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'Dreamers in Dream City' at Autry National Center

October 18, 2009|Liesl Bradner

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Donald Douglas, Eli Broad, Amelia Earhart, George Ellery Hale and countless other like-minded souls shared a common thread: They ventured west to pursue their dreams of fame, fortune, a better life or creative freedom and left a lasting impact in Southern California.

Honoring the spirit of dreamers whose significant contributions transformed a region once known as "Queen of the Cow Counties," history buff and photographer Harry Brant Chandler assembled a distinguished group of inventors, artists, immigrants and entrepreneurs in "Dreamers in Dream City," an exhibit at the Autry National Center. On display are 56 images drawn from his collection of photos also found in the book of the same name published in June.

Son of former L.A. Times Publisher Otis Chandler and a fifth-generation Angeleno, Chandler brings a unique perspective and knowledge of these dreamers, having mingled with a few at family functions.

"What Harry has done is create something which is authentic to his interpretation of these particular people and the story of Los Angeles," said Jonathan Spaulding, executive director of the Museum of the American West at the Autry National Center.

Chandler was interested in how L.A. emerged so quickly as a city but was also curious to learn more about his mysterious great-grandfather, newspaper publisher and land developer Harry Chandler. "He was someone who burned and destroyed all his papers," said Chandler. "He and his wife were very private people."

The project started out with Chandler just shooting theater producer Gordon Davidson, who worked closely with his grandmother, philanthropist Dorothy Chandler. As he did more research, he realized he couldn't leave out such significant figures as Howard Hughes, Upton Sinclair and Walt Disney but didn't want his portraits next to aged photos. He altered the older images, adding a few extra elements, aligning them in the same color range as the contemporary shots to create a vibrant look reminiscent of old postcards.

"I wanted to place the subjects in the context of their specific environments that showed what their dreams were about," Chandler said of the adjustments he made.

For example, the final composite image of William Mulholland is composed of five different images. The original shot of the water engineer was taken in 1924, but Chandler wanted to show his connection to the Owens Valley and there were no stock photos of him in this setting. Using Photoshop and other techniques, Chandler separated Mulholland from the background and placed him in a recent photo he took of the Alabama Hills looking toward Mt. Whitney. He dropped in a ripple effect in the water along with Mulholland's reflection.

With only 15 minutes to shoot architect Frank Gehry, Chandler snapped a portrait in his conference room. Gehry willingly gave him an interpretation of Rodin's Balzac, which created the final remarkable image of him looking upward, surrounded by the signature steel curves of Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Chandler studied fine art and photography at Phillips Academy and Stanford University but it wasn't until after he spent 25 years as a media executive at companies such as Fox, Showtime, CBS and The Times that he turned his focus back to art and photography.

The exhibit, which was previously on display at the California Museum in Sacramento, is divided into eight categories: builders, inventors, artists, folk heroes, activists, entertainers, entrepreneurs and discoverers. It runs through Jan. 3.


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