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A collective focus on L.A.

'Site-Seen,' a look at the city's inherent surrealism, is the first show by the L.A. League of Photographers.

June 03, 2004|Duane Noriyuki | Times Staff Writer

TO the outside world, Los Angeles is often portrayed as nothing but palm-lined boulevards and endless beaches. But as anyone who's lived here knows, things look different on the inside.

The photography show "Site-Seen: Los Angeles," opening Saturday at the I-5 Gallery in downtown's Brewery Arts Complex, focuses on the latter view. In more than 70 images from 16 members of the Los Angeles League of Photographers, the exhibition portrays the heart that beats beneath the city's tanned, perfect skin.

"The show kind of cuts against the grain of the idealism or fantasy of what Los Angeles is," says David Schulman, one of the photographers. "It's more about everyday life and the surrealism that is inherent in the landscape that is Los Angeles."

The exhibition represents the first show for the league, which was formed two years ago when four street photographers -- Schulman, Martin Elkort, Richard Schoenberg and David Stork -- were looking to bring together their colleagues and present what they call "photography's essential social, political and aesthetic values" to the public. The league promotes the "photographic activism" that drove the New York Photo League, a group that began in the mid-1930s and included some of the nation's most influential photographers. After being included on the U.S. attorney general's list of disloyal and subversive organizations, the group disbanded in the early 1950s.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday June 08, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 27 words Type of Material: Correction
Photographer's name -- The last name of photographer Francisco Arcaute was misspelled as Arcuate in an article about the show "Site-Seen: Los Angeles" in Thursday's Calendar Weekend.

"We were a victim of the McCarthy witch hunt," says Elkort, a former member of the New York group who has sold his photographs to institutions such as the Getty Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. "It's always infuriated me that that could happen in the United States of America."

Much of Elkort's early exploration took place on the streets of New York's Lower East Side, but now, as a resident of Marina del Rey, he takes his camera wherever crowds gather: Santee Alley, Melrose Avenue, Tijuana.

Elkort's recent work is not unlike his photos of New York. He is drawn to black-and-white photography, to cities and crowded places. Among his images in the show are a rabbi praying during his son's bar mitzvah; a man and woman kissing as they are watched by a young girl perched atop the man's shoulders; and the legs of mannequins in a window on Melrose.

Contrast those images with ones taken by John Rosewall, an English composition teacher at Cal State Dominguez Hills, in which Los Angeles is a blur. His color photographs are intentionally out of focus, giving them an aura of surrealism and abstract expressionism.

"A traditional street photographer tries to pull revelatory moments out of what's happening on the street," he says. "I started out trying to do that, but I found out there aren't necessarily a lot of revelatory moments in the street.

"I wanted to kind of react against that impulse to find the revelations and just try to capture what my experience of the street was, which is really a feeling, people passing in a bit of a blur, the feel and flow of street life."

Of course, in order to photograph people on the streets, there must be ... well ... people on the streets. In Los Angeles, says Francisco Arcuate, that can be a problem, which is why he has turned to a project photographing signs. He presents his work in triptychs, underlining "the glorious visual mess" the signs create.

By contrast, Jim Payne moves between street photography and a project now in its 29th year. He intends to continue for 11 more years, the timing related to his planned retirement.

The project involves photographing people inside their homes, allowing them to represent themselves however they would like to be portrayed.

Overall, he has about 200 images, a dozen of which are included in the show. Over the years, there have been some interesting encounters, including one with a robed Buddhist monk. The first pictures were taken inside a temple; then the monk invited Payne to his meditation room, where the monk once again sat in his meditation position, this time dressed in a gray three-piece suit and red tie.

Then there was the woman and her boyfriend who posed in their apartment. The furniture was covered with plastic, and the television sat on the box it came in, overall a fairly sterile environment, Payne says. After he had photographed the couple, the woman asked him to wait. She left the room and returned nude, without her boyfriend, for the final shots.

After 40 years, Payne hopes to be able to look at the photographs and see the course of his life, places he's been, people he's known, hardly any of them naked.


'Site-Seen: Los Angeles'

Who: Los Angeles League of Photographers

Where: I-5 Gallery, the Brewery Arts Complex, 2100 N. Main St., Los Angeles. No. A9 in the Atrium.

When: Opens Saturday; reception 7-10 p.m. Gallery hours: Friday- Sunday, noon-5 p.m., or by appointment.

Ends: June 27

Info: (323) 342-0717 or

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