The venerable East Coast photography exhibition makes it first trip to the West Coast.
I remember the first time I heard about Photoville. In New York City to meet ad agencies, I stumbled upon an old email in my inbox announcing a local show. As soon as you get into photography and start signing up for a few competitions or buying a camera or two, it seems as though you email inbox suddenly becomes flooded with such notices. After nearly two decades on such interactions, I find myself extremely glad that, from the beginning, I still have the vast majority of such messages going to a different address.
But, for once, this particular email would prove prudent as that particular week would see me trade the laid back sunshine of Los Angeles for a flat in Brooklyn far too cool for someone like myself whose bedtime stands firm in the single digits and who still seems to possess an inordinate amount of tweed.
Between meetings, I decided to hop the train and have a look. As I arrived in DUMBO, I began walking North along the main road. Shortly thereafter, I found myself heading back South along the same road. My neck craning in search of some marking to denote an elaborate big city gallery.
It wasn’t until I allowed my eyes to drift downwards that I discovered the desired exhibition. It was on a wall technically. Only this wasn’t a staid white gallery wall, but rather a more temporary structure. Instead of individually framed prints, there was a long canvas stretched across a block-long construction fence. The beautiful images were laid out from left to right telling the story of the artist, Nancy Borowick, dealing with the death of a family member in her series “The Family Imprint.” Borowick was on hand to discuss her work with the audience. Her voice amplified by a small portable boombox to the assembled standing only crowd doing their best to stay within the bounds of a narrow sidewalk and avoid oncoming traffic.
It was a humble way to do an exhibition and a beautiful one. Putting the work itself in the forefront, it removed some of the unnecessary pomp and circumstance from the usual proceedings and replaced it with an avenue for the art to directly reach the people.
Over the course of 8 years, the founders of the exhibition, United Photo Industries have continued in this purpose. And this year, the email they sent indicated that I might not have to travel so far this time, as the exhibition was coming to my own city of Los Angeles.
Teaming up with my local photo obsession, The Annenberg Space for Photography, the exhibition has taken over Century City with dozens of exhibits from photographers from around the world. Coinciding with the 10th Anniversary of The Annenberg Space for Photography and the opening of their latest show Contact High: A Visual History of Hip Hop, the show brings a Brooklyn aesthetic to an otherwise ritzy part of town in the form of a multitude of shipping containers brought in to serve as temporary galleries.
Each container concentrates on a particular artist or a particular theme, inviting visitors to step inside and be immersed in the world the artist has created. The containers are complemented by standalone false walls and other temporary structures that show off artist renderings for all to see. There is even a fake set, courtesy of Justin Bettman’s ongoing art project #setinthestreet which takes formal high concept studio portraits in real world settings.
During the day, the large lawn outside The Annenberg is for picnicking. At night, it serves as an outdoor amphitheater for live music like the Anderson .Paak show I attended on opening night.
Not much of a dancer, I did allow my knees to dip ever so slightly yet likely well off beat. I even bumped into an old model friend of mine. I may have impressed her with my moves, but quickly showed my age by apparently being the only member of the audience who had to ask of the very good and apparently very well known musician, “who is that, again?”
Most nights, the outdoor pavilion exists as a place to show photography and for visiting artists to give lectures. The opening weekend saw a series of lectures by a cadre of National Geographic photographers discussing their work. I unfortunately did not see that particular part, less due to a lack of interest and more due to a lack of sleeves. It’s not supposed to be that cold in California! But, I digress.
The exhibition also makes the most of The Annenberg’s indoor lecture hall by running a continuing series or artist lectures and discussion panels. On Saturday, I was able to take in a discussion with documentary photographer Joseph Rodríguez “1992-2017 - East Side Stories” documenting gang culture and its effect on the wider community. Lead by Rubén Martinez, a professor at Loyola Marymount University, and joined by Dr. Jesse De LaCruz, a former gang member and educator, the wide ranging discussion covered topics from the inequality of the criminal justice system to how photographers go about setting their subjects at ease.
Also, for you gearheads out there, the exhibition also offers a certain booth of particular interest. The Leica On Loan program allows curious photographers to check out a Leica of their choice for 90 minutes to put the machines through their paces. Personally, I opted to try out the Leica Q2. And, while I won’t offer a full review in this article, it was nice to be able to walk the exhibition ground and freely snap away. (Most of the images from this article were shot with the Fuji GFX 50S which I am working on a more in depth review of for a future article)
If reading about the exhibition makes you wish you had been there, well, I have good news. The exhibition continues next weekend from May 2nd to May 5th and is free to the public. If you’re a shutterbug in Southern California, you owe it to yourself to stop by. See some photographs. Take some photographs. Be inspired.