There must have been a thousand 35mm transparencies packed into the metal slide case I purchased long ago. Once used to illustrate a late 1960s Black History course, it seemed wrong to leave the box sitting outside in the hot flea market sun. I figured I’d find a home for it – maybe in a proper archive. There seemed to never be enough time to assess the entire set, so years passed and it moved around Los Angeles with me to 11 different apartments and houses over the course of 28 years.
When African Americans began to protest police violence all across the country a few years ago, I watched, horrified by the endless stream of police over-reaction killings of black people. A glaring light was shined on the deep, enduring racism I mistakenly hoped had diminished in America. Consequently, I felt the need to make a visual response to the ongoing systemic abuse.
After beginning work on The Republic, I recalled the rusting gray steel box on the shelf in the cellar. Its contents covered vast amounts of time, from slavery in ancient Nubia to segregation in the 1950s. Buried in the collection were many copy slides, all fading into pink, of antique news engravings depicting slavery in the American South. Since the visibility of white supremacy escalated during and since the presidential election, many of these images have been republished in the news, but in the early summer of 2016 these illustrations were unfamiliar to me.
Omitted from our history schoolbooks, the antique engravings reminded me of family china patterns of my youth, only replete with racists and slaves. Merging the illustrations into reconstructed presidential china patterns allowed me to navigate the difficult subject of slaveholding presidents, offering subtext to the supposed civilization and culture set around historic dining tables.
When I learned that President Woodrow Wilson’s second wife Edith Bolling Wilson created The China Room at The White House, a collection displaying all the dinnerware of prior presidencies, my interest peaked. I had recently read that Mrs. Wilson was potentially somewhere on my remote family tree and also that the Ku Klux Klan was particularly emboldened, if not enabled during Mr. Wilson’s time as head of state.
More recent presidencies are represented in this series, with plates depicting controversy or tragedy caused either by their leadership or during their terms. These works incorporate archival photographic imagery and I am indebted to The Library of Congress for use of their incredible collection.
As President Obama was about to leave office in 2016, there was a collective sense of doom felt by Liberals. Many of us worried that this incoming government would reverse the progress made under Mr. Obama’s leadership. My need to honor him resulted in a dinner plate turned backward with only its china label visible.
As we wrestle with corruption and the defiance of Democracy, I found myself bombarded by negative imagery and branched into a series of works based on souvenir flow blue dinnerware reflecting more heroic figures. I am especially including women here, as their exclusion from government and historic record has been profound, yet their contributions to life are vast.
In the spring of 2016 I was invited along on a civic business trip to Washington D.C. Finding myself deeply dismayed by the profoundly unsettling dialogue engulfing the presidential election, I decided to make the trip with the intention of beginning artwork for a possible book project.
My curiosity as an American was coupled with a growing unease as a country built in the most beautiful language and lofty visions was immersed in denigrating the best president of my lifetime. While President Obama led the country out of seemingly insurmountable calamities with a dignity, intellectual vigor, commitment to diplomacy and respect for all the country’s people, the extremists raged. Leading a swath of America backward onto itself to wallow in its lowest traditions of prejudice, ignorance and obstruction, the Republican leadership barely masked a glaring desire for self-enrichment.
I had never been to Washington and given the effort the Obamas invested into increasing access to the government by its people, I couldn’t imagine a better time to visit. Through my invitation I had additional invaluable access: conferences and receptions at the House of Representatives and Senate office buildings; a private Congressional tour led by my Congressman’s staff; a tour of the White House as well as dinners in storied old buildings with people who hold high sway, elected and not, in my city. It was a privilege and I was hooked.
My interest was to explore the vision, architecture, language and idolatry of significant American figures in our early years – the lofty goals of our founders versus the harsh contradictions of slavery, slaughter of indigenous people and profiteering land grabs. I thought a lot about the elegance of thought and language and debate, which furthered the country’s laws and protections for lands and citizenry. I thought a lot about the caustic knee-jerk, childish rhetoric and gang-bang mentality sweeping through contemporary America. I did not expect by year’s end to be dealing with fascism and a thuggish plutocracy, aided and abetted by foreign intervention and a complicit, regressive government. What has ensued in this new regime is a disgrace on all counts.
Concurrent with exploring and making images for The Republic, my family began to delve more deeply into our own history, uncovering a lineage going back to the Mayflower, Jamestown and beyond. It looks as though I may descend from John Rolfe, who set sail in 1609 for America on the Sea Venture, a ship and it’s wreckage near Bermuda that informed Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Having located desirable strains of tobacco while rebuilding a sailable ship, Rolfe is credited with bringing the first commercial tobacco cultivation to Virginia. He is also known primarily for marrying the daughter of the Chief of the Powhatan Indians. Her name was Matoaka, but we know her as Pocahontas.
As intriguing as all that is, it came with the whiplash realization that my forefathers were directly complicit in the birth of the plantation culture in the South. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but when research led to several of my direct ancestors who owned slaves, I felt a shudder of responsibility I’d hoped to never feel. A lifetime of liberal politics and egalitarian beliefs did not prepare me to hit that wall.
In exploring my full ancestral lineage, the trail has led not just to the aforementioned historical figures but also to officers in the Revolutionary War, to soldiers in both the Union Army and the Confederacy, to the struggling and the well-heeled, pioneers, farmers, and women who died of influenza and in child-birth. My family’s evolving story coupled with a fascination kindled from the trip to Washington quickly developed into an obsession with image making, learning and thinking about The Republic.
How does one reconcile a heritage built both by Native Americans and the Colonists? Does one feel pride in the immense struggle it took to create such a complex and elegant governmental system while being mortified at the methodology employed for its success. Patriotism is a complex thing.
Before the election of 2016, I thought I might be at this project for years given the abundance of information I struggled to digest. At the time, I thought the election would go differently and I could focus my work on the founding first few hundred years. I thought I’d be able to stop short of the now, as a full United States history would be an unrealistic undertaking. But ignoring the now and all that went before it would be to turn a blind eye on all the good we’ve done and just as significantly, all the bad.
I realized early on that I needed to employ a variety of working methods to better serve the vast array of subject matter, even if those methods might typically be at odds with one another. Unlike a more common single narrative, The Republic is a massive story requiring a broad range of interpretations. Some work is environmental, some simple landscapes, environments and still life photographs. Other images are conceptual constructions. I began to make props so that I could photograph the objects and ideas that I wanted to see and convey. Those ideas punctuate a timeline threaded by more typical images that serve at least partly as establishing shots.
The Republic is an ongoing project, as much activism and self-education as art and personal historical exploration. As such, some images stand alone more profoundly than others and there are many gaps that I intend to fill over time. As an editor, the content is overwhelming. As a maker, I find the discovery of both information and ways of translating that information creatively, to be immensely challenging and ever intriguing.
My country straddles a morality stuck between what many of us thought was a progressive future and the strong and persistent gravitational pull of an extremist past, intent on continuing to rear its ugly head. In creating works for The Republic I wrestle with all of it – a baptism by fire. We can’t get over it. We must go through it.
It’s the end of another year. Out with the old, in with the new, etcetera, etcetera. I haven’t written here in a while. I’m not completely sure why but life gets busy. Even so, I kick myself for not adding my two cents to the cacophony of voices. Still, one must have something to say.
Occasionally I wake up in the middle of the night with fully formed sentences in mind that seem terribly profound. Just before hosting a Christmas dinner for twelve, I woke up with the language of an entire toast that I was able to deliver somewhat coherently. It went over well enough with good champagne as lubricant and an attentive audience. On the other hand I have not found myself immersed in ideas, photographs or artwork lately that compelled me enough to write about it for public consumption. That doesn’t mean I haven’t seen anything I liked, it just means I didn’t really feel it necessary to comment.
I have made a fair amount of work on behalf of others this year – designing and promoting exhibitions and bringing in a couple of new photographers to show in the near future for Leica Gallery LA. I’ve re-shaped portfolios, and re-built a career or two for private clients. I had a photo portfolio of my own environmental portraiture and documentary work on musicians picked up by a magazine. I had the distinct pleasure of sitting for a few hours in a kitchen booth with basketball great Phil Jackson to pour over photographs with him and get clues as to how I should edit the photographic story of his life. He laughed at my jokes. I pet his dog. What more can one ask?
All this brings me to the subject of my personal body of artwork. It too, has kept me lying awake at night, wrestling with ways to manifest an idea. During a shoot last month, photographer Dan Winters asked me what I was up to with my photographs. He’s the exceptional artist that I last wrote about here and the one that always makes me feel like I’ve found my feet after we have a conversation. There’s something about a talk with Dan that just sets me right. He’d seen most of an ongoing series I’ve been working on the last couple years, but I have a new body of work that I’d shown to no one outside the family.
A few days after parting ways I worked up my nerve and sent Dan a link to the work. The fact that he wrote back quickly to say that the new images really affected him both conceptually and technically and he thought it a beautiful series, should have caused me to run a flag up a pole. After all, that kind of meaningful, trusted compliment is so rare. Instead, I just felt encouraged enough to keep working on the series. At times I suffer from my own humble nature. On the other hand I wanted it to be strong enough before I threw it to the wind.
Last night I dreamt some scraps of a phrase Dan said about sharing artwork as being one of his great pleasures. It reminded me of how freely I once engaged as a young artist in the discussion of ideas, of making and sharing imagery and collaboration apart from the obsession with self-promotion that so encompasses contemporary photography. In the spirit of sharing, I’m posting a few of my new series called “Lost Language.” There’s a proper statement about the work at the end of this column, but try to find room for your own interpretations. I know what fuels this for me, but it’s spacious and abstract work and there’s room for whatever it makes you feel. When I made the first image in this column just two days ago, I found myself grinning. So bring to it what you will and have a happy new year.
Lost Language: “Words fail me.” “I’m speechless.” “She’s at a loss for words.” Such expressions are considered a normal gap in one’s abilities to find suitable language in certain stressful or overwhelmingly emotional times. At the beginning of life, there is a rapid gathering of verbal elements – a snowball gaining speed and building to a phenomenally grand toolbox of linguistic pieces. Letters and punctuation accumulate and our verbal thoughts and words are like a tide constantly ebbing and flowing. With loss of memory, a gradual disintegration of language happens. Words stick together, but are isolated from others. Some words are lost altogether creating a language that makes accommodations for the parts that are missing. As witnesses to memory loss, we make excuses and sense of what’s left. “He had a beautiful woolen jacket” becomes “he had one.” We struggle to piece together the intended meaning and make do with what’s left until words become fragments and fragments turn to silence.
The large set of leather-bound books seems deeply significant in the recesses of my childhood mind. The five members of our family were readers, and we collectively made evening outings every three weeks to the public library in our suburban neighborhood to bring home arm loads of modern writers like Harper Lee, J.D. Salinger, and Truman Capote.
The novels on the living room shelf, however, were classics: Twain, Dickens, Flaubert, Dumas, Hawthorne and such. They carried the weight of middle-class aspiration to finer living – to a life less drab. There may have been reproduction Americana folk prints on the walls, but Oscar Wilde’s sophisticated and humorous musings on the shelf. Aside from their literary value they delivered a physical quality of richness as they sat amid the regular bound books in a ranch house filled with faux-colonial maple furniture.
There was also an untouchable quality, due either to our mother not wanting us to gum up the pages with sticky fingers, or just due to the fact that the books themselves had a certain nobility. Regardless, there were two strong qualities I recall, one of which was just how good they felt in my hands: supple leather and shiny smooth gold gilded pages. There was also a spooky quality amid certain books: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and all the works of Edgar Allen Poe. The darkness of these stories may pale with the horrific and violent imagery in contemporary culture, but their power in story-telling set an atmosphere of apprehension that seemed to emanate from the bindings themselves. That’s the power of imagination in a child’s mind.
All this brings me to a beautiful and mysterious new book by photographer Chris Anthony. Informed by the prose and imagery of Edgar Allen Poe, “Seas Without A Shore” is rooted in historical image making without being stuck there. Anthony implements the wet plate collodion process beautifully along with using 150 year old lenses, but those are just a few of the tools in his bag of tricks. Anthony has one of the finest visual “voices” I’ve known in recent years. Part mystic, part conjurer, vaudeville ringmaster and antique portraitist, Anthony is a rare animal. His ability to set both simple and elaborate stages creates elegant enigmas throughout all of his bodies of work that allow the viewer to witness something of a different reality while exploring themes of solitude, hope and survival.
When I once worked with him on a series of editorial portraits at Hollywood’s Magic Castle, I was actually surprised that he didn’t arrive in a Victorian morning jacket or step out of a coach rather than a car. He so thoroughly created his own landscape that I came to expect him to inhabit it as well.
In “Seas Without A Shore,” Chris Anthony writes: “An image that I go back with since I’m perhaps three or four years old is a vintage movie poster for the 1934 film, The Black Cat, hanging on my Aunt Maggie’s living room wall in Stockholm. The disembodied heads of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi zooming across the blackened vortex of the cat’s silhouette made a huge impact on me. Their facial expressions were terrifying. Like a stick in the wet cement of a young brain, it wires you for good, and save for perhaps an Arthurian therapist attempting to pry it loose from your noodle, one is rather stuck with it for life. But even at that age, the poster didn’t scare me. It thrilled me. It’s also the first time I ever saw the words: Edgar Allan Poe.”
In an era of rampant shutter releases, Chris Anthony’s vision takes us to a selective and sophisticated level of image making with fictional narratives from the bizarre to the banal. “Making the masks, and many of the props and costumes is a big part of the process and it helps me define this unique and demented little world I live and shoot in. There are many still-lifes (or portraits rather) of Seahorses, which I find to be one of the most beautiful and fascinating creatures in existence. The mysteries of the sea is certainly a big part of the subject matter in these pictures and I like to think that the book ends with a sort of crescendo of color images of survivors braving waves and currents, perhaps the result of a future world where ocean tides will wash away the planet’s coastlines.”
Chris Anthony was born in Sweden and lives and works in Los Angeles. His work has been exhibited in Los Angeles, Stockholm, Brooklyn, Hong Kong, Washington D.C., London, Bath and San Francisco and published in the Los Angeles Times, Eyemazing, Art News, American Photo, Blink, Paper, Photo+, Nylon, Black Book, Juxtapoz, Zoom, Corrierre della Serra.
“Seas Without A Shore,” is a self-published book, available through its author, offered in a variety of versions including a signed edition limited to 200 copies with cloth bound cover and options of slip cases, clamshell boxes and original prints. Unlike the fearsome books of my youth, the gorgeous “Seas Without A Shore” begs to be opened, pored over, considered and reconsidered. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org://chrisanthony.viewbook.com
My mother died a few days before Christmas last year. She had a long period of the kind of limbo dementia causes and in the last couple of years dialogue wasn’t really possible except between my brothers and I as we recalled every bit of family nostalgia. Since our father had passed away in 1996, thoughts of them both along with other relatives, living and dead, began to swirl around in my head. My youngest brother had dreams filled with dead relatives. We’re not religious people so we processed the partings with reminiscence and appreciation and wine.
I began the series, “The Living,” as something of a tribute or reliquary to essential things learned from my parents and family. In searching for family icons, I quickly realized much of what was most meaningful was botanical. Both sides of our family evolved from farmers. Our grandparents grew huge gardens with strawberries, raspberries, and cherries, and my Father followed suit with impressive gardens of his own, even though he wore a suit and tie to his job every day. Mom channeled her considerable creative energy into an ever evolving array of complex craft projects and wonderful cooking and I spent much of my childhood staring at the sky, mowing the lawn, listening to the leaves rustle and pruning lemon trees.
Constructing sets or tableaux of some type has long been a part of my art practice and I chose to both construct as well as alter environments. The sets were then combined with found and organic elements, which I then photographed. The concept evolved from what I considered to be a very personal insular project to one that embraced larger, more universal gifts of living. In visually exploring my simple surroundings and playing with gravity and stillness and shadow and light, I experienced a profound appreciation of the esthetic magic of nature and its immediate ties to home and memory. I expect I’ll continue working on this series at least through the end of this year.
While I was growing up my family moved with alarming regularity. My father, a retail clothing buyer and manager was frequently transferred and consequently our family found ourselves moving from Portland to Seattle to Los Angeles and back again at the whim of the rag business. By the time I graduated from High School I attended a total of eight schools in the span most kids go to three and I’d lived in ten different homes. Family photos were abundant and our histories in each house were duly recorded and treasured. Throughout Junior High and High School I began to cherish the school yearbook as a way of retaining memory of each place and the people I cared about within those places. In typical pubescent fashion, it was also a way of wallowing in misery in coping with loss and rootlessness. The byproduct of all this was that I found I often knew the names and two-dimensional faces of everyone in each yearbook even though the majority were barely acquaintances.
As a photo editor living in Los Angeles it is not uncommon to find myself seated in a restaurant adjacent to someone who I knew only by virtue of the fact I had assigned or taken a portrait of them at one point or another. In the case of actors or sports figures with public faces like Hilary Swank or Javier Bardem or Kobe Byrant, recognition is obvious. With other subjects such as a Nobel Prize winning scientist or a best selling author or cutting edge architect, well, that was different. Their faces might not be so default famous. Did I know them? Were they friends, I’d half forgotten? If so, from which city? From which yearbook? Did I go to college with them? I once ran into an old college mate in the middle of the Yucatan jungle, so I know it’s possible to re-cross paths in unlikely places.
Knowing someone’s face without knowing the person makes for an extremely one-sided relationship. I recognize them, but in an uncomfortably familiar way. After all, I’ve stared at every follicle trying to make a clean edit. I know their faces too well. I often have to flip through a mental notebook to determine why I felt I knew them without knowing them. I always remember eventually and then everything I knew about them runs through my mind. They’re ordering a nice arugula salad and the sea bass and I’m recalling which street they live on and whether they were witty or kind. I must be careful and avoid small talk as though we’re old friends when the person may well be a film director or the designer of an electric car. Knowing is not always knowing. I was touring an open house recently when I ran into the author James Ellroy and we did a not-so-subtle eyeing of each other across the worn-out kitchen until we realized we did in fact know each other. In that case I had taken photographs for James’ memoir “My Dark Places,” some years ago after initially meeting on assignment. That relationship was more deeply forged and small talk was warranted. I didn’t have to feel like a voyeur to say “hello, how are you?”
At Fotofest in Houston I finished a post portfolio review drink and found myself chatting with a table of photographers in the lobby bar. I was delighted when Cynthia Greig introduced herself, as I am quite fond of her work. Her photographs of familiar traditional still life arrangements are not unlike those that adorned my mother’s walls in each of our suburban houses, but whitewashed and stripped of most color, altering their dimension and straddling a world somewhere between painting and photography. I think she was generally floored at my recognition; much less the fact that I once considered showing her photographs until I realized she already had representation in Los Angeles. Greig is based in Detroit and I imagine getting exposure is somewhat tough in the world beyond. Even so, I’d seen the work previously and added her to my list of people I felt were doing something unique in the medium. Meeting her in Texas seemed to me a random lucky fluke, yet these photo events put us all together in ever expanding concentric circles.
Digital access to photography has also made discoveries that were once challenging now commonplace. The artists and their work are not less special, but the hard won nature of finding significant art and artists in the past allowed presenters of work to feel accomplished in finding an exceptional discovery. The sense that I’m not alone now as I search the equivalent of that school yearbook makes the act of locating distinguished artwork more of an uphill battle. Pouring over assignment contact sheets in the past was an act conducted in solitude, without audience or competition. Today there are thousands of others alongside, somewhere in the digital ether, clicking “like” with their morning coffee. I do find work that I’m fond of, but I miss the joy of what once felt like an exclusive hunt.
The intimacy of viewing the art with artist at hand and stepping out of the two-dimensional into a live experience seems to be the best way of dissipating the overwhelming nature of mass access. And so the chance introduction to Cynthia Greig created the opportunity to meet again on the occasion of her exhibition at Santa Monica’s dnj Gallery. Showing through June 2, 2012, Nature Morte is well worth a visit.
Cynthia Greig’s statement regarding the work follows:
“I’m fascinated by the persuasive power of the photograph, and its unique role in negotiating what we believe to be real or true.
Nature Morte revisits the tradition of still life to explore photography’s relationship to the vanitas themes of death, decay, and transience while meditating on the nature of reality and illusion. Exploiting the camera’s monocular point of view, I create two-dimensional photographic documents of three-dimensional drawings, rendering physical objects to first appear as crude and simple outlines. The photographs deny expectations to encourage the observation of subtle detail as a means to examine the deceptive nature of appearance and the presumed transparency of the photographic image. Muted colors emanate from beneath the whitewashed flesh of fruit; drawn charcoal outlines and shadows fix moments in fictional time; defining lines warp, wrinkle and decay with the organic matter they represent. The accompanying videos further explore time’s capacity to unfold and reveal the illusory nature of appearance.
I make images that embrace both the limitations and possibilities of photography. They prompt essential questions about the nature of reality as well as the medium itself: what do we expect a photograph to look like? To what degree are our beliefs and realities based on appearances and misconceptions? Nature Morte investigates the malleability of representation and identity and the potential for reconfiguring the physical and imagined boundaries we impose upon the world.”
dnj Gallery is located in Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Avenue, Suite J1, Santa Monica, CA. Gallery Hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 11:00 am to 6:00 pm.
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.
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.
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 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.
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:
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.
“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.
“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
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.”
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.
“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
“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.
“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.
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.
State of the Union, Gregg Segal’s personal photo essay that appeared in Time magazine’s recent Civil War Anniversary issue, is nothing short of wonderful. In the extensive series of environmental portraits Segal studies the “juxtaposition of two contrastive eras: an idealized Civil War embodied by period reenactors vs. the commercialism of contemporary life.” It was recently selected as a winning editorial photographic series in 2011 Communication Arts Photography Annual and I feel it deserves much wider recognition.
Segal recently reminded me that we met originally in the black and white darkroom at USC’s Roski School of Fine Arts in 1995. I was teaching a beginning class, which was enjoying the revelatory experience of processing film. He was pursuing his Masters in Education with an Independent Study in photography, allowing him darkroom access. I followed his work afterward and increasingly appreciated his strength in bridging environmental and conceptually based portraiture. Gregg Segal’s highly intelligent approach to image making was undoubtedly honed with a good deal of critical thinking as well as attention paid to social content in his undergraduate work at Cal Arts. I always thought of him as something of a cultural anthropologist.
Over the years I was able to offer Segal a handful of strong editorial portrait assignments. His call offering a first look at a new photo series back in 2005 wasn’t his first pitch to me, but it was the first I was able to have published. I’ve often referred to the act of selling an editor on a photographic idea, especially a photo essay, as feeling a lot like trying to sell a used car. You point out the benefits, kick the tires, try to downplay any drawbacks. Segal’s Super Heroes at Home was anything but a tough sell. The vivid portraits managed to be both funny and oddly poignant. His powerful graphic style took the costumed action characters lining Hollywood Boulevard in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater way beyond the easy perception of kitsch. Most of us locals view the people in costume with suspicion. Their sweaty, dingy presence cast as the Incredible Hulk or Spiderman are primarily seen as obstacles as they pester tourists for money to share in a photograph and cause us to walk a little more quickly as we pass. By following the “actors” home and photographing them in costume, on their own turf, Segal took the series beyond the obvious. In that domestic context, the need to dress as comic characters became more pronounced, more obsessive, than on the street where it made show-biz sense. It was a no-brainer for a perfect portrait portfolio for Los Angeles magazine.
Following the publication of Superheroes at Home we were able to mount a terrific show of the work at the Arclight Cinemas in Hollywood. The Arclight first opened with Robert Brugeman directing the exhibition program and actively pursuing high quality artwork relevant to the city and to cinema. Since Mr. Brugeman moved on, exhibition standards slipped for the most part, but for a time it was an exciting alternative space. Gregg Segal’s intensely saturated color images were accompanied by a wry, ironic backstage photo essay on B-movie production by the wonderful photographer David Strick. The combination of the two bodies of work was perfect for the location and I was told over a million people saw the exhibition. If only there had been a book to accompany it.
The idea for Gregg’s second costumed series, Pirates at Work came, like many good things, by chance. The city of Los Angeles has been lucky to have a great photo editor in Lisa Thackaberry (currently at Angelino), but at the time, she was Segal’s agent. In the 90s her work as Photo Editor at Los Angeles Times magazine produced what I consider to be its finest issues. I was editing at LA Weekly at the time and I looked forward to whatever she pulled out of her hat each week. She eventually left the Times for Los Angeles magazine and after a couple of years, decided to try her hand at running her own photo agency. While I took her position at the magazine, she opened Negative Artists, moved to New York and began representing some very talented photographers including Trujillo + Paumier, Jennifer Rocholl, Alyson Aliano, Naomi Harris and Gregg Segal. Even as Negative Artists began to be successful, selling didn’t come naturally and Thackaberry longed for her creative home in the West. Her move to the L.A. suburb of Sherman Oaks, led to her re-discovery of Los Angeles’ bounty of strange wonders. When she phoned with giddy excitement to inform me of a fantastic pirate supply store called Enchanted Deva’s Last Wish and Treasures, she was like a kid in a candy store. I generally preferred to generate my own ideas of photographers to fit assignments. After all, that’s the creative fun. In this case, Thackaberry was right and I knew it. Gregg Segal was the perfect guy for the job. On the heels of the Superheroes at Home, it couldn’t have been a better fit and Pirates at Work was born.
Segal writes of his initial pirate encounter:
“I went to a pirate get together at Enchanted Devas where I met members of the Port Royal Privateers and Brethren of the Coast. Inspired by Hollywood and historical texts and the tales of Robert Louis Stephenson, these LA Pirates are devoted to their identities: they make scrupulous reproductions of 17th century waistcoats and make deals on EBay for just the right pantaloons. Some freebooters manage to make money off their pirate personas, performing reenactments at tall ship festivals and the like. But for most, pirating is a way of expressing themselves in a manner they otherwise couldn’t in the modern world.
As with the super heroes I’d photographed, I chose a context which allowed for a contrast of the spectacular and routine. I asked the part-time buccaneers to wear their pirate regalia and go about their workaday lives.”
After two very strong portrait galleries featuring people compelled to dress in costume, I recall telling Segal that if he could make one more powerful series utilizing that construct, he might well have a terrific book. The Civil War photo series provides the conceptual and visual icing on the cake and Gregg Segal is now busy preparing and submitting book proposals.
“The portraits in State of the Union were taken on the actual sites of specific battles in Virginia, Pennsylvania and Tennessee,” writes Segal. The earnest reenactors stay in character, completely engaged with their period props of makeshift tents and rucksacks, seemingly lost way off course in housing developments and parking lots that once were battle scenes. Time magazine had the good sense to give the gallery a lot of editorial space and the series runs over many pages. No small feat in a publication that has sadly grown wafer thin.
More images from State of the Union can be found at Gregg Segal and on Time’s website. Also, a video with Segal’s observations and interviews with his subjects as they discuss their dismay over the rapid development of historic locations in “State of the Union” is available here.
These days Segal continues to be a very busy editorial and commercial photographer, who on occasion crosses those lines and ventures into realms of fine art. That work is wry, quirky, and sometimes sad, in spite of the obvious humor and juicy, juicy color. I am no publisher, but please, someone give this man a book deal. He is represented by Marilyn Cadenbach at http://www.cadenbach.com/.