The #iPhoneography of artists Marta Evry and Susan Rennie offers two distinctly different views of their longtime home
By Michael Aushenker
A man in a dog suit rides a stand-up paddleboard in the Venice canals.
“Where else are you going to see that?” artist Marta Evry said of the photograph she captured on her Apple iPhone, one of several on display in a Venice Arts Gallery exhibit dedicated to documenting the eclectic urban beach community.
It’s not only the images but also the medium that’s novel in “iVenice: iPhoneography,” a joint project of Evry and artist Susan Rennie shot completely with iPhone cameras.
Evry has lived in Venice since 1993; Rennie since 1976.
“We wanted to show our versions of Venice,” Evry said. “This was how I saw my community, and Susan is displaying her version of the same community.”
And yet the two artists and longtime friends could not have paired more contrasting visions. While Evry produced realist images containing easily identifiable Venice scenes, Rennie gleaned shots from Venice’s alleyways and re-contextualized them in unrecognizable ways to push the imagery into the realm of abstract expression.
“Most of my photography to date has been much more like street photography, much more like Martha’s,” said Rennie, whose previous exhibits, such as “Venice Family Dog” and “Gates of Venice,” covered such thematic ground.
Taken over four years on various models of the popular Apple smartphone — from an iPhone3 to her current iPhone5S — Evry’s 52 images in “iVenice” were shot through Hipstamatic, an image filter application that mimics several types of photographic techniques. So were Rennie’s.
“I love what it does because it allows you to span the gamut,” emulating everything from a modern camera to Polaroid and Brownie cameras, Evry said.
While Evry’s photos concretely capture the spirit of Venice, Rennie’s lush, atmospheric and not at all figurative pieces appear more spiritual —something as easily at home in Venice as in Sedona or Taos.
Over the past 1 ½ years and as recently as January, Rennie, armed with an iPhone 4S, shot some 3,000 abstract images while walking her dog; a catalogue she whittled down to 60 for the show. She would often shoot the same location at different times of the same day.
“I would see things a second time, and something would happen in the ether of early morning that would be different than with the late afternoon light,” Rennie said.
While Rennie avoided the hoary Venice cliché of riffing off some Lincoln Boulevard tagging, she did find interesting imagery in covered-up graffiti.
Rennie’s decision to pursue abstract images, she said, ultimately made her a better observer and, ergo, a better artist: “My eye started to evolve.”
With the bulk of her digital images ending up in her virtual garbage pail, Evry explained how she arrived at her selections.
“In an age of social media, everybody has a phone. When something is that ubiquitous, the question becomes how do you make art out of it?” Evry said. “For me, it’s what told the story. It had to capture a unique moment in Venice and unique to our community.”
So into the final mix entered that man dressed as a beagle, probably “lagging behind during the Christmas Boat Parade,” Evry said.
Another of her photos depicts angels drawn in chalk on the pilings on Venice Pier. That, she said “wasn’t just graffiti; it was art.”
For Evry, there’s another layer to her imagery — capturing a place that has evolved immensely in her 21 years here and remains in transition.
“The only constant Venice has is that it’s constantly changing,” said Evry, who nonetheless laments the fallout from a gentrification exacerbated, ironically, by tech companies inspired by Apple’s corporate model. “It’s the change of people who have been here for a long time and what they take with them when they go.”
Interestingly enough, Rennie, who, in her four decades in Venice saw an influx of young families change her neighborhood’s tapestry in the late 1980s-‘90s, found her best imagery in the alleyway behind Venice’s most notoriously trendy thoroughfare: Abbot Kinney Boulevard.
“Venice has maintained a very great degree of diversity that I like very much,” Rennie said. “There’s a lot of funkiness that’s still out here, thank God!”
Moreover, the artists hope their “iVenice” exhibit will encourage people to create their own similar art.
“You really don’t need a huge fancy camera to take stunning pictures,” Evry said.
“iVenice: iPhoneography” continues through Monday at Venice Arts Gallery, 1702 Lincoln Blvd., Venice. Call (310) 392-0846 or visit venicearts.org.