Sunday, May 9, 2010


Let's try this post again! Sorry about the repeat, but the first time I posted this article, I was in the middle of spell-checking, when the article posted itself! Here goes, again:

Photofutures. No, not that kind of futures...not as in the commodities futures market, but as in a group of like minded people who collect photography, who aren't speculating on anything. Photofutures members, are considered the most active and ardent group of collectors at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art (SBMA), and whom share the common goal of furthering the holdings of the museums collection of master photographers, both historical and future.

Thirty-five individuals comprise the current Photofutures group, whose members hail from a variety of professions, ages, and backgrounds, but have in common an appreciation and passion for photography. The popularity of collecting photography is partly because the medium is accessible--affordable, if you will. With the growth of digital photography, it's become even more so. You can find beautiful pictures that are still relatively affordable.

Group members travel with the museums curator of photography to various cities around the US, visiting museum shows, art fairs, and most interesting to me are the private collections that we are able to tour. As a group, we become more educated about the medium.

But alas, yesterday was the last Photofutures event for the year (late August through early May). Our meeting featured two artists, both represented by Christa Dix, owner of Wall Space Gallery in Seattle, WA,

The meeting was held at one of our members homes, which happens to be a house that I covet, and that I consider one of the most beautiful homes in all of Santa Barbara and Montecito. A relatively modest home by local standards, this home is a beautiful study in scale and restraint, with a beautiful balance between decoration and ornamentation, and simplicity. The balance is further evident in the wonderfully allocated indoor and outdoor living space which flow seamlessly from one into the other. The simple stucco exterior is centered with an elaborate Spanish style carved limestone surround, punctuated with a glass lined, period style wrought iron front door--a hint at what lie ahead for the
"hous-e-o-phile" and casual observer alike. Out of respect for the home owner's, I will post only exterior shots of this wonderful home, sorry!

Now to the business at hand:
The first artist to present their work was photographer Aline Smithson, . A former New York Fashion Editor for Vogue Patterns, Smithson worked alongside some of the greats of fashion photography, including Patrick Demarchelier, Steven Meisel, Mario Testino, and Peter Lindbergh.

PHOTOS, above:
TOP: Photofutures member and President of the Santa Barbara Arts Fund, Joanne Holderman, Artist Aline Smithson, and Photofutures member Caroline Thompson.
BOTTOM: President of the SBMA Board of directors, Marshall Milligan, looks at the hand colored photographs by Aline Smithson.

PHOTO, above, from Left to Right:
Left: Photofutures member, and SBMA Board member, philanthropist Mike Healy;
Center: Photofutures member, and former President of the SBMA Board of Directors and philanthropist Mercedes "Merci" Eicholz (widow of the late Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas);
Right: Photofutures member Amanda McIntyre.

We learned that when Aline Smithson discovered the family Rolleiflex camera, she never looked back. Smithson said she creates her (award winning) photography with humor, compassion, and a 50-year old camera, which is most evident in the series that features her 85-year old mother, my favorite series of Smithson's work.

TOP: Arrangement in Grey and Black: The Artist Mother, 1871, by James McNeill Whistler
BOTTOM: No. 10, (The Last Super), by Arline Smithson. Hand colored photograph.

The series of 22 images feature Smithson's mother juxtaposed with various imagery, costumes and props, some familiar, and some just darn clever! The series was inspired by Smithson's favorite
painting, commonly known as "Whistler's Mother", painted by James McNeill Whistler in 1871--see photo above. I may be somewhat partial to that painting myself as a copy of it hung on the wall of my family's Breakfast room for the first 18 years of my life...I had many a meal with Whistler's Mother!

PHOTO'S, above: Images available in 11x14, editions of 25; or 16 x 20, editions of 20:
LEFT: No. 14 (Blue Elvis), by Aline Smithson. Hand painted photograph.
RIGHT: No. 8, (Pinkie and Blueboy), by Aline Smithson. Hand painted photograph.

Aline Smithson is an instructor at the highly respected Julia Dean Photo Workshops, ,
the West coast's largest non-degree based school of photography. Smithson's workshop, Creating Art with Toy Camera, teaching participants the history of, and how to use toy cameras, and learn why "blur" (the principal characteristic effect of prints made from toy camera negatives) is such an extremely popular style of fine art photography.

PHOTO'S, above:
Legoland, taken with a toy camera at Legoland California. Through the lens of the toy camera, the  images appear 100's of times larger than their actual size. According to Smithson, none of the subjects in the images above, are larger than three feet in height!

Aline Smithson's artist statement: "I try to create moments that are at once familiar, yet unexpected. The odd juxtapositions that we find in life are worth exploring. The poignancy of childhood, aging, relationships, family, and moments of introspection or contemplation continue to draw my interest. I want to create pictures that evoke a universal memory". And that she does!

Smithson's works with four cameras: a twin lens Rolleiflex, a Hasselblad, and a Diana and a Holga plastic (toy) cameras. She said the first two cameras provide clarity and formality; the latter two provide spontaneity and simplicity.

Aline Smithson writes a blog, , highlighting the work of other photographers, both known to her and brought to her attention by others, giving thorough insight into a particular artists work. She also writes on photography shows, dealers, and features related websites. A great blog to subscribe to!

Our second presentation was by photographer Charles Groog, based in nearby Ojai, CA. Groog, a college English professor by day, is a fine art artist who works with botanical, still life, and natural imagery.

PHOTO, above: 
Artist Charles Groog discusses a "Bonsai" photograph from his Botanical Series, with Patsy Blake, Photofutures member, and a member of the SBMA Board of Directors. Groog created the mixed media piece by processing nine negatives, each an individual photograph of a single object (plant), then stitches them together, matching the parts to create the complete image. On some images, he adds strings to replicate ropes tethering the plant to the earth. 

Groog prints his work with a hand coated platinum/palladium process, printed on handmade Japanese Gampi (a flexible, natural fiber), mounted on a rare and beautiful natural fiber Washi paper. The nine separate photographs on Gampi are sewn together, and that image is sewn to the Washi paper.

Groog's website,, describes his work as follows: As a cross-disciplinary artist, Charles has synthesized imagery from literature as well as the pictorial arts to his imaginative work flow. Botanical and other natural imagery, architecture, and nudes are often isolated from environmental backgrounds both to draw attention to their inherently sensual details and to make their implausible disconnection from the natural and vital world a cause for further investigation. A little deep, I know, but when you see the work, the verbosity of the description of his work rings true.

PHOTO, above:
Butterflyfrom the portfolio, "Once Removed", by Charles Groog. Here, Groog blends the natural and artificial worlds into a working order of references.

Groog shoots Polaroid film on a 4x5 inch camera, or medium format film developed in PMK Pyro...hand developed, a rarity indeed in today's digital image world.

PHOTO'S, below:

Left: Bonsai 4, from the Botanical's Series by Charles Groog.
Right: Bonsai 5, from the Botanical's Series by Charles Groog

The platinum/palladium development process, printed on the hand coated gampi, creates images that are sensual artifacts. Stunning!

As the Photofutures group entered it's tenth year, in acknowledgment of the groups support of the museums photography collection, the SBMA showcased 58 of the acquisitions made by the Photofutures members with the exhibition, Ten: Gifts of the SBMA Photofutures.

Photofutures purchases are made with combined funds from its members, at an annual Photofutures Buying Spree, of which Caroline, my wife, and I have had the honor of co-hosting for the last two years. I must say, keeping order at a buying spree with a group of overachieving philanthropist types is no easy task!

The Ten exhibition highlighted those areas of strength in the museums photography holdings, including work by Western Pacific Rim artists, photography at the Intersection of Art and Science, and Contemporary works.

The museum has identified photography as important from the Western Pacific Rim, China, Japan, and Korea--all nations in the midst of significant technological and economic growth--works that express the complex nature of cultures in flux, which reflect upon the rapid transition from traditional to modern ways of life.


PHOTO, above: 
San Xia 2, 2005-2006/2007, by Chen Nong. Eight hand-colored gsps, ed. 5/10.

The image above is a detail from a group of eight hand-colored photographs depicting groups of Chinese men wearing mock armor created by the artist to evoke the terracotta  army of Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi which was discovered in the region in 1974. The San Xia region of mainland China is home to the Three Gorges Dam which harnessed the power of the Yangtze River resulting in dramatic environmental changes.
In his melancholic portraits of local Chinese who were hired by the government to demolish their own communities in anticipation of the regional flooding, photographer Chen Nong calls attention to the socio-cultural and environmental impact of modern industrial development.


 PHOTO, above:
Sandy Skoglund: Revenge of the Goldfish, 1981. Silver dye bleach print.

Sandy Skoglund photographs installations that she builds in her studio, employing actors to populate her fabricated tableaux. In the large-scale print, a young man, consumed by nightmarish anxiety, sits at his bedside, inundated by flying goldfish while his mother sleeps nearby.

When members of Photofutures attended the international contemporary art fair, Art Basel Miami Beach, relationships forged between the collectors while traveling, increased knowledge of contemporary photography, and exposure to private collections in Miami led to the joint purchase of the photograph, below, during the next annual Photofutures Buying Spree.

PHOTO, above:
Jackie Nickerson: Grandmother, Masiphumelele Township, Western cape, South Africa, 2004.
Lambda photograph, ed. 4/4.

The next photography exhibition at the SBMA is Chaotic Harmony: Contemporary Korean Photography, which opens July 3, 2010, and runs through September 19, 2010.

PHOTO, Above:
PA-YA: Noblesse Children #12, 2008, From the series Noblesse Children (2008). Chromogenic photograph. Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Museum purchase with funds provided by Photofutures Group of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.

The exhibition first opened at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston (MFAH), and is the first major exhibition in the United States of photographs made by contemporary Korean artists presently living in Korea. This exhibition opens a window into the rapidly expanding field of photographic practice in the Republic of Korea (South Korea). Bringing together work by 40 contemporary photographers, this exhibition surveys the range of contemporary issues through the themes of family, urbanization, globalization, identity, and nature.

Co-organized by the SBMA and the MFAH, this groundbreaking exhibition is not a presentation on "Koreanness, " although issues of cultural and personal identity are strong components. Rather, it is an attempt to identify Korea as a source of complex and stimulating visual ideas expressed through the medium of photography.

Chaotic Harmony offers an enticing glimpse into the new century as it is perceived by two different generations of Korean artists - those who began exhibiting their work in the 1980's and 1990's, and those who are now exhibiting images from their first or second series of photographs.

Wow! The SBMA, what a museum! Interested in Photofutures? Contact the Santa Barbara Museum of Art,

Good Night Moon.