Archives for posts with tag: photography
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Freefall, c. 2017

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.

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Out of Balance, The Rayburn House Office Building, Washington D.C., c.2016

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.

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The President’s House, The White House China, c. 2016

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Reflections with Washington, The White House, Washington D.C., c.2016

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.

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The Contradictions of Jefferson, The White House China, c. 2016

Revolutionary Wall Paper, c. 2016

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.

What’s Become of the Grand Old Party, The White House China, President Wilson Dinner Plate, c. 2016

Bracing Ulysses, United States Capitol Rotunda, Washington, D.C., c.2016

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The Kompromat, c. 2016

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.

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The Sea Venture, c. 2017

Searching for Pocahontas, c.2016

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.

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A Revolt Suppressed, George Washington Dinner Plate, The White House China, c.2016

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Federal Self Reflection, c. 2016

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.

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Abundance and Sacrifice, Number 2, c. 2016

Hallowed Ground: The Lincoln Memorial, c.2016

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Jim Crow Segregation, Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills, California, c. 2016

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.

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Sacrilege: Bill Cody’s Jacket, c. 2017

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The Supreme Court, Washington, D.C. c.2016

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.

from the series The Republic

Liberty, c. 2017

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The Greatest Generation: Franklin D. Roosevelt, c. 2017

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.

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Nixon’s War, c. 2017

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Impasse at the House, Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C., c. 2016

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Abu Graib, President G.W. Bush Dinner Plate, The White House China, c.2016

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.

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The White House Portico, c.2016

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.

 

 

All rights reserved, c. Kathleen Clark, 2016-2017

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Spot Photo Works, the new Los Angeles based, contemporary photography gallery started by myself and Russell Adams, will be occupying most of the corners and curves of my mind in its first year. I’ll still be doing some freelance editing and mentoring, but for the most part my writing is going the way of the gallery and you can find me holding forth to that end on the Spot Photo Works Facebook page and on Spot’s blog.

Chris Anthony's series "Seas Without A Shore" opens November 15th.  Pictured:  Ladybird No. 2 ©2012 Chris Anthony

Ladybird No. 2 ©2012 Chris Anthony from his upcoming exhibition, “Seas Without A Shore.”

 

Spot’s first year of artists include: Dennis DeHart, Victory Tischler-Blue, Chris Anthony, Gregg Segal, H. Lee, Robert Harding Pittman, J.K. Lavin and Todd Weaver. We’re excited and we hope you visit.

I’m wrapping up jurying for Critical Mass and I’ll be reviewing portfolios at Photo Lucida in Portland in the Spring. Perhaps I’ll see some of you there. I’m also judging a yet to be announced competition for the Center for Fine Art Photography in Fort Collins, Colorado. I may also get inspired to write here on occasion and if time allows perhaps I’ll be able to pull on the threads of my own art making as well.  If so, I’ll keep you posted if anything juicy comes of it.

In the meantime find me at Spotphotoworks.com or at Spot’s Facebook page. Be well. Be in touch. Be inspired.

While walking to a screening at the Paley Center in Beverly Hills, I passed a storefront featuring a toy castle similar to this one. My comment at the time was “Look, it’s our vacation!”  While we skipped any historic reenactments on our trip to southern France, on the recommendation of my good friend-the-New-York-Times-Film-critic, we stretched our 2000-mile road trip to include the village of Carcassonne, which largely dates to the 12th Century.

Carcassonne is one of those places in which one could have created the word “awesome.”  It would not have referred to a plate of freedom fries or a new brand of sneakers.  It would not accompany the word “dude”.  The word really means something in a place like this.  This was my third trip to France and I love nothing more that traipsing through ancient villages and I’ve clambered through more than a few at this point.  Still, when the road finally turned to the formidable walls surrounding the medieval village and château, I gasped and “awesome” was the first word that came to  mind.

The 12th century ramparts and towers of Carcassonne.

Medium gray walls protecting the Chateau.

An epic and storied city, Carcassonne would be a field day for a photographer gifted in shooting elegant images of grand places.  I’m thinking Gustave Le Gray  or Michael Kirchoff or Debra DiPaolo or Jonas Yip.  Oh, for a deep gray day in the dead of winter – too cold for the hoards of tourists, but with a somber sky and subtle middle tones. September was as far from the peak travel season as our schedules would allow, so armed with my trusty Canon G9, I photographed to kindle memory recall, not for art’s sake.

The Ramparts of Carcassonne by Gustave Le Gray, 1851 (taken before the restoration of 1853, which added the less-than authentic pointed slate rooftops not-typical of the region).

Michael Kirchoff's Uspenski Cathedral and Clouds, Helsinki, 2008

Debra DiPaolo's view of Paramount Studios, Hollywood (mid 1990s).

From Paris Dialogue, Jonas Yip, 2008

We had a few ideas of sights to see in Carcassonne, knowing full well that in most good adventures the best parts are usually what happens along the way.  My traveling companion is an excellent planner so between the unstructured and the structured, there is more often than not, a compelling path.

While walking through the modern city outside the medieval walls, I spotted a young woman trying hard to be French-looking.  Or perhaps, she was French, just trying too hard in general.  Whatever it was, she was a wonderful extreme stereotype, enraptured by every word her boyfriend uttered over lunch and a mid-day carafe of wine.

Viva la France!

The exterior facade of the Chapelle de Dominicaines

Her table was near the entrance to the Chapelle de Dominicaines, a former church from 1860, which serves as an exhibition space and interpretive center for the City.  Sadly, I don’t speak French and the handful of phrases in my repertoire allowed only limited comprehension of, well, basically, everything. Nonetheless, I was impressed by the exhibition called “Perspectives,” presented within the Chapelle.  The installation was an educational tour of the development of the Bastide de Saint Louis, which is the more modern, lower city of Carcassonne built primarily in the 18th and 19th Century.

The smaller than actual size version of the city with the backdrop of leaded glass.

I’ve always been a sucker for installation design.  My father managed women’s clothing stores when I was a kid and two of the stores were particularly appealing visually.  As my brothers climbed around the mannequin displays, I marveled at the tufted upholstery and wallpaper and the jewel-box design of the showcase windows.  Even now, I find myself in restaurants, museums and shops looking with proprietary interest at grommets, steel bolts, Plexiglas, airline cable and fabrics. I’m fascinated by the ways signage and images are mounted and how lighting is designed, sight lines are directed.  It was a happy accident then, to stumble upon the “Perspective” exhibition and find myself in a miniature photographic street.  I suddenly became a giant doll – a Gulliver walking down the Lilliputian block, able to peer into upper story photographic windows without looking up.  The photos mounted on foam core or some sort of board, along with an extensive time-line, told the lesson of the city and it’s origins.

La Bastide de Saint-Louis in miniature.

Drawings, text and photographs set within the beautiful old church informed the viewer of the rich architectural history of the city. Photographs became the buildings rather than just being images of buildings hung on a wall.   As a pure craft thing, it was an innovative use of photography.  It wasn’t commercial and it wasn’t art.  It was purely educational visual record keeping manifested in an engaging way. It’s a rare thing to be able to participate in photographs physically and then step outside to the street beyond and have some sense of how a place came to be (sort of a live-action Google maps).

A quiet street in the Bastide St. Louis, Carcassonne, France.

Adrift on the Canal du Midi.

Amusing distractions aside, our mission this particular day, was to find the Canal du Midi and hire a boat to drift down the calm waters through the 200 year-old Plane trees (in North America we know them as a type of Sycamore). The 150 mile long canal was constructed in the 17th Century to connect the Mediterranean with the Atlantic – an engineering feat in any era.  We hoped to experience a few miles of river before the stately trees are gone. Suffering from a wilt disease, 42,000 Plane trees are slated to be cut down and replaced with another species over the next twenty years.  The Plane trees are superb, not only in the way in which they support the riverbanks, but also in their symmetry.  It’s not easy to locate a more beautiful site than a road or canal lined with Planes, so the necessity of removing them is heartbreaking. This classic location must have hosted numerous painters, photographers and filmmakers in its lifetime and we were appreciative of the chance to see even a small stretch in the few hours spent on the canal before darkness and a thunderstorm set in.

Silhouette on the bank of the Canal du Midi.

Only mildly soaked by the sudden downpour on the walk back to the medieval castle and our hotel within, I was relieved to be carrying only the small point and shoot and not a larger more vulnerable camera.  Yet I always think, it would be so great to come back with a good camera with more interpretive abilities and more time to shoot.  That won’t happen though, because I know I would rather just go and discover some other place where I can be reminded that life is too short to see it all, much less do it justice with great photographs.  I leave that to others, whose mission is less restless.  Someone else will take the time to find the photographs or drawings that these special places hold in potential. I, on the other hand, needed to retreat to glimpse the sun break through the surreal view of the 12th Century castle wall that would so many years later inspire a manufacturer to make a toy semblance out of plastic.

View from the Hotel de la Cite, Carcassonne.

Kernstown, Virginia. Confederate horseman Todd Kern rides over the site of the second Kernstown battlefield, where in 1864 future presidents Rutherford B. Hayes and William McKinley fought for the Union. Gregg Segal (c) 2010

State of the UnionGregg 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.

Spotsylvania County, Virginia. Robert Lee Hodge sits on picket duty near the Old Telegraph Road. In the winter of 1862-63, over 40,000 Confederates were encamped here. To pass the boredom in camp, great snowball fights would erupt, including one that was so violent that snowball fights were banned. Gregg Segal (c) 2010

Stafford County, Virginia. Lars Prillaman, dressed as a Federal Zouave, brushes his teeth on part of the 1862-63 winter encampment of the Army of the Potomac. Gregg Segal (c) 2010

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.

Captain America Getting His Mail, Gregg Segal (c) 2005-6

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.

Superman Cleaning House, Gregg Segal (c) 2005-6

Wonder Woman Takes Out The Trash, Gregg Segal (c) 2005-6

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.

Red Maria Blumberg, Gregg Segal (c) 2007

Dan Ray, Gregg Segal (c) 2007

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.

George Cayenne Pepper, Gregg Segal (c) 2007

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.”

Mister Roberts, Gregg Segal (c) 2007

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.

Spring Hill, Tennessee. Confederate reenactors line up behind the fence of a housing subdivision. Gregg Segal (c) 2010

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Robert Lee Hodge, Jerry Hornbaker and Tim Cole advance through the Gettysburg Cemetery. The Comfort Suites was recently built on the battlefield just a few feet from the graves. Gregg Segal (c) 2010

Cedar Creek, Virginia. Lars Prillaman walks on the site of the battle of Cedar Creek. The Carmeuse Lime & Stone intends to expand its mine to the battlefield. by Gregg Segal (c) 2010

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/.

Mr. Segal and friend in front of the camera.

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.

Santa Fe, on a clear morning, is home to Center's Reviews.

Photography portfolio reviews located in resort towns share a common quality that reminds me of being in a summer camp for grown-ups.  Perhaps all conventioneers feel this way to some extent, but with photography at least there is a collective sense of fun, of being in something together.  We’re there to be creative and constructive.  We’re not looking at spreadsheets or Power Point presentations.  We don’t have our calculators handy.  Considering photography is such a solitary practice, the collective experience is a welcome respite.  That being said, there’s little point in packing a bathing suit, scheduling a massage or making dinner reservations because at rigorous reviews like Center Santa Fe, photography is serious business and our agendas are packed.  With 43 reviewers and 100 photographers, panel discussions and portfolio walks, there is much to be done and many images to view, to contemplate, discuss, share and discuss again.

Christopher Rauchenberg, of Portland's Blue Sky Gallery, gestures to photographer Mike Rebholz and Assistant Curator of Photography at SF MOMA, Lisa Sutcliffe (in stripes), amid the crowd at the opening reception for Review Santa Fe.

My trip started at LAX, where I immediately ran into fellow reviewer Crista Dix of Santa Barbara’s Wall Space gallery.  We both served at Review LA in the past, but never had a chance to talk.  We shared notes before the flight and upon landing in Albuquerque met up with Lisa Sutcliffe, Assistant Curator of Photography from SF MOMA.  While waiting to catch a shuttle to Santa Fe we found ourselves sitting next to Book Designer and Blogger, Elizabeth Avedon and on the shuttle I shared a bench with Julie Saul, of the gallery of the same name in Manhattan.

That evening at the opening reception at the New Mexico Museum of Art I spoke with photographer Gregg Segal, whom I worked with on countless editorial assignments as well as an exhibition in Los Angeles.  By mid-evening I was walking across Santa Fe to an opening at Photo Eye Gallery with Christopher Rauschenberg of Blue Sky gallery.  We both did our undergraduate work in the same darkrooms at The Evergreen State College and exhibited art in the same buildings twenty years ago in Portland.

This sort of social snowball effect may well be my favorite aspect of serving at Review Santa Fe.  The progression of meeting accomplished, thoughtful, passionate people of all ages, who live and breathe photography continued throughout the four days in Santa Fe.  Any anxiety of meeting new people, of needing to be “on,” of being out of one’s familiar surroundings or element, dissipated with every “Hello, my name is.”  For reviewers, collective breakfasts and lunches were times to share war stories, laugh at common circumstance, struggle to overcome the altitude-induced exhaustion, and make impromptu plans. Sharing idiosyncratic life stories and oddball experiences over dinner on a warm Santa Fe night with Anthony Bannon, Director of George Eastman House, Joanna Hurley of Hurley Media, agent Marilyn Cadenbach and Wally Mason, Director of the Haggerty Museum of Art at Marquette University, was a high point I won’t soon forget.

Maggie Blanchard of Twin Palms Publishers meets with Paul Kranzler of Austria.

Jesse Rieser meets with James Estrin of The New York Times Lens Blog.

National Geographic Senior Photo Editor Elizabeth Cheng Krist (right)

With the addition of 100 photographers to the equation, it was simply an embarrassment of riches.  Each reviewer met with 27 different photographers in a formal session and additional opportunities existed to see the work of the other 73, namely in the Portfolio Walk, which was open to the public.  While photographers were operating at a variety of levels, most were open to growing and strengthening their work.  All were seeking opportunities.  Personally, I didn’t meet a single photographer that was anything but gracious and warm.  In casual ways, the photographers connected and shared work, not only with reviewers, but also with each other.  Photos were sprawled across lobby tables in the Santa Fe Hilton.  Portfolios were tucked into every corner.  Casual conversations broke out in hallways and poolside and over drinks and dinner.

It was a hard-working few days and I for one, did not see a soul in the swimming pool.

Tamas Dezso, won a First Place award in Center's project competition for his beautifully austere series entitled "Here, Anywhere;" an examination of the transitional period and symbolic locations of post-communist space in Hungary.

New York's Rhea Karam was born in Lebanon and raised in France. She and Priya Kambli (in pink) who grew up in India and now lives in Missouri, were just a few of the internationals to broaden the American photographic scene at the reviews and seen here at the Portfolio Walk.

Tom Johnson of Los Angeles with Publisher George Thompson to his right.

Boston's Sarah Malakoff with her series "Living Arrangements." On her right is photographer William Mebane of Brooklyn, New York. Christopher Rauschenberg is to Malakoff's left.

Kaho Yu of Hong Kong and more recently New York, is an animator by trade. He showed his lovely series with perhaps the longest title at the reviews: "Infinitesimal Residual Vibration of An Unknown Sound."

Dawn Roscoe of Chicago shows her series "Exquisite Suburbia" to Wall Space's Crista Dix.

The Portfolio Walk was open to the public and received by an enthusiastic crowd. On the far left is Jean-Michel Reed, of Buffalo, NY. Far right is Ayala Gazit, an Israeli, now living in NY.

Jesse Rieser (left) of Los Angeles shows his series "Starting Over" to photographer Brent Daniels, a Canadian who has been living and working in Australia. Mary Goodwin, Assistant Director at Lightwork in Syracuse, New York, is back left.

Debra Klomp Ching of Klomp Ching Gallery, New York, confers with Joanna Hurley of Santa Fe's HurleyMedia at day two of the reviews. Hurley is Chair of Center's Board of Directors.

Photographer Justin Maxon discusses his series "When the Spirit Moves" with Anthony Bannon, Director, George Eastman House, Rochester, New York.

This sidewalk drawing found a few blocks from the review site accurately expresses the sound that broke out in the conference room when the last review ended.

Jonathan Blaustein plays MC at the closing reception for photographers and reviewers. A raffle drawing raised much needed funds for the great programs offered by Center.

Melanie McWhorter is the Book Division Manager at Photo Eye in Santa Fe.

Mark Slankard (middle) of Ohio and Melanie McWhorter await the raffle drawing.

Fraction Magazine's David Bram diggs deep for a raffle winner with much dramatic affect. Photographer Christopher Cappoziello of Connecticut is on his right.

New York Photographer Alix Smith (left) was the lucky recipient of a knockout Julie Blackmon print. Seen with a blurry, if not bleary, Marilyn Cadenbach. Stephen Vaughan of the UK, far right, won a lovely vintage Clarence White print.

Links to all 100 participating photographers may be found  at Center’s site.