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Photo Synthesis

Air Traffic Controller, Todd Phipps, Palmdale, California, May 5, 2006 and Juggler, Sergey Gripkov, Los Angeles, February 21, 2000

September 10, 2006|Colin Westerbeck

"Created Equal" is on view through Oct. 14 at Fahey/Klein Gallery, 148 N. La Brea Ave.

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For seven years, beginning in 1999, L.A. photographer Mark Laita sought out Americans from all walks of life in order to make portraits of them. The project was like the one Richard Avedon had done about 20 years earlier, "In the American West," except that Laita has matched up his portraits in diptychs collectively titled "Created Equal." The effect is what moviemakers call montage--altering the meaning of two images by butting one up against the other--and in some of Laita's pairings the editorial result seems heavy-handed. What does it say, for instance, to put a little girl in a tutu next to an aging, bare-breasted go-go dancer?

But this comparison of an air traffic controller to a circus juggler is striking. Each is a juggler by profession, with all the occupational hazards that entails. Yet the worst that could probably happen to Gripkov would be to drop an Indian club on his head, whereas a miscalculation by Phipps would drop hundreds of other people on their heads--with far more devastating consequences.

Putting the juggler with his bulging muscles, gladiator's costume and Yul Brynner looks next to the overweight, bespectacled air traffic controller makes us realize that the heroes we depend upon now, the people whose job it is to save us from harm, are mostly technocrats. They look not at all like Superman, but, alarmingly, just like the rest of us.

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