VENICE PHOTOGRAPHER Helen K. Garber has created a project in which she recaptured historic scenes of Venice with modern images of the same location, as depicted above in a 1940 photo of bicycles on Ocean Front Walk (left) and a modern image of Segways.

Venice has been her muse since Helen K. Garber built out her first photographic studio in 1994 on Sunset Avenue to more easily document the visually extreme bodybuilders of Gold’s Gym.
A photographer since she was a teenager, Garber, who grew up in Brooklyn, NY and used to visit her grandparents in Coney Island, was naturally attracted to the history, landscape and atmosphere of Venice Beach.
In 2004, she recorded local sights while walking her dog, Dudley, on the way from home in Santa Monica’s Ocean Park to her second studio on Ocean Front Walk at Park Avenue. She then published the photo essay about life on Ocean Front Walk, which became the award-winning, official commemorative book of the 2005 Venice centennial – “Venice Beach, California Carnivale.” An experiment with the new world of digital photography and print-on-demand process, this became the first print-on-demand picture book sold at Barnes & Noble.
Misty night images of the neighborhood were added for Garber’s “Urban Noir” series, images that have been exhibited widely, published in books and magazines, as well as one reproduced for the 2006 Venice Art Walk poster.
“Conjuring Venice” came next as she combined night images of Venice with pages of Ray Bradbury’s “Death is a Lonely Business,” set in Venice, which are encaustic (using pigments mixed with hot wax that are burned in as an inlay) assemblages intended to promote re-use, appreciation of the urban landscape and historic preservation. These images became part of “Encaustic Noir,” her exhibit shown during the Santa Monica Noirfest, a three month integrated arts festival held this year that she conceived and directed.
Garber finally went to Venice, Italy to attend the Vernissage of the Venice Biennale of Architecture and to see her 40-foot image of the entire city of Los Angeles exhibited at the fair in 2006. Thinking that the city would be a living museum, she was shocked to find tremendous similarities to her own Venice community.
“The same crowds of T-shirt, cargo-short attired crowds eating ice cream and filling every inch of public space during the day,” she says. The nights were similar too, she remembers – quiet and beautiful with just the residents and a small group of travelers enjoying the magical surroundings. She photographed scenes with the full moon, paired the images with those of Venice, Calif. and exhibited “Venice/Venezia in Los Angeles” as canvas printed diptychs (a pair of connected images) presenting the modern likenesses of the two extraordinarily popular tourist destinations sharing the same name.
After being approached by Jill Prestup, Venice Historical Society president, with an idea for a show shared with the historical society, Garber said she began to learn more about of the history of Venice community founder Abbot Kinney’s dream. “I was amazed to discover that the house directly behind my studio was one of his homes,” she says.
What began as a vintage photo exhibit, turned into a quest to re-photograph historic images of the community as residents know them today. An image of women racing on Ocean Front Walk inspired Garber to create a new set of diptychs, ones that recreate moments found in the archives of the Venice Historical Society.
Garber worked with Prestup to determine the location of the original images. She then went out with her camera, exploring – and discovering the spot where the original was taken. Universal Art Gallery fine art printer Titano Cruz helped determine the time of day, lighting conditions and lens used to best match the new image to the old. Together, they worked on the computer to painstakingly create the graphically aligned diptychs.
“There was a lot of magic that went into producing this project,” says Garber.
The project, called “Venice: Yesterday/Today or still crazy after all these years,” began in March and with the help of Cruz and talented local volunteer models, two sets of eight diptychs were completed in time for an Aug. 11 opening at Universal Art Gallery, which framed the images and provided support .
The first set was presented at Hal’s Bar & Grill in Venice twice in May, once for the maiden voyage of the society’s vintage tram and then again for the Venice Art Walk. Stephen Cohen, producer of Photo L.A., is sponsoring the project by giving the historical society a free exhibit booth at Photo L.A. 2013 at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium from Jan. 17 to 21. The Huntington Memorial Library will allow images of Venice from its archives to be included for future use.
“With the community’s support by purchasing the work or donating to this collaborative effort, the Venice Historical Society will be able to visually preserve Venice’s past and present history,” says Garber.
Garber doesn’t sit on her laurels, but continues to challenge her ability to think outside the box. Photographs taken from her latest project exemplify her passion for the free spirited, creative thinking that continues to be an important element of the Venice fabric.
She wonders if working directly between Kinney’s home and the ocean is the inspiration behind this series. “Painting with encaustic seems to open unexpected portals, so perhaps Abbot Kinney himself is guiding me through the work,” she answers to herself. §