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Picture an Innovator : G. Ray Hawkins Has Run His Photo Gallery for 20 Years; Now He's Set Up a Celebratory Show Spotlighting Some Memorable Images

May 30, 1995|KRISTINE McKENNA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

G. Ray Hawkins had flirted with photography from the time he was a young boy in the Midwest, but his real courtship didn't begin until 1975, when he opened a gallery devoted to the medium.

The first gallery of its sort in Los Angeles, the G. Ray Hawkins Gallery is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a series of shows that bring together some greatest hits. The first show, "Old Friends," on view through July 8, includes signature images by Diane Arbus, Weegee and Eugene Atget, among others. Opening July 12 is "Kissing," a survey of photographs of couples kissing, after which comes "Encore! Man Ray! Encore! Paul Outerbridge," an homage to two artists who've played key roles in the gallery's history.

In a sense the history of the Hawkins Gallery is a history of the photography market, because the two came of age in tandem. Although artist-impresario Alfred Stieglitz exhibited photography at his seminal 291 Gallery, opened in New York in 1905, it took the rest of the world 70 years to catch up; New York auction houses didn't start handling photography until the mid-'70s, and when Hawkins first opened shop it was still possible to buy vintage photographs for a few hundred dollars. By 1989, many of those same prints were selling for more than $100,000.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday May 31, 1995 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 6 Entertainment Desk 2 inches; 36 words Type of Material: Correction
Photo exhibition-- Due to an editing error, a profile of photography gallery owner G. Ray Hawkins in Tuesday's Calendar gave the incorrect impression that the exhibition "Old Friends" has already opened. It opens Saturday. Information: (310) 394-5558.

It all got a lot bigger than anticipated by Hawkins, who is now 51. Born in northern Indiana in 1944, the middle child in a family of three children, Hawkins had an uneventful postwar childhood, but for one dramatic exception: His father, who worked as a pipe fitter, was left to raise his children alone when their mother committed suicide in 1950. Like most middle-class American children of the period, Hawkins was familiar with Life magazine but had no exposure to art beyond that, nor does he recall desiring any.

His relationship with photography began when he was 14, while attending a military school where he was assigned the job of cleaning up the school darkroom. "They had tons of equipment, and I got permission to teach myself how to make pictures," recalls Hawkins, who soon found himself shooting photos for his high school yearbook and for a local paper. The notion of photography as art, however, still hadn't occurred to him. "My dream then was to be a cinematographer," he says.

On graduating from high school, Hawkins enlisted in the Navy where he attended photography school. "The emphasis was on technical stuff, and I did every kind of photography imaginable, including working as a newsreel cameraman."

Leaving the Navy in 1966, Hawkins moved to Seattle, where his brother was living, and embarked on a series of odd jobs. "My brother was dealing collectibles then, and I learned a lot about buying and selling from him," recalls Hawkins, who began buying and selling illustrated children's books while in Seattle. He was still dreaming of making movies though, so he moved to L.A. in 1967 and spent three years at Santa Monica City College on the G.I. Bill, prior to transferring to UCLA as a film major in 1970.

"I was at UCLA three years and did every job imaginable to survive," he says. "I bought and sold collectibles, worked in the L.A. County Probation Department as a night attendant and was the janitor at the Ashgrove, among other things."

It was at the Ashgrove that Hawkins met his first wife, Randee Klein, whom he married in 1974 and divorced in 1981. "By then I'd completed all the requirements to graduate except my thesis film. Because I had no contacts in the film world, I knew I had to make a strong film if I wanted any kind of career, so I decided that instead of making a short, I'd do a dramatic feature--and to do that I needed money.

"I'd moved from buying and selling collectibles to fine art, and in the process became interested in historical photographs," recalls Hawkins, whose effort to educate himself on the subject of fine art involved regular visits to Zeitlin & Ver Brugge, a now defunct rare-book store that opened in the 1920s and was a hangout for L.A.'s intellectual community.

"Susan Martin was working for Jake [Zeitlin] then, and she loved photography and was trying to create a photography market for him," Hawkins says. "She gave me the names of a few collectors of photography, and in talking to them I realized a whole new field was taking shape nobody knew anything about. At that point, there were maybe 25 dealers in the country who handled photography, but they only did it as a sideline. Here was something nobody had done before."

Hawkins was intrigued by the challenge but still had his sights set on filmmaking. "I thought if I opened a gallery I could make a lot of money, quit my other jobs and just work on my film. I honestly thought I could open a gallery, then go make a film," he says with a laugh.

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