FACES OF LEICA LOS ANGELES. Ren Gallery 743 Santee Street Los Angeles
November 4 – 30th 2023
Faces of Leica LA is an engaging collection of photographs meticulously curated by Leica Gallery director Paris Chong. A truly diverse selection of images radiating craft mastery, great powers of observation and sincere appreciation of the photographic medium.
From Tania Alexis’s atmospheric My Favourite Tree snapped in Belfast, and Nick Ut’s mesmerising shot of a Snow Monkey, to Bret Curry’s seductively golden landscape shot in Lajitas, Texas.
There is Anthony Friedkin’s distinctly American Clockwork Malibu, Julian Lennon’s intriguing Wedding Dress, Terry La Rue’s somewhat theatrical scene, depicting a mannequin’s head with an insect resting on its static hand, and Jamie Johnson’s arresting Biddy, showing a serious looking girl staring intently at the camera. Through Jamie Johnson’s interview we learn that the artist has spent her entire career photographing children all over the world, most recently focusing on children of Irish travelers. To the question “how has Leica changed your life?”, Johnson replied “Leica is not only the best cameras, but it is also a community…It’s a very special community to be part of.”
Johnson’s sentiments are echoed through fellow photographers’ work and commentary. “The cameras themselves look like works of art, a great conversation piece,” noted Mathieu Bitton, “just today in Washington DC, as I write this, three different people have stopped me to discuss the two Leicas on my shoulders.” Bitton concluded with a reference to Robert Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson,, who “like so many other legends, chose Leica – when shooting with Leica you feel like you are part of historic elite group of passionate people.”
But it is not just about the brand’s celebrated history – it is about shooters today finding a freeing form of expression and a common spirit. Bret Curry speaks of fellow “a community of people with shared values”, while Mark De Paola describes his camera as his connection to the world around him – “Leica carries my soul.”
Speaking of community and a collaborative spirit, it is worth noting that in 2016, Grammy winner Bitton has held a heavily praised joint exhibition with musician and philanthropist Julian Lennon. Lennon’s engaging Cycle exhibit featured inhabitants and landscapes of the borders of the South China Sea, while Bitton’s Darker than Blue explored the realities of black communities throughout the world.
An important part of the exhibition features 41 striking portraits of the photographers themselves, captured by photographer Per Bernal. An illuminating photographic spree inspired by gallery director Chong who introduced Bernal to some of LA’s most celebrated Leica photographers. Armed with a Leica SL2, Bernal went on to deliver 41 intimate and telling portraits of the artists. Chong should be commended for what seems like an uncanny ability to spot and nurture talent – from successfully steering body- building Bernal in a new direction, to offering a game changing platform to unique voices.
It would be impossible to comment on this exhibition without reflecting on the legendary Nick Ut. Ut’s mesmerising photo of a Japanese snow monkey relaxing in a hot spring, is a far cry from his historic Vietnam war images – groundbreaking photographs that now form an integral part of Western culture’s consciousness. The Vietnamese-American photographer has won a 1973 Pulitzer for the eternally moving The Terror of War, depicting children running away from a napalm bombing attack during the Vietnam War. The famous photo features the naked little girl, Phan Thị Kim Phúc, running toward the camera from a South Vietnamese napalm strike. In 2012, on the 40th anniversary of that Pulitzer Prize-winning photo, Ut became only the third person inducted into the Leica Hall of Fame for his contributions to photojournalism. Nine years later, he became the first journalist to receive the National Medal of Arts, the highest award given to artists and arts patrons by the United States federal government.
Paris Chong “love letter” to the gallery’s photographers patrons and supporters proved to be a shining testament to creativity, gratitude and the power of the human spirit. I urge readers to delve deeper into the work of these photographers and explore their creative journeys. From documentary filmmaker Deborah Anderson exploring the condition of indigenous people in America, and
Barbara Davidson’s stories of human resilience, to Charlie Lieberman’s haunting landscapes taking the viewer with him “to places we never knew we wanted to visit.” There is Magnum photographer Eli Reed’s vision of black America, Daniel Sackheim’s striking film Noire artistry, figure skater Alex Shibutani’s mindfulness, actor Billy Zane’s paintings, and Terry La Rue for whom the camera is a distraction from pain. La Rue has turned to photography to confront his struggles with a life of excruciating physical pain caused by Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. The Seattle based print maker captures moments that convey his physical and mental anguish. Often surreal, his stark images show despair, angst and suffering, but at the same time, carry a sense of optimism.
Reflecting on the relief that comes through the externalization of his struggles, La Rue has referred to photography as a liberator, freeing him from pain. “My emotions” he explained, “what I’m feeling at the same time..comes through in that image – so it’s no longer being held within me.”