Photographer Douglas McCulloh expected 15 people to attend the first of six scheduled photography workshops at Irvine’s Great Park. At the first session on March 2, 100 people crammed into the room on the Palm Court and 25 more stood in line outside, eager to hear his lecture, “The New Landscape Photography: Adventures in Chaos and Disorder.”
“They’re here to see the Marine Base, not because of me,” he quipped.
His presentation included an overview of landscape photography as exemplified by Ansel Adams and those who followed in his perfectionistic footsteps. As for the “chaos” part, he also included contemporary shooters who, rather than banishing all evidence of humanity, dwell on it with some showing a perfect vista replete with a left-behind beer bottle or rusty sign. Dutch-born Robbert Flick is well known for his panoramic series of Los Angeles street scenes, and Eleanor Antin’s “100 Boots” have become photographic icons.
Following the lecture, McCulloh’s audience, including 25-year veteran photographer Larry Brownstein and Santa Ana College photography major Rita Medina set out to put McCulloh’s dictum into practice. His advice? “Have an idea of what you shoot and why instead of just taking a picture.” Their footsteps led to Hangar 295 and 297 and the abandoned runway of the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, de-commissioned in 1999.
More sage photography advice follows this Saturday, March 16, as Laguna Beach photographer and gallerist Mark Chamberlain presents “Swords into Plowshares: Fulfilling the Great Promise of the Great Park,” an overview of the park’s original concept, presently undergoing reassessment by Irvine’s city officials.
“I am going to show the changes ranging from farmland to the air station as it is being slowly dismantled and also touch on the park’s arts, agricultural and environmental programs through photographs taken by members of the Legacy Project,” he said, referring to himself and fellow photographers Jacques Garnier, the late Jerry Burchfield, Robert Johnson and Clayton Spada, who have been documenting the 4,682-acre base’s transformation since 2002. The latter two fill out the workshop’s final sessions.
De-emphasizing technique, Chamberlain intends to illuminate his role as documentarian and historian, he said. The Legacy Project’s “The Big Picture,” produced in a hangar turned into a pin-hole camera and measuring 111 x 32 feet, earned a place in the Guinness World Record.
Co-owners of Laguna’s BC Space gallery for a time, Chamberlain and Burchfield first gained prominence for their documentation of Laguna Canyon with “The Tell,” a wall of photographs erected in 1989 as a record of the canyon and a protest against slated development.
“I am also counting on roughly 16 people but if 100 show up, I’ll just adapt,” said Spada, who will present “Meeting the Challenge of Wide-Open Space: Wide-Angle and Panoramic Photography at former MCAS El Toro,” on April 6.
Johnson’s workshop, “The Expressive Image,” will focus on evidence of the erstwhile human presence at the base on May 4 and technical aspects of development on May 18. “We will work in relation to the base, finding traces of people’s presence, things they left behind,” he explained. “It’s more like photo-journalism or street photography,” he said.
John Hesketh’s April 20 workshop titled “Painting with Light” will requires three flashlights and a tripod in addition to cameras.
“We were asked by the Great Park administration to conduct the workshops, and for us it is a way of re-energizing public interest in the park and the Legacy Project,” said Johnson. “We continue to document the base and surrounding area, hopeful that the dream of the Great Park is going to materialize.
The Legacy Project Photography Workshops, Sat. March 16, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Photos by Clayton Spada