Gallery owner honors wave of light-based photographers
By Bridgette M. Redman
Douglas Marshall opened his own gallery in a commercial area of Downtown Venice because he wanted to display the works of innovative photographic artists working with experimental images.
Marshall Contemporary is exhibiting the work of seven photographers from now until 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 are building on 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 being shown in Los Angeles. He wanted to show the experimental side of photography in his 400-square-foot gallery.
“There was a lot of representation of classical and vintage material and things people traditionally think of as image work, which is about the image rather than the physical process of printmaking and experimentation,” Marshall said. “I recognized that a lot of artists who were actively exploring new spaces were falling in a gap between traditional photography and traditional fine art.”
He opened Marshall Contemporary to focus on process-based photography, something he feels is an answer to the quick disposable bombardment of images prevalent in today’s social media world.
The group of artists in the “Lightwaves” exhibit is one that Marshall considered for two years.
It’s a California-based group comprised of artists who were pushing photography to new art mediums. He saw them as part of a recurring cycle in the state — citing other similar groups that were working in the 1990s, the 1960s, the 1920s to 1930s, and the 1890s.
He even recognizes these groups that came before with an ancillary exhibit 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 he believes. While New York had a hub of photographers who worked in the traditional, documentary medium, California artists pushed photography into exciting new places. He said California has always had the feel of the Wild West.
“You can do what you want and make your own way,” Marshall said.
The exhibit’s title comes from the work and the artists’ place in photographic history. Marshall said it explores the current wave or generation of what is known as light artists. Each wave takes photography to a new place and each wave works with light in the physical manifestation of a photograph and its chemistry and ink.
Exhibition explores experimental work
Marshall said there are many photographic artists of this generation whom he couldn’t include. The seven artists who are in the show are important members of it. One of the parameters he set was the artists had to be mostly well-established — many have exhibited in museum collections or other established galleries. While they are well known in the art world, he said that the community in Venice where his gallery resides may not know them, even though many of them are major collectors. The works are also new ones. The oldest ones go back only to 2012.
“These are definitely people doing the most interesting things and I wanted to introduce them to Venice,” Marshall said.
Another thing that makes his exhibition unusual in the photographic world is that 90% of the pieces are creative, one-of-a-kind work, not a print or an edition.
One of the works that holds a prominent place in the exhibition is a triptych by McCaw from his sunburn series. It was something Marshall saw on display in 2015 at the Getty during a white paper process exhibition. To create this work, McCaw physically puts paper in the camera and allows the sun to burn the print over a long period of time.
“Not only is it representational of a landscape, but it is also a very scientific object,” Marshall said.
“There is a lot of calculation to how you expose it for a long time. You can see the metallic chemistry that is in the paper surface on these burned edges. That’s a standout piece in this show.”
He said McCaw is well-exhibited internationally and his items are high-ticket rare art pieces.
Chiara’s image of a vertical blinding light through a tree is one that Marshall has used to promote the
“Lightwaves” show because it so perfectly captures the title. Chiara did not use a film or sensor. The light is exposed directly onto color-sensitive paper which he processes in the back of his truck where the photo is made.
“It’s a direct representation of captured light,” Marshall said. “There is no intermediary surface or negative, just light on the paper.”
Riepenhoff creates ocean linotypes where she incorporates physical pieces of seaweed and kelp from natural bodies of water on the print.
Nikolova-Kratzer is a Croatia/Bulgarian artist now based in Oakland. She does what Marshall called imagined landscapes.
“She uses an antique tintype on a metallic plate in a darkroom,” Marshall said.
“Using paper cutouts and paintbrushes, she is painting with chemistry. The thing is, it looks believable but it is actually all done in the darkroom.”
Owner supports contemporary with classic works
While the gallery has “contemporary” in its name, Marshall explained that he comes from a classical vintage photography background.
“I still have a love for the history of photography as an image on a paper medium,” Marshall said.
“With the ‘Lightwave’ show, I wanted to focus on the contemporary work given the gallery’s name and nature, but I also wanted to intermix it with its predecessors, particularly those of the mid-20th century with connections to the current works.”
He gave the example of Riepenhoff and her cinotypes buried in ice crystals and fractal shapes. He originally wanted to show that next to a Brett Weston print from the 1950s, which is a closeup view of an ice crystal.
“I was trying to show the previous established generation of 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 purely representational.”
He wanted the exhibition 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, because of the size of his gallery, he didn’t feel it worked well to physically mix the contemporary and vintage works.
He ended up moving the latter to the upstairs space where patrons can make their own connections.
Gallery brings art to Downtown commercial area
The gallery, located on busy Abbot Kinney Boulevard, is down a hallway with a flickering neon sign marking its location.
Marshall said people have to seek him out to find him, and that’s why visitors are curious about his space.
“The feedback is that they’re really happy to have a gallery art space on the street again,” Marshall said. “The street 20 years ago was restaurants and galleries and coffee shops. Now it really is a hustle and bustle tourist attraction.”
He said high-rent prices drive out most artists and galleries.
“When I moved to LA, I moved here for Venice Beach,” Marshall said.
“I loved the creative energy, the grit and determination to do interesting things.”
Marshall hopes that Venice Beach will discover him among the block of high-end luxury retail.
While his prices are expensive — the photos range from $1,000 to $36,000 — he welcomes people to come in for a visit.
He invites people to read his books or ask him questions about the works.
He is also part of a long-running program that supports free art classes for the youth of Los Angeles, inviting them to bring their students to his gallery.
“I enjoy spreading my passions,” Marshall said.
“I had my mind changed as to what a photo is as a visual storytelling device and I want to share that.”