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December 13, 2007|PAUL YOUNG

Art thrives on contrast, as the old saw goes, which gives it tension and momentum. With that in mind, photographer Jill Greenberg couldn't have picked a better subject: bears.

As symbols, Ursidae are rife with contradiction. For Jungians, they represent the uncontrollable, warrior side of the unconscious; for Native Americans, they represent diplomacy, healing and, in some cases, the feminine. They're the symbol for California and the emblem of Russia, yet also represent a failing economy.

Personally, I remember trying to square the difference between Gentle Ben and Winnie the Pooh with the killer bears my grandfather used to describe prowling the San Bernardino Mountains. The latter, of course, seemed far more believable to a 5-year-old.

Greenberg might argue otherwise. She claims she initially wanted to capture "ferocious, monstrous bears" for her new series of photographs. But after traveling to Canada to shoot "working" black bears, brown bears and polar bears, she discovered they were basically "giant teddy bears." "This one I call the wimp," she says, pointing to 1,600-pound grizzly.

Indeed, the images at L.A.'s Fahey/Klein Gallery thrive on contradiction. They're gigantic, which makes them imposing, yet done in a style reminiscent of glamour photography. More important for Greenberg, they have, as she says, an "emotional resonance."

-- theguide@latimes.com

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