Photography is in the air this week. It’s also in the Santa Monica Airport’s Barker Hangar. It’s also across the street. And down the road.

Photo LA, considered one of the largest photography exhibitions in the nation, returns to Santa Monica for its 18th year. Along with the exhibition comes a slew of other photography shows in the area.

Photo LA 2009 is presented in conjunction with Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) which is the beneficiary of the opening night reception, Thursday, January 8th.

LACMA is also sponsoring the Artist Conversation Series & Book Signings with Charlotte Cotton, the museum’s Head and Curator of the Wallis Annenberg Photography Department. On Saturday, January 10th, beginning at noon, Cotton will conduct conversations with some leading professional photographers, including David Maisel, Susan Meiselas, Bruce Davidson, and Diane Keaton and Marvin Heiferman (yes, that Diane Keaton.) Book signings with the photographers follow each conversation.

There is also a lecture series beginning at 1 p.m. Sunday, January 11th, at the Ruskin Group Theater adjacent to the fair. Lecturers include California College of Arts and Crafts professor Jim Goldberg, photographer Joel-Peter Witkin and UCLA professor Catherine Opie, who currently has a retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City.

Educational opportunities aside, Photo LA 2009 will be chock full of premium photography. This year’s show is the biggest in the exhibition’s history, featuring over 70 exhibitors from here and abroad, representing art from the earliest 19th century photographic experiments to the most contemporary of photography and photo-based art.

“The exhibitors come from all over the world to present their very best work,” says Stephen Cohen, director of the show. “It’s a rare opportunity. It’s a beautiful show in a great location at the Barker ñ a clear span space of about 35,000 square feet. It’s a very beautiful space to be in.”

While many of the artists and exhibitors come from far away, Santa Monica-based photographer Jona Frank won’t have to travel via airplane to land at the airport.

“Photo LA is a great way to connect with people who love photography. It’s great that this international event takes place in my hometown and gives me the opportunity to meet and share my work with many people,” says Frank.

The DNJ Gallery booth will have a preview of Frank’s upcoming spring show at the gallery. The preview includes Frank’s new series on boys, particularly the different stages of boyhood that males go through on their way to becoming adult.

“It’s about adolescence and looking at people as they are finding their way,” adds Frank.

Frank will also be signing copies of her new book Right: Portraits from the Evangelical Ivy League at the same booth on Friday. For the photographs in the book, Frank spent four semesters travelling back and forth to Patrick Henry College in Virginia, a school geared towards home-schoolers. It serves as an educational platform from which students can become cultural, social and political leaders.

“In some ways they’re like any other adolescent, but in many ways they’re not,” says Frank. “They have purpose and a focus I’ve not seen in other adolescents that I’ve worked with. They sort of vacillated between being young and old at the same time.”

An exhibition of works selected from Frank’s book will also be previewed at Sherry Frumkin Gallery (www.frumkingallery .com) where an entire exhibition of Frank’s work will be shown from January 17th to March 15th. The gallery also will extend its viewing hours in conjunction with Photo LA. The gallery is also concluding a show by Barbara Grover called Refuge(e) : Moments with the Darfuri of Iridimi.

Also appearing outside the framework of Photo LA but within the range of the lens is the D3Projects presentation of the Vernacular Photography Fair at the Santa Monica Art Studios (www.santamonicaartstudios .com/) at Bergamot Station Saturday and Sunday, January 10th and 11th.

Vernacular photography — also known as found photography, anonymous imagery or snapshot photography — is an emerging genre of photography, in which artists, collectors and dealers rediscover discarded photographs and give them a new relevance.

“Often the divide between vernacular photography and fine-art photography is the differences between taking a photograph and making a photograph,” says Robert Jackson, an avid Vernacular Photography collector.

Another photography show opens at Bergamot Station’s Bergamot CafÈ (www.bergamot cafe.com/) with new work from Robbie Kaye entitled A Day At The Antique Mall. Kaye, who is based in Santa Monica, sets her lens upon all things vintage.

“Each object was placed like an important prop on a theatrical stage,” says Kaye. “The groupings and placement of these objects were sometimes wonderfully incongruous and made me smile.”

The abundance of photography in the air this weekend should be enough to make anyone smile.

Photo LA is $20 for a two-day pass and $30 for a three-day pass. Public hours are noon to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, January 9th and 10th; noon to 6 p.m. Sunday, January 11th, at 3021 Airport Ave., Santa Monica.

Information, (323) 937-4659, www.artfairsinc.com/photo la/2009/.

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