Experimental photographic art | The Argonaut Newsweekly
Gallery owner pays tribute to wave of light-based photographers
By Bridgette M. Redman
Douglas Marshall opened his own gallery in a commercial area in downtown Venice because he wanted to exhibit the works of innovative photographic artists working with experimental images.
Marshall Contemporary is exhibiting the work of seven photographers by August 22. These artists – Matthew Brandt, John Chiara, Scott B. Davis, Nadezda Nikolova-Kratzer, Chris McCaw, Meghann Riepenhoff, and Rodrigo Valenzuela – are members of what Marshall sees as a golden generation of California experimental photographic artists who draw upon the work of those who came before them.
Active in other people’s galleries for 10 years, Marshall said he developed a vision for his own program, one that was not presented in Los Angeles. He wanted to show the experimental side of photography in his 400 square foot gallery.
“There were a lot of representations of classic and vintage materials and things that people traditionally think of as image work, which is about the image rather than the physical process of engraving and experimentation,” Marshall said. “I recognized that many artists who were actively exploring new spaces fell into a gap between traditional photography and traditional fine art.”
He opened up Marshall Contemporary to focus on process-based photography, something he believes is a response to the rapid bombardment of throwaway images prevalent in today’s social media world.
The group of artists in the “Lightwaves” exhibition is the one that Marshall considered for two years.
It is a group based in California made up of artists who were pushing photography towards new artistic mediums. He saw them as part of a recurring cycle in the state – citing other similar groups that worked in the 1990s, 1960s, 1920s to 1930s and 1890s.
He even recognizes those groups that preceded with an accessory exhibition in the gallery. The loft contains rare prints from Ansel Adams, Ruth Bernhard, Wynn Bullock, William Garnett and Brett Weston.
California is an incubator for experimental talent, Marshall said. While New York City had a hub of photographers who worked in the traditional documentary medium, Californian artists took photography to exciting new places. He said California has always had a Wild West feel.
“You can do whatever you want and go your own way,” Marshall said.
The title of the exhibition comes from the work and the place of artists in the history of photography. Marshall said he was exploring the wave or the current generation of so-called artists of light. Each wave takes the photograph to a new place and each wave works with light in the physical manifestation of a photograph, its chemistry and ink.
The exhibition explores experimental work
Marshall said there were many photographic artists from this generation that he couldn’t include. The seven artists who are in the show are important members. One of the parameters he set was that artists should be mostly established – many exhibited in museum collections or other established galleries. Although they are well known in the art world, he said the community in Venice where his gallery resides may not be familiar with them, although many of them are great collectors. The works are also new. The oldest date back only to 2012.
“They are definitely the people who do the most interesting things and I wanted to introduce them to Venice,” Marshall said.
Another thing that makes his exhibition unusual in the world of photography is that 90% of the pieces are creative and unique works, not a print or edition.
One of the works that occupies a prominent place in the exhibition is a triptych by McCaw from his series on sunburns. This is something Marshall saw on display in 2015 at the Getty during an exhibit about the white paper process. To create this artwork, McCaw physically places paper in the camera and lets the sun scorch the print over an extended period of time.
“Not only is it representative of a landscape, but it’s also a very scientific object,” Marshall said.
“There’s a lot of math about how you expose it for a long time. You can see the metallic chemistry that is on the surface of the paper on these burnt edges. It is a remarkable piece in this show.
He said McCaw is well exhibited internationally and his artifacts are rare and expensive works of art.
Chiara’s image of vertical blinding light through a tree is the one Marshall used to promote the
Show “Lightwaves” because it captures the title so perfectly. Chiara did not use film or a sensor. The light is directly exposed to color-sensitive paper that he processes in the back of his truck where the photo is taken.
“It’s a direct representation of the captured light,” Marshall said. “There is no middle surface or negative, just light on the paper.”
Riepenhoff creates ocean linotypes where she incorporates physical pieces of algae and kelp from natural water bodies onto the print.
Nikolova-Kratzer is a Croatian / Bulgarian artist now based in Oakland. She does what Marshall calls imaginary landscapes.
“She uses an antique tinplate on a metal plate in a darkroom,” Marshall said.
“Using cut-outs and brushes, she paints with chemistry. The thing is, it sounds believable, but it’s actually all done in the darkroom.
The owner takes care of the contemporary with classic works
While the gallery has “contemporary” in its name, Marshall explained that he came from a classic background of vintage photography.
“I still have a love for the history of photography as an image on paper,” Marshall said.
“With the ‘Lightwave’ exhibition, I wanted to focus on contemporary work given the name and nature of the gallery, but I also wanted to blend it with its predecessors, especially those from the mid-20th century with links with current works. “
He gave the example of Riepenhoff and his cinotypes buried in ice crystals and fractal shapes. He originally wanted to show this alongside a print by Brett Weston from the 1950s, which is a close-up view of an ice crystal.
“I was trying to show the previous established generation from the 1940s to the 1960s, mostly in the central coast area of California,” Marshall said.
“What they were doing was pretty radical… (they) were getting more experimental and trying different things and taking photography out of pure representation.”
He wanted the exhibit to show that California continually produces this caliber of artists.
The current generation stands on the shoulders of the giants that came before them.
However, due to the size of his gallery, he didn’t think it worked well to physically mix contemporary and vintage artwork.
He ended up moving the latter to the upstairs space where customers can make their own connections.
The gallery brings art to the downtown shopping area
The gallery, located on busy Abbot Kinney Boulevard, is in a hallway with a flickering neon sign marking its location.
Marshall said people have to look for him to find him, and that’s why visitors are curious about his space.
“The comments are that they’re really happy to have a gallery art space across the street again,” Marshall said. “Twenty years ago, the street was made up of restaurants, galleries and cafes. Now it really is a bustling tourist attraction.
He said high rent prices are driving out most artists and galleries.
“When I moved to LA, I moved here to Venice Beach,” Marshall said.
“I loved the creative energy, the courage and the determination to do interesting things.”
Marshall is hoping Venice Beach finds it among the high-end luxury retail block.
Although his prices are expensive – photos range from $ 1,000 to $ 36,000 – he invites people to come visit him.
He invites people to read his books or ask him questions about the works.
He’s also part of a long-standing program that supports free art classes for young people in Los Angeles, inviting them to bring their students to his gallery.
“I like to spread my passions,” Marshall said.
“I’ve changed my mind about what a photo is as a visual storytelling tool and I want to share that. “