My son once asked me how I could possibly know the identity and names of so many trees.  I replied that I certainly don’t know the names of most trees but that the ones I do know came from having heard my parents and grandparents as they looked fondly upon a pink blooming Mimosa or the screaming red fruit of a Sour Cherry tree.  It’s one of the best things I inherited, which gives me the most pleasure.  I try to point out to him that the amazing fragrance he loves in the summer night air is Orange blossom, that the sweet scent will soon be sweet fruit.  Even as I say it, I realize I am repeating my mother’s words and I see in my mind the still photo memory of the grove across the street as my family moved into another old house in another old California town when I was fifteen.

Eucalyptus, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

Memory, photographs and gardens are inexorably linked for me and while the new work will run its course at some point, this muse, this old house has allowed me to find an inroad to art and a connection to the past and present.  It has reminded me of important things, deeply rooted familial history and the simple pleasure of lying on the grass, looking skyward or watching a beam of light move across a room, spotlighting the most mundane of things as they become objects of reverence.

Apricot, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

Our House, Part 2, will follow

Philadelphia, 1963, (c) Ray K. Metzker, courtesy Laurence Miller Gallery, New York

I live just a few blocks from the Miracle Mile in Los Angeles, a stretch of Wilshire Boulevard designed in the 1920s so that the buildings lining its curbs were intended to best be seen through the windshield of an automobile.  This truly modern idea navigated passersby away from previous modes of pedestrian, horseback, wagon or train travel.  Los Angeles was, until then, a series of dirt roads circumnavigating what once were Ranchos of epic scale.  This urban planning led to a vast boulevard of simplified architectural forms, large, sleek, bold and ideally viewed at a steady speed of 30 miles per hour.  The ensuing contributions to Streamline Modern and Art Deco vernacular are numerous and when viewed contrary to plan, as a pedestrian, were the first thing I thought of when Julia Dolan turned me onto the work of Ray K. Metzker, now showing at the Portland Art Museum.

As the Museum’s new Curator of Photography, I should say Dolan turned Oregon onto Metzker, but having met recently at a dinner party at the home of my brother and sister-in-law, I felt motivated to look into his work and finally turn the familiar name into something tangible.  What I found was an extensive body of work by a living photographer, as elegant and finely contoured as the cars he photographed.    

Philadelphia, 1963, (c) Ray K. Metzker, courtesy Laurence Miller Gallery, New York

Julia Dolan’s notes on her current exhibition describe Metzker in the following passages:

Ray K. Metzker: AutoMagic, an exhibition of more than sixty works by Philadelphia-based photographer Ray K. Metzker, complements the exceptional artistry featured in the Portland Art Museum’s summertime exhibition The Allure of the Automobile. In a career that has spanned more than five decades, Metzker has continually photographed cars, charting their notable physical and cultural presence within the space of the modern city. AutoMagic places the vehicle within a broader social context by exploring the many nuances of auto-influenced urban behavior.

Metzker’s photography career began during the early 1960s, just as automobiles, parking garages, crosswalks, and traffic signals were becoming ubiquitous fixtures in many American cities. Metzker, who was already recording the design of urban spaces and public behavior, was poised to reveal the evolving formal and societal relationships among cars, pedestrians, and even architecture. In many of his photographs from this period, automobile form is paramount, and surfaces of smoothly curving metal are contoured by sunshine or artificial light. In other works, pedestrians and drivers commute along thoroughfares with efficiency, their aloof public personas masking their private lives. On occasion, occupants hang arms and heads out of car windows—relaxed postures that suggest a less hurried relationship between driver and destination.

Although Metzker sometimes detoured from urban topics to explore new environments and camera techniques—examples of which can be seen in this exhibition—he always returned to the city and the automobile. Indeed, Metzker’s ability to capture the essence of urban movement remains unfailing. Both automobile and human form are purely expressed and beautiful to behold in his photographs; tonal contrasts and an exceptional sense of composition amplify the intensity of purpose that moves commuters through the space of the city by car or on foot, perpetually suspended between one point and the next. From decade to decade, Metzker treats the automobile as an aesthetic object and catalyst of social change, finding beauty as well as ambivalence in modern machinery.

Philadelphia, 1963, (c) Ray K. Metzker, courtesy Laurence Miller Gallery, New York

Prior to joining the curatorial staff in Portland, Julia Dolan was the Horace W. Goldsmith Curatorial Fellow in Photography at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and previously held positions at the Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts and at Harvard University ’s Fogg Art Museum.  She holds a Ph.D. in Art History from Boston University, an M.A. in Art History from Penn State, and a B.F.A. in Photography from Maryland Institute College of Art.  All signs point to Dolan being an outstanding addition to the cultural life of photography.  She was gracious enough to take time from a busy schedule to address my questions regarding the Ray K. Metzker: AutoMagic exhibition, as well as her plans for exhibitions and collections.

Curator Julia Dolan presenting Metzker's work to the Portland Art Museum's Photo Council.

When you elected to show the Ray K. Metzker work was it a collective goal of the various museum divisions to run related exhibitions in conjunction with one another?

In this case, yes. I knew that I had the gallery space near our special exhibition galleries during most of the run of The Allure of the Automobile.  I didn’t feel the need to show cars, but I wanted to express some kind of issues around automation–Machine Age imagery, for example.  But then I revisited Ray’s work about a year ago and felt that it would be a perfect fit.

Did you have a prior relationship with Metzker when you were in Philadelphia?

I stood in the same room with him once, and I was able to see his many prints in storage there, but no, we didn’t meet officially.  I was too nervous to say hello to him.

Philadelphia, 1966, (c) Ray K. Metzker, courtesy Laurence Miller Gallery, New York

Is there a Metzker image that has a special hold on you – one that makes you stop in your tracks as you walk through the gallery?  

There are so many, it’s hard to isolate just one.  That’s why I brought out 67 prints from New York!  Metzker exquisitely captures the manner in which pedestrians move past and around automobiles as they make their way through the space of the city.  His vision is particularly exceptional with this kind of scene during the early 1960s and in the City Whispers series from the early 1980s.  Have a look at almost any shot from these periods, you’ll see what I mean.

Will you talk about where you’re heading with upcoming exhibitions?  Short term and or long-term goals?

The permanent gallery space for photographs is meant to display photographs from our permanent collection, which numbers about 6500 photographs.  The images selected for this gallery depend on various themes that I develop as I learn more about the collection. It can hold as many as 75 photographs.  The images are rotated every 4-5 months so that regular visitors can see a variety of images, and also to protect the prints from too much light exposure. In 2013 we’re hosting Carrie Mae Weems: A Retrospective, which is organized by the Frist Center for the Visual Arts and will travel to the Cleveland Museum of Art as well as the Guggenheim in New York.  My main goals include keeping the rotation lively in the permanent galleries, getting to know more about the region’s photographers, adding to the collection, and bringing in major exhibitions when possible.  I’d like to originate a major traveling exhibition at PAM, but that is a longer-term goal.

Carrie Mae Weems, "Slow Fade to Black #1, (Eartha Mae Kitt)" 2009-2010, courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, NY.

Carrie Mae Weems, born in Portland, will return with a retrospective.

Knowing that funds are short these days, adding to any museum’s collection is a bit of a pipe dream at the moment.  Daring to dream, are there specific works or genres of photographs that you would target as high priorities to begin to round out the collection at Portland Art Museum?

I am most concerned about bringing more twentieth-century photographs into the collection.  We are missing a number of important photographers, and could use more images by certain artists.  I always pay attention to contemporary as well, but I’d like to shore up the twentieth century as much as possible.  We need to encourage a collection that can hold its own and make Portland a destination for the study of the history of photography.

Installation view "Looking In: Robert Frank's The Americans" at the National Gallery of Art.

Can you give an example of a particular exhibition in which you felt curatorial inspiration?  Specifically, a stand-out job by another curator and how that presentation really worked for you?

Looking In:  Robert Frank’s The Americans was an incredible exhibition.  It’s hard to deny the power of Frank’s book, but to see his thought process through work prints and contact sheets was a revelation.  Sarah Greenough from the National Gallery of Art made that exhibition sing.  And the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s recent Stielgitz/Steichen/Strand demonstrated just how much an institution can do with a solid permanent collection.  On this side of the country, the recent exhibition of Seattle Camera Club photographs at the Henry Art Gallery was fantastic, featuring lots of rarely seen works. 

In the years between being a photographer and being a curator of photography, has the shift altered the ways you appreciate imagery or drawn you to work you may not have experienced in the same way as an artist?

Perhaps not directly.  It was time that I took to grow up, but not to think about art critically.  That period made me a better worker, more dedicated, more rigorous.  I transferred that energy to art history when I finally decided that it was the route I wanted to take.

Philadelphia, 1963, (c) Ray K. Metzker, courtesy Laurence Miller Gallery, New York

The Ray K. Metzker: AutoMagic exhibition runs through July, 2011 at the Portland Art Museum.  In addition, The Allure of the Automobile is on display through September 11th, featuring 16 of the most rare and  beautifully designed automobiles built between 1930 and the mid-1960s.

Photographs by Ray K. Metzker are published here with the permission of the Laurence Miller Galleryof New York, which represents the work of Mr. Metzker.