Photo LA’s opening night gala at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium was a benefit for the Elton John AIDS Foundation and was hosted by Graham Nash, who also hosted the first Photo LA show 16 years ago. Nash, a musical hero for many of the attendees, strolled around the exhibit area, talking to fans and, of course, posing for the cameras of the many photographers in attendance. The show offered art lovers a chance to sample photographs or photo-based art from galleries all over the world.
Each of the 60-plus participating galleries had a booth in the main auditorium, with displayed photographs and prints for sale. Some displays were more eye-catching than others, for bright colors and large scale tend to attract immediate attention. For the careful observer, however, there were smaller photographs, sometimes in black and white or monochrome, that warranted study.
Bergamot Station’s Craig Krull Gallery displayed some works from its new show, Robert Weingarten: Palette Series, featuring photographs of paper plates painted in shades of blue, green, off-white and black. From a distance, the plates looked curiously like strangely colored pastries, Weingarten’s tribute to artist Wayne Thiebaud (who has done paintings of pies).
The January 18 event featured a buffet of dishes from Los Angeles restaurants including Chinese chicken salad, tiny quesadillas, butternut squash soup and tuna tartare – an orchestration of colors that was eminently photogenic.
Food was also the subject for British photographer Martin Parr at the booth of another Santa Monica venue, Rosegallery. His “British Foods” series included full-color close-ups of baked beans, dinner rolls, donuts and a piece of barbecued chicken. There’s something both funny and aesthetic about pictures of food, almost as if the beans and rolls were human subjects.
There was also funny-on-purpose photography, like the Etherton Gallery of Tucson, Arizona’s exhibit of Elliott Erwin’s “East Hampton,” a black and white photo of a group of nude people painting a fully clothed model. For those who were trolling for erotic photography (as opposed to skin-magazine photography), there were works by Ukrainian photographer Arsen Savadov at New York’s Daneyal Mahmood Gallery. Savadov’s vivid color photos of nude men with tattoos and angel’s wings riding in boats were a refreshing example of the celebration of the human form and a great example of how a photograph can have the composition and depth of a painting.
Some of the photos in the booth for the Lisa Sette Gallery of Scottsdale, Arizona looked uncannily like paintings. Luis Gonzalez Palma’s “El No La Veia Como” depicted a dark-eyed woman against a dark background, with drops of blood tricking down her face. The artist had used a Kodalith print enhanced with gold leaf and red paper and embedded in resin. The result looked like a painting from one of the Spanish Old Masters.
At the other end of the spectrum, photography that captures the moment and uses no effects to simply record life as it is can also be artistic and powerful in its simplicity. VOICES from New York was an exhibit of photographs by youth from Kenya, accompanied by text written by the teenaged and twenty-something photographers. These young people, given cameras, recorded their daily lives, the poverty in their villages, the ravages of war and AIDS. Their photographs, technically as good as any works in the show, not only provide witness to life in Africa today, but also are promises of the talent we can hope to see in the future.