LACPS and the Politics of Community

If contemporary artists had a hard time getting attention in L.A., with the embryonic gallery and museum scene in the pre-MOCA 80's, it was worse for photographers. Among the many alternative spaces that sprang up after the bankruptcy and closure of the Pasadena Art Museum was L.A. Center for Photographic Studies, founded in 1973. It was a time of transition in the medium as photographers, especially in L.A., exploited color, narrative and non-traditional techniques. Artists, too, were using more photographic techniques such as documentation or appropriation. LACPS was started by photographers for photographers.


Robbert Flick, SV021/81, Ocean 2, December 15, 1981
24 x 20" Vintage Gelatin Silver Print
Signed, captioned and dated by the artist in pencil on verso
In a limited edition of five, from the collection of the Artist
Illustrated in: Robbert Flick, Trajectories, LACMA/Steidl 2004, page 157


Thanks to the Pacific Standard Time initiative, their history is chronicled in Sight Specific: LACPS and the Politics of Community at USC's Fisher Gallery through April 7. Some selections are drawn from exhibitions that they hosted: historic work by oddball photographers such as William Mortenson, Paul Outerbridge and Edmund Teske that stand as testimony to the permissive tastes of L.A.


Eileen Cowin, Untitled, 1981-1983
Chromogenic development print
20 x 24 in.
Courtesy of the Artist

The contemporary photographers who were shown over the 12 years of its existence remains quite impressive. The show includes Darryl Curran's photograph of the opening of the L.A. Issue in 1979 with photographs by Michael Levine and Grey Crawford. I actually remember that opening! The LACPS show makes clear that great range of photographs supported by the group: a gridded black and white seascape by Robbert Flick, black and white studies of domestic objects by Jo Ann Callis, a domestic drama in color by Eileen Cowen, the nude figure of a woman subsumed into a gray wall by Judy Coleman, colored photos of body builders in a parade by Jane O'Neal, a tinted wall by Leland Rice, and an eerie landscape by Richard Misrach.


Bruce Yonemoto, United States (b. 1949)
Califuji Style, 1976
From the series, Suspected Japanese Houses
exhibited in the LACPS exhibition Multicultural Focus, 1981

An early "multicultural" show included a couple of black and white photographs by Bruce Yonemoto of Butler Avenue houses with their Orientalist window panes and shrubbery whited out, an attempt to disguise their Japanese heritage. The point, really, is that LACPS helped this work to get shown at various locations: the Municipal Art Gallery, G. Ray Hawkins Gallery, wherever there was an opportunity. LACPS continued until 1985 when it was made redundant by the opening of MOCA, the growth of the photography department at LACMA and a number of successful commercial galleries. This show was organized by Tim B. Wride, formerly a LACMA curator, who says, "There was no other game in town. The artists needed a place to come together, to share ideas and extend critical approaches to the medium." It is installed in an almost casual manner, not unlike the alternative space aesthetic, with a sampling of shows, publications and programs.

Banner image: Darryl Curran, Untitled, 1980, from the Moment in Photo History series; Chromogenic development print, Collection of the Artist