If you’ve never been to an art fair consider this an invitation. If you’re a veteran here’s a report on one of the best fairs dedicated to photography, period. Paris Photo Los Angeles is an art fair like no other. It began on Thursday night and closes today, Sunday, making 4 unforgettable days of photography, colleagues, and inspiration. Paris Photo hails from Paris, France, and for more than a decade has marked one of the premiere events for fine art photography. This is their first foray into Los Angeles and by all estimations an incredible start. Being Los Angeles you’d have a hard time counting the celebrities on both hands, not that it should be your motivation, but it’s a fact worth mentioning.
Paris Photo Los Angeles is held at Paramount Studios, which makes for an unforgettable experience not available in its Parisian conterpart. Spread across a wide patch of the studio complex, the event is centered around the New York backlot, where brownstones and café’s have been turned into galleries for the weekend. Three stage sets add a more expected art fair experience (while still an amazing one!) while giving a break from the midday sun and bustling streets lined with food trucks and photography lovers. Photos from the event (uploading soon!) will testify to the surreal experience, and give a taste of how this is a photo event not to miss. Angelinos have for years been given limited access to this part of their city (for good reason), which only adds to the wow factor, all around.
The emphasis of Paris Photo Los Angeles is contemporary photography, with the likes of Gregory Crewdson, William Eggleston, Catherine Opie, Richard Misrach, Michael Kenna and many others whose work is on view. It’s worth mentioning that each of these photographers (and many, many others) are seen casually walking around, giving you the opportunity to lose count of how many handshakes are at your disposal. If you’re interested in seeing Todd Hido, Alec Soth, or a number of other photographers they’ve got public presentations lined up this afternoon (today!) meaning you’ve got about 7 good hours left to head out, partake, and enjoy both contemporary and vintage masterworks aplenty. I should mention the bookstores as well, in case you’re not situated to drop a couple of grand this weekend on a new piece of art for your living room. D.A.P., Aperture, and Librarie 213 are but a few places you’ll be able to pick up signed monographs to your heart’s content.
If you can’t drop everything today and head to Paris Photo Los Angeles be sure to bookmark their site, and ours (we’ll give you more warning next year!), and make a point to have a truly unforgettable experience. It’s worth double the price of admission (which is $28 / $20 students, fyi).
This spring there are a dizzying array of photography events and exhibitions happening in Los Angeles. With Paris Photo Los Angeles just around the corner and MOPLA getting underway they bracket some great exhibitions on view, including the Japanese modernism show at the Getty and the new John Chiara exhibition at Rose Gallery, just to name two. In short, it’s a good time to be involved with photography in southern California.
M+B in West Hollywood has an exhibition of Mike Brodie’s new work A Period of Juvenile Prosperity, a survey of his photographs of young drifters and so-called rail riders. I’ll admit to an ardent curiosity of pop-newcomers to the fine art photography world. Mike Brodie, known as the “Polaroid Kidd” (a name given by his train riding buddies early on), appeared on the scene in a big way this year. In addition to this exhibition, Brodie just closed a show at the venerable Yossi Milo Gallery in New York, giving more than a short pause to contemplate the influence of this artist’s work. I was pleased to see this is his second show at M+B, suggesting something of a visionary in their curatorial team.
A Period of Juvenile Prosperity offers a raw look into a subculture many of us might be surprised to learn about. Having spent time with individuals like the subjects Mike Brodie photographs I had added reason to visit the exhibition, curious to see how their lifestyle would hold up in an elegant West Hollywood gallery. The verdict? It is a body of work that deserves both time and consideration. The artist has captured an essential spirit of life off the grid, showing a hardscrabble world the rest of us are well advised to avoid. This is a world infused by an epic, never ending journey that is at once romantic, raw, and filled with an occasional sense of sadness. Brodie himself rode rail cars for many years, giving a unique kind of access and spirited authenticity to the images. If you’re looking to place a historic umbrella over the artist you might consider the work of Nan Goldin, Larry Clark, or Roy de Carava, each of whom had insider access to an otherwise closed world. It is a stage where Mike Brodie fits reasonably well.
Beyond his access as an insider (any of us could bring a camera to work, but how many of us would capture the essence of our job?) Brodie infuses his images with the visceral emotions carried by his subjects. I’m speaking to a very real sense of loneliness seen in the eyes of a girl peering at us through the gritty window of a pickup truck, or the unpleasant realism of soiled trousers getting an infrequent wash in a borrowed bathtub. You not only see this kind of material in the artist’s images, you feel it like a voyeur gazing by the photographer’s side. In his photograph of a young girl proudly showing off her menstrual stained underwear, you’re reminded that most of us have chosen our well appointed lives (and hygienic habits) for good reason, not the least of which being that we’re best suited not to share this with others. But I find myself coming back to the power of Brodie’s work in general, and its ability to bring us in contact with a world that is very real, told by photographs that possess a combination of veracity and openness, mixed with a keen ability to look carefully and know when to release the shutter.
If you’re one of those who don’t want to know about the lifestyles of young rail riders, train tramps, and latter day drifters, you might consider asking yourself if you’ve experienced the very human desire to escape? While most readers have probably never hopped a train illegally, you’ve surely longed for a vacation on the open road, or found yourself gazing out the kitchen window as breakfast cooks each morning. If so then I think you will find something valuable in Mike Brodie’s work. They are pictures of people and places that are not different than you and I. His subjects seek pleasure and wish to avoid pain. They exhibit every one of the shared desires we all possess (only they’ve not adopted the social filters we’ve mastered so effectively) opting instead for a sense of freedom, exploration and discovery. Take the image of waving dreadlocks atop a box car at sunset, and consider how it symbolizes a story we’ve all imagined in one way or another. Mike Brodie’s photographs encourage us to look at the horizon, out the kitchen window, or into a place we hadn’t ventured before. They’re about an untold story that’s happening right now, waiting to be discovered.
A Period of Juvenile Prosperity closes on May 11 at M+B in West Hollywood.
Years ago I learned that if you wanted to be a good photographer you should study the work of other artists, not fellow photographers. Paul Strand once went on a trip to Europe to see every Piero della Francesca painting he could find… in order to become a better photographer! Paul Strand. If it was worth his time certainly we can do the same. Besides, who doesn’t want to be inspired by artists who do things we cannot do?
The current exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Ed Ruscha: Standard offers a great opportunity to flex your mind as a photographer, and look at some great photographs if you just need a fix. The exhibition is filled with several rooms of Ruscha’s work, including two rare video works from the 1970s, and more prints than you could shake a stick at. Among heaps of inspiring works, there is a group of lithographs that can teach us as much about photography as the Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition on view in the next building over. I’m referring to a series of L.A. landmarks that the artist created as thought-provoking art by using simple words and lines. These images describe the California landscape without looking at it. They include both iconic and mundane references to place: Pico, Flower, and Figueroa for example, or an overview of Santa Monica, Melrose, van Ness and Vine, just to name two examples. The images are lithographs, made of little more than words and lines—and tell us as much about the geography of the modern Los Angeles as many photographs do, perhaps more. They encourage us, as photographers, to identify what we see (Pico Boulevard and Flower St., for example) and ask ourselves if we remember what it is that we have seen at these places, assuming we have a relationship with them to begin with. If we don’t, all the better… you might wonder what Ruscha was so intrigued by and go see for yourself. In the case of another work: “st. and ave.” we’re encouraged to think about the representation of landscape when it is boiled down to an abstract representation, that of temporarily ascribed names and places by a political entity (us, the u.s.) who currently possess the land, if you believe that’s possible. All of which is enough to make us consider place, the people who inhabit these places, and perhaps offer enough encouragement to get out and describe these places ourselves. Am I suggesting Ed Ruscha did an incomplete job, waiting to be filled by an aspiring photographer? Definitely not. Am I suggesting there is much to learn by looking at the work of a living legend who uses photography as one of many tools? Definitely so.
The exhibition contains a suite of 30 parking lots (yes, photographs) included as an essential part of the artists work, suggesting that we, as Photographers (with a capital “p”) might learn to be a little more loose. When was the last time you sketched a photographic idea? It’s a great exercise you should really think about. Ruscha’s photographs invite consideration about how we got where we’re standing… is that lot we parked in today the same one in his image? Is the building we’re standing in adjacent to one of these parking lots we’re now looking at? Do they still exist in their current (pictured) state, or are they artifacts of a time now removed? Photographs are a great tool to describe and invite ideas. They make a viewer wander and wonder. Just before looking at the show I watched a perfectly good building in Los Angeles meet the jaws of death, literally being ripped apart wall by wall in preparation for another (arguably more profitable) building. The ‘old’ building dated from the 1980s. It was a reminder of the very short life span that dominates architecture in Los Angeles, and it was a well timed primer to view these now beautifully framed parking lots. How do we as humans build the architecture of the land we call home? Are we more concerned with beauty, geometry, or convenience? These images by Ed Ruscha remind us of the importance of urban engineers, road pavers, architects. They make us see our everyday spaces from a different point of view, literally. They encourage photography.
Medium is committed to furthering ideas like these and encouraging dynamic dialogue with photography. Both are an essential part of living as photographers and expanding our roles with the evolving medium itself. I encourage you to go take a road trip north, burn a little standard oil, and treat yourself to some art while you’re at it. Ed Ruscha: Standard is on view through Jan. 21, 2013.
2012 was a memorable year for the staff at Medium. What started as an idea soon began to pull out of the station like a locomotive, and before long our first festival was fully formed and headed for *you*, the creative, insatiable, eager and willing photographers that made Medium an incredible event in its first year. Of course, there were a lot of guest artists, lecturers, and folks working behind the scenes that made it an incredible success as well. It was, in short, an overwhelmingly positive event for everyone involved!
Much to our pleasure we got some amazing press before the event launched, including a full page feature in City Beat, a write up in Riviera Magazine, and an incredible 13 minute spot on KPBS’s Midday Edition. As we look toward 2013 you can expect a well seasoned smattering of events before the next festival. First up are two workshops in alternative processes: a platinum/palladium workshop on Nov. 3, followed by a wet plate workshop on December 8. Mark your calendars and stay tuned as we prepare another memorable festival in the new year. Once again, thanks to all of you who helped make it a great success in 2012!
Today was a very exciting day for us at Medium. It marked the official announcement of Daylight Magazine’s sponsorship of the festival! If you’re not familiar, Daylight is a non-profit organization bringing awareness to photography through publishing books and their magazine, as well as producing short videos about photographers we should all know more about. Their latest video features Jonathan Taggart, who has been photographing the reserves of the in-SHUCK-ch Indians, who inhabit both sides of the Lillooet River in British Columbia, since 2008. Check out the footage here to learn more about his work and his mission to bring awareness to this group who is slowly losing their tradition.