Since its creation, photography has been under intense scrutiny as well as admiration. Teetering between scientific process and artistic medium, photography is one of the only art forms to bridge the gap between science and art, waging war on both fact and fiction. This year, photo l.a.--Los Angeles' only major photographic art fair--celebrates its 23rd year of bringing the many splendors of contemporary and historical photography to the L.A. art scene and the larger public, and they've coordinated with the L.A. Art Show for a jam-packed four-day artful weekend in downtown L.A.
Each year photo l.a. celebrate a handful of photographers who have made significant contributions to the world of photographic arts. It also features dozens of noteworthy local, national and international artists, and hosts a slew of outstanding panels, discussions and presentations led by the leading professionals, artists and collectors in the worldwide photographic art scene.
photo l.a. was first presented in 1992 at Butterfield's (now Bonhams) Auction House, just on a table-top. Small and humble, this exhibition has grown to enormous size and partnered up with LA Art Show at the LA Mart.
Covering the spectrum of areas, styles and movements, photo l.a. has major gallery presence from San Francisco, Sante Fe, New York City and Los Angeles, but also offers insight and opportunity to explore and experience fascinating international artists as well. More importantly, photo l.a. aims to open up the dialogue on fine art to a larger audience, according to photo l.a. Producer Wayne Fernandez. "We hold strong to the belief that art plays a major role in shaping society and helping it to flourish, and we strive to bring the positive impact it does have to the Los Angeles and international communities, and to make art and photography as accessible as possible," says Fernandez. "The conversation about art is able to persist and to develop when it is brought into the public; it causes you think, feel, and to be inspired. That's what we want for everyone, and what we hope they take away from visiting the fair."
There really hasn't been anything like photo l.a. in Los Angeles before--a whole exposition dedicated to photography, both historically significant as well as contemporary and ground breaking. As one of the major art hubs of the world, L.A.'s many art fairs constantly explore the many mediums of artistic expression, including photography, but a locally based event entirely dedicated to photographic arts is a unique and proud SoCal creation. According to the photo l.a. Director, Claudia James Bartlett, photo l.a. has always had a simple purpose. "Stephen Cohen our founder started photo l.a. to promote photography and to share that with others who had not had the opportunity," says Bartlett. "We hope that visitors will gain excitement about art the medium of photography. And take away a greater understanding of photography's place in the world of art."
Fernandez says that the success of the long-running photo l.a. fair has really helped the L.A. art scene grow and include a wider audience over the years. "photo l.a. is one of the top five largest art expositions in Los Angeles. Thanks to Cohen's vision, photo l.a. has now become an institution in and of itself," Fernandez says.
Bartlett expands, "Over the past 23 years photo l.a. has contributed to the growth of photography appreciation and collecting in Los Angeles. With over 10,000 visitors photo l.a. is a platform for meeting with collectors, curators and artists in Los Angeles," She says. "Our programming series continues to address the most current topics in the converging worlds of art and photography and have had a direct influence on the market place and helped to educate both the young and the old."
Artistic legends like Brassai, Ansel Adams and Diane Arbus are on exhibit, of course, but photo l.a. is committed to maintaining a strong Southern California presence as well, bringing historical and contemporary photographic masters to the masses. Artists like John Baldessari, Steven Criqui, Zoe Crosher and Kori Newkirk remind us just how influential California artists have been throughout photographic art history.
John Baldessari is a multi-talented, multi-medium artist that has heavily influenced contemporary art as we know it now. Since the 1960s, Baldessari's quirky and innovative techniques and style of artwork have greatly contributed to the definition of postmodern art. Baldessari playfully coerce the viewer to question everything they think they know--with regard to language, representation, narrative, symbolism and art-making in general. His work also pushes and pulls the boundaries of creative vessels and media as conveyers of information and feeling, evoking curiosity in the viewers' understanding of perception as a whole. Bright and colorful collaborations of found objects and images mix with text and imagination in Baldessari's unique mental landscape.
Zoe Crosher is an L.A.-based photographer who, like Baldessari, is not complacent with accepting things as they seem. Crosher explores artistic strategies of a conceptual nature, much like artist from the "Pictures" generation. Crosher explores the confines of our perception of images and symbols, the idea of authorship and the complex meaning of what is art through photographing photographs à la Richard Prince style and Sherrie Levine. Crosher re-contextualizes seemingly simple photographs (often portraits in a Cindy-Sherman-esque way) as conceptually layered works of art, appropriating already created images as inspiration.
Steven Criqui was a well-known California artist who, until his death in 2007, lived as the real life, all-grown-up version of Harold from Harold and the Purple Crayon. He took bits from the world around him and made his own version of it, to suit his ideas or his preference. The Los Angeles landscape was his inspiration and his material. He would manipulate photographs to create his own versions of L.A., subject to whimsy and creativity in subtle as well as overt ways. He painted the early pictures in enamel and framed them using plywood and resin, showing his obvious influence and love for both California car and surf culture, but later explored computer-based techniques as well.
Kori Newkirk is an artist working in many mediums, but it always drawn back to the photograph as a means for creation and as a means to communicate truths. Based in Los Angeles, Newkirk often explores issues of the body, alienation and location in his work. He is fascinated with human history and culturally-placed significance on objects and images. His conceptual practice questions both cultural and aesthetic notions of beauty and identity. Newkirk poignantly meshes message-centric photographs, racially stereotyped objects and light to create a new paradigm and creative dialogue for viewers to consider.
photo l.a.'s interactive opportunities are on par with a high-end academic conference and offer a wide range of amazing and interesting panels, discussions, workshops and presentations. Emily Gonzalez, a Curatorial Assistant for The Hammer Museum is managing and moderating a panel discussion about the power of Los Angeles in art called "To Live and Die in L.A." The Friday, January 17 panel will be featuring Kate Costello, Julian Hoeber and Vincent Ramos, and will "discuss the fertility of Los Angeles as a subject of investigation as well as a physical place for artistic growth, touching on the myths and legends of the city."
The Key Note presentation by world famous celebrity photographer Douglas Kirkland entitled "A Fifty Year Love Affair with Photography" will take place on Saturday, January 18. Bartlett is particularly excited for this presentation and exhibition. "Photography has been his bride, his companion, his lover, and his confidante throughout his multifaceted career," she says. "Kirkland is best known for his celebrity portraits, but the scope of his work is far wider: his portraits go far beyond the physical appearance of his subjects and capture the very essence of their being with disarming honesty and sensuality."
On the closing day, Sunday, photo l.a. will dive into the intellectual and conceptual aspects of photographic culture with "Sex and Fashion" presented by Joe Zee from ELLE Magazine and "Photographic Fictions: Technology and the Digital Document" with Natalie Bookchin and Ken Gonzales-Day.
Top Image: "ANGELS ARCHANGELS II" by Pablo Pro, Courtesy of Art Project Paia.
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