Mark Chamberlain’s photographic retrospective, made up of six riveting series, consistently reveal his strong sense of conscience for the individual, society, and the environment. Unlike an archeologist who digs up the past, Chamberlain the 'Arteologist,' anticipates consequences before their harmful effects, as society creates, builds or destroys.
In 1968, Chamberlain, an army draftee, returned home from Korea where he photographed extensively as a means to keep his sanity and from a longing to articulate all that stirred within him. His photographic odyssey began with 'Dubuque Passages,' a deep probe into his past, a reevaluation of his life, and preparation for his future move to California. The nostalgic tour of the rural Mid-West, via black and white gelatin silver prints, is of homes, farms, signage, cemeteries, and the modest life of Iowa's folks, along with cats and dogs slyly sneaking into most images. For those of us who lived through that era, likely in another place, it is our life too. The Dubuque setting is unpretentious, even poor, but conveys a strong sense of humanity, family, home, neighborhood, and solid roots upon which Chamberlain builds his subsequent series.
In California Chamberlain created 'Future Fossils,' rampant footprints being left by urban growth spinning out of control. The series is a turning point, where the artist, seeing the need to voice social and political ineptness, fearlessly takes on unpopular issues. Among the future fossils Chamberlain observes is the lunacy of the automobile and TV antennas, conveniences becoming more blight than blessing. Using cibachrome processing, Chamberlain records sunny yet cold concrete and steel environments that sharply contrast with the rural landscape in Iowa and are more riveting. If art can be judged by its affects, then here Chamberlain soothes us by the warmth of California color, while pointing out potentially damaging outcomes many refused to acknowledge. Now 30 years later, viewing the full sweep of his imagery, we realize that even what he then saw as technological advances today continue to add fossils to the junk heap.
'The Laguna Canyon Project,' initiated in 1980, was probably his largest collaborative venture. He gathered an army of artists and community who willingly participated in support and protest along the 'Last 9 miles of Westward Migration.' The project served as a metaphor for the canyon, which covers an area from the Santa Ana Freeway to the Pacific Ocean. 'The Laguna Canyon Project' alerted the public through action, and yielded the huge photographic mural, 'Tell,' the visual focal point to preserve the majesty of Laguna Canyon. This spring the project will be concluded, as the original 1980 documentation has been repeated every ten years. Sequential photographs of the nine miles were taken during the day and night to record the canyon and its changes.
'The Legacy Project' takes Chamberlain full circle back to the military in the form of the El Toro Marine Base and its resurrection as 'The Great Park' in Irvine. With a team of artist/photographers, a gigantic pin-hole camera captured the largest recorded image (3 stories high by 11 stories wide), known as 'The Great Picture.' The image is a view from the control tour - the heart of the base. An upshot of this latest work is that the enormous photo will be displayed in China at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing, a growing industrialized culture that might find his messages and our L.A. locales interesting.
Published courtesy of ArtScene ©2010