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City of Angles

Double Take

November 15, 2001|LOUISE ROUG and GINA PICCALO | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Celebrity photographer Timothy White stood inside the Fahey/Klein Gallery Tuesday night surrounded by a crowd of well-wishers that included well-dressed fellow artists and celebrities. White, a slight and stylish man with a goatee and a ready smile, greeted Minnie Driver, an old friend. Driver, and about three dozen other guests, had come to celebrate the opening of White's exhibition at the La Brea Avenue gallery, as well as his new book, "Timothy White Portraits," which includes irreverent photos of stars such as Paul Newman on a teensy bike and Mel Gibson cradling a piglet.

Publicists in miniskirts, clutching oversized handbags, drank champagne and pretended not to care about the celebrity quotient. But a jaded fashionista found it hard to keep her cool, breathlessly whispering to her male companion: "I just saw Harrison Ford walk by."

And, indeed, the actor and part-time rescue worker had stopped by to congratulate White. Twice this year, Ford has participated in search-and-rescue missions in his helicopter, at one point flying a lost Boy Scout to safety. He dismissed talk of heroics, however. "Yeah," he remarked caustically, "it's me and about 20 other guys who never get mentioned."

Ford brightened, however, when talk turned to White. "He is a great guy, a very talented photographer." Working with White, he said, "you feel emboldened to express yourself." Exhibit A: a black and white photo of Liz Taylor, flipping off the camera.

But few paid attention to what was on the wall, spending more time schmoozing and gawking. Some guests had even brought their own cameras, snapping pictures of Ford and Australian actress Melissa George, who plays a sultry singer in "Mulholland Drive." After finishing her sole scene in the movie, director David Lynch asked her to shoot another, she said. "I was in Indonesia," said George. "And I came all the way back, just to do one kissing scene." She said she hopes to pose for White one of these days.

"Celebrity photography is a niche," said White. "But these days, there are so many people doing it."

His work method, he said, is to sit back and let things happen. "You set yourself up by having preconceived notions about a picture," said White. "It's a collaboration, and stuff will happen."

Poetry, Life and Def

Russell Simmons, founder of Def Jam records and entrepreneur extraordinaire, has poetry plans. "I'm going to get in a lot of trouble," said Simmons excitedly by phone from New York Monday. "I can't control what they say on stage."

Simmons was talking about his latest project, a four-part HBO series, "Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry," featuring readings by Benjamin Bratt, Jewel and up-and-coming urban poets. "It's about young people having a dialogue with the government, about war, about what's going on."

The series is scheduled to premiere Dec. 14.

Earlier this year, Simmons' autobiography, "Life and Def," was published, detailing his journey from a middle-class neighborhood in Queens to Manhattan mogul.

Writing the book was a cleansing process, said Simmons, but he added: "I'm still filthy."

Mountains of Concern

Rob Reiner and Martin Sheen stood in front of a Washington Mutual branch in Woodland Hills on Wednesday morning with a group of local residents to protest the bank's plan to build about 3,000 luxury homes in the Santa Monica Mountains area.

As members of the nonprofit coalition Rally to Save Ahmanson Ranch, Reiner and Sheen claim the project will further pollute the Santa Monica Bay as well as overcrowd the Ventura Freeway and the Pacific Coast Highway--causing more air pollution.

The group, a coalition of environmentalists, business leaders and elected officials, has demanded developers submit a new environmental impact report on the project. They say the original report, certified in 1992, does not accurately reflect the area's current conditions.

"They want to build a new city in the Santa Monica Mountains," Reiner told us by phone. "It's at the expense of the environment."

For the Ahmanson Ranch project, Washington Mutual has proposed a housing development in the hills above Malibu and Calabasas. In recent months, federal, state and local officials have expressed concern that developers of the massive residential, retail and office complex haven't properly studied the environmental impact the project will have on its surroundings.

However, the bank claims its previous traffic and environmental studies prove the project is environmentally sound.

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