Renee Byer: A Photographer's Journey

Last night, Renee Byer took the stage at our IRIS Nights to discuss photos that ranged in topics from the economy to prostitution to serious illness. Renee had a refreshingly down-to-earth personality and a strong desire to enlighten as many people as possible about these subjects... subjects which she clearly feels very strongly about.

The first series of photos she presented focused on the difficulties faced by those affected by unemployment in California.

Included in this collection is a photo (above) of California Governor Arnold Schwazenegger, who found himself stuck in the middle of the state's job crisis. Renee has photographed him several times and found him to be someone who really wanted to make a difference in the state. She described how she loves this picture primarily due to the tension seen in his hands.

Renee shifted her talk to people in Ghana who, though they had jobs, were forced to work in a toxic environment at an e-waste recycling facility. She told us how she became fascinated with one girl there who suffered from malaria. The girl, no doubt sensing Renee's warmth and compassion, wanted to come back home with her.

One of the most heart-breaking moments of the night came when Renee discussed a series of photos devoted to a brothel in Bangladesh that employed young girls, many of whom had no other choice but to enter the oldest profession. Renee confessed that if she won the lottery tomorrow, she would return to the South Asian country and free all of them. After listening to her speak, there's no doubt in our minds that she would!

Renee explained that the visual presentation for her Pulitzer Prize-winning series "A Mother's Journey" typically runs an hour but she managed to squeeze in an abbreviated version for IRIS Nights. The edit didn't reduce the impact of the powerful images of a mother and her 11-year-old son as the two coped with his fight with terminal cancer.

Renee was obviously very moved by her year-long, intimate documentation of Cyndie and Derek. Cyndie told Renee that she can't imagine living without the above photograph that captured a very tender moment between her and her son.

She also showed a sweet picture where the two shared a rare smiling moment together which seemed to touch everyone in the audience.

During the Q & A, Renee was asked the requisite question about when she first sound herself interested in photography. Apparently, it all started when Renee, as child, shot "little teeny people" on the street from the top of the Statue of Liberty, with a brownie camera her parents had given her.

Through her wonderful photography, this warm, cheerful and talented woman now gets to tell stories about all kinds of people (not just the "teeny" ones) from around the world. Sounds to us like she's already won the lottery!

Click here to watch Renee's lecture online!

(All images by Unique for the Space)

Donna O'Meara: Make Your Own Dreams Come True

Donna O'Meara is the last "Extreme Exposure" featured photographer to participate in our IRIS Nights elcture series. You may remember that her husband (and fellow volcanologist) Stephen O'Meara was the very first lecturer for the exhibit. Donna delivered a terrific, inspirational lecture about volcanoes, passion and the journey of life.

Donna, who lives on top of Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, started her lecture by reciting a traditional Hawaiian thank you chant - a first at IRIS Nights.

She showed the audience photos from her wedding to Stephen, which took place on top of Kilauea. You can't tell in the photo above, but they both wore sneakers during ceremony - just in case they needed to run for their lives!

Donna recounted the time when National Geographic first hired her and Stephen for a photo shoot. The magazine let them choose the volcano they wanted to photograph. The two eventually decided on one located in Stromboli, Italy where they camped out for 39 days and survived 534 eruptions.

This expedition led to her and Stephen's own National Geographic television special titled Volcano Hunters!

Donna's theme of accomplishing what you want no matter the obstacle carried over to her story about her journey to Antarctica in 2009. It was on that trip that she met Barbara Jones, the 94-year-old only living child of Edward Nelson, the explorer who was part of the first official British exploration of Antarctica.

Donna became close to Barbara during the trip. She explained that she had always wanted to see the place where her father worked on the continent. Tragically, Barbara passed away during the trip.

Donna's volcanologist boots have been on display during the entire run of "Extreme Exposure." She said that even though she has a new pair, she wants her old ones back because they are so comfortable.

Donna ended her talk with words of inspiration and encouragement. No matter how old you are, make sure your dreams come true!

She stuck around to sign copies of the several books on volcanoes she has written over the years.

Thanks for the motivational talk, Donna. And don't worry,  your boots are on their way back to your home in Hawaii!

Watch Donna's entire IRIS Nights lecture here and learn more about her on her own website.

(All lecture images by Unique for the Space. All others are by Donna O'Meara)

Nikki Sixx Rocks The Space

A bona fide rock star lecturer, Mötley Crüe bass guitarist NIkki Sixx, rocked IRIS Nights last night! Some people may not be aware but bass guitar isn't the only instrument Nikki takes seriously - cameras also play a large role in his life.

Visitors lined up outside of the Space well before doors opened at 6pm.

Joining Nikki for this lecture was journalist and author Kristine McKenna. The long-time Los Angeles music writer did a stellar job picking Nikki's brain about his photography in a revealing and candid discussion.

Nikki told Kristine that he has been photographing for over 30 years but started to take it more seriously in 1989. Quite impressively, he's completely self-taught in the medium.

Nikki told a poignant story about the Coney Island clown in this photo. He told Nikki said that most people took his picture because he was a "freak" but felt that this image captured his outer beauty.

Nikki doesn't believe beauty is only defined in the pages of People magazine's "100 Most Beautiful People" issue. He reiterated throughout the talk that beauty is everywhere: "being an individual is so rewarding."

Here's a recent photo taken by Nikki of a female teenage fan paying homage to the rock star by replicating one of his looks from the 1980s. Check out a photo of vintage Nikki here.

Kristine asked Nikki about the kind of cameras he uses in his photography and he revealed that he uses everything from Holgas to Leicas. But he stressed that it doesn't matter what kind of camera you use to take pictures. Use the best tool in your hand to capture the moment!

Nikki takes loads of self portraits. Why? According to him it's simply because no one else is ever around!

While Nikki said he doesn't feel ready to publicly exhibit his photos quite yet (he'd like to first nail down a theme), we can't wait until the time comes.

Nikki's girlfriend, model Courtney Bingham, was also in the audience. As his muse of sorts, Nikki said that she has inspired him to start to dabble in fashion photography.

Annenberg Foundation executive director Leonard Aube stopped by for a post-lecture chat.

Nikki couldn't resist adding his own answer to the white board question about beauty and age located in our workshop area.

Nikki showed us tonight that not only is he a rock star in the music world but a rock star photographer as well! Thank you Nikki and Kristine for an awesome night!

For more information about Nikki's photography, visit his tumblr site.

(All lecture images by Unique for the Space)

Bringing Attention To Important Topics Through The Use Of Humor

by Pierre Beteille I am proud to say that the Annenberg Space for Photography's "Digital Darkroom" is my very first photography exhibition. I was excited to be given the opportunity to go to the show's public opening and witness, for the first time, people react (if they reacted at all!) to my images in a public setting. I take my photographs in my apartment in France!!

by Pierre Beteille I am proud to say that the Annenberg Space for Photography's "Digital Darkroom" is my very first photography exhibition. I was excited to be given the opportunity to go to the show's public opening and witness, for the first time, people react (if they reacted at all!) to my images in a public setting. I take my photographs in my apartment in France. I mostly shoot self-portraits and work alone, without an assistant. As a result, I have no direct feedback on my work. Of course, I get comments and messages from people on the Internet, but they inevitably come only from those who are receptive to my work. Coming to Los Angeles for "Digital Darkroom" was really my first opportunity to see people's instinctive reactions - either good or bad - in person. While it may seem rather childish and narcissistic satisfaction, to see people smile and react with such pleasure to my photos brought me an incredible sense of fulfillment. My work sometimes deals with serious issues that are important to me but I try to juxtapose the more solemn subjects with humor. For example, my latest photos focus on the speculation on the cereal markets and the nuclear disaster at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster in Japan. Glamorous themes, aren't they? My goal is to make people think about these important topics without boring them or putting them off, and the only way I can accomplish this is through the use of humor or satire. Humor can sometimes be very specific to different cultures, and I was not sure that it would be perceived in the same way from one continent to another. This is why one of my fears was to see people remain indifferent to my pictures. On the day of the "Digital Darkroom" public opening, a young girl in a wheelchair visiting the Photography Space came to me and with a great big smile said to me, about my photographs, "Thank you; you made me laugh." Even if I am a big boy, I must confess that I was very moved and that it almost brought tears to my eyes. This single sentence is the most beautiful reward and the best encouragement that I could receive for my work. Thank you all for your smiles! Pierre Beteille is a self-taught talent in Paris who has an unbridled humor and wit. He takes pride in never having read a book, watched a tutorial or taken a class on photo manipulation. His digital creations are highly original, each image functioning as both a punchline and an act of rebellion. See his work in "Digital Darkroom" which runs from December 17, 2011 - May 28, 2012.

Brewer's Tubular Zen

Living legend Art Brewer graced our Space Thursday night and was one of the nicest guys you could ever meet. He was totally down-to-earth, mellow, funny...and he actually showed up with a crew!
Art Brewer 1/21/10 © Unique for the Space

The last time we had so many people in the green room (really our Reading Room) was when David Hume Kennerly brought his whole family along to man his book-selling table!

After a brief intro to the intro by Annenberg Foundation Exec Director Leonard Aube, who spoke about the unexpected success we've had with our IRIS Nights lectures, Art came out, sat down and starting rolling out waves of images and stories for our delight.

Many of the pictures he showed were dominated by cascading walls of blue...Art Brewer © Unique for the Space

Others showed the secret inner life of tuberiders...
Art Brewer © Unique for the Space

And some were portraits of the many surfers that are Art's real 'crew' - many of whom he has known since he started shooting waves as a teen!
Art Brewer © Unique for the Space

Despite the driving rain outside, the house was full! Many of the guests seemed to be off-duty surfers coming to check in on their pal. And one or two of his photos actually had some land in them!

But the majority of what we saw were these incredible shots of little humans braving giant waves - accompanied by some incredible stories of the guy in the water shooting them!

Afterwards Art graciously took questions (and generously gave answers) to the faithful assembly...

...and then sat and signed books, meeting folks and cracking jokes.

Here he is signing a vintage issue of Surfer - the magazine that published his first cover shot when he was 16 years old.

Dude...how rad is that? (sorry...I had to!)

(all pictures © Unique for the Space)

Maisel makes your mind spin with Black Maps

Not many of our guest lecturers visit the Space to present a collection of images focusing on environmentally-polluted sites and then disassociate their work from the larger effort of global advocacy...especially in regards to our world's water crisis.

But in the case of New York-born Princeton and Harvard grad David Maisel, when it comes to his photography, his work neither represents answers to a conflict nor offers any resolution other than a sense of poetic truth.

...if this is your position David, then thou ART as wise as thou ART beautiful!

Maisel's aerial photographs of sites where the natural ecological order has been eradicated are images of a stunning atrocity.

At first glance, you see a brilliant photograph of splattered colors,

but upon further examination, the photo actually depicts a man-made sea of toxic minerals destroying our environment.

A bittersweet presentation, Maisel's work - titled Black Maps  - is a visually emotional creation that does more than just leave an impression...

...it speaks to the soul.

If you missed the lecture, this is unfortunately one time when you won't be able to watch it online.

However, we will be posting an audio file and a transcript,

as well as a gallery of more photos.

But you must see the work...

...it's truly unique.

Afterward, David was extremely genial and approachable.

He answered questions, chatted with guests...

...signed some copies of his book Oblivion ...

then bid us all goodbye and good night.

(All photos © Unique for the Space)

Larry Towell: 'A Story Is The People In Front Of You'

Larry Towell's life is all about human beings and being human (his business card even says "human being") so it should come as no surprise that he incorporated those themes into last night's IRIS Nights lecture.

The first thing Larry did during the opening of his lecture last was explain why he would not be doing much speaking during his presentation. The reason? The hiccups. Larry explained that he suffered with the hiccups for 2 weeks earlier this summer and decided to put together a photographic slideshow, complete with pre-recorded audio, just in case there was a sudden resurgence of his hiccups while he was up on stage.

Some of the multi-talented photojournalist's slideshows consisted of his poetry and guitar-playing which narrated the photos with forceful artistry.

Larry said that he sometimes collects the ambient sound of places uses that as a soundtrack to his slideshow.

You can hear this natural soundtrack in his series dedicated to the Mennonites.

The Magnum photographer has photographed people all over the globe and spent a chunk of his time talking about his photo series from Palestine. Larry reminded us that "a story is the people in front of you."

Larry, who studied visual arts in college, pointed out: "When you're studying art you're made to believe that you're the center of the universe. But when you actually go out into the universe, you realize that it revolves around you ...and the people that are in front of you become the story." In other words, it really is all about human beings!

Larry's most personal slideshow came at the end of his talk when he showed a series of photographs that focused on the most important people in his life: his wife and children. The beautiful black and white images show the family frolicking in nature as well around their quaint country home.

During the Q&A Larry revealed how he goes about establishing a relationship with his subjects: it takes time. For example, the project with the Mennonites, who rarely allow themselves to be photographed, took him 10 years and 3000 roles of film to complete!

Congratulations, Larry, on a great presentation - and no hiccups!

(All images by Unique for the Space)

Coming To The Space This Summer: BEAUTY CULTURE!

The Space has been open for over two years now and our seventh exhibition will be here sooner than you think - May 21st to be exact. We couldn't be more excited!

BEAUTY CULTURE is a photographic exploration of how feminine beauty is defined, challenged and revered in modern society. The exhibition will include images from some of the most highly respected and world-renowned photographers in the beauty and fashion world.

© Felicia Webb

BEAUTY CULTURE will feature 170 images in our print show and over 500 in the digital one - one of our largest shows ever!

Quick note: Keep in mind that BEAUTY CULTURE does include graphic images, such as those of explicit medical procedures and nudity, and may not be appropriate for all ages.

Beauty Pageant Culture

You'll find an array of photos of beauty pageant contestants in BEAUTY CULTURE. From Miss Senior California, the one and only Pink Lady (you might recognize her Botox-injected lips from our exhibit banners throughout L.A.) to Susan Anderson's toothy-smiled, Beauty, age 4, which greets visitors in the Space's entrance hallway - we see these women prepping for the show and competing as well.

But what happens after the contest?

In celebration of the Miss USA pageant's 60th anniversary, Time Magazine recently asked Anderson (who lectured at the Space and signed copies of her book, High Glitz, on June 16) to shoot portraits of 31 of its past winners.  These queens still have some set ideas about pageant culture.

Miriam (Stevenson) Breckenridge (Miss USA, 1954) now 78, told Time: "...you don't want to be thought of just as the beauty queen. People only remember me for being Miss USA and Miss Universe even all these years later."

Meanwhile, 75-year-old Myrna Hanson (Miss USA, 1953) weighed in on artificial beauty: "At that time, you didn't dare put any pads in your bathing suit, but now I look around and see silicone everywhere. I don't think young people need silicone any place, any time anywhere. It's what you do with what you've got that counts."

To see all of Andersen's portraits in the Time piece, click here.

If you haven't yet seen BEAUTY CULTURE, come see it now before it goes away in November!

Grace Jones is Chris Levine's 'Superstar'

For Grace Jones' 2009 "The Hurricane Tour," "Digital Darkroom" photographer Chris Levine designed an element of the show in which a laser shined at the lustrous Swarovski crystal-encrusted bowler hat the singer wore during her performance of "Love is the Drug." This created a surreal and magical effect on stage that mesmerized the audience. Levine recreated the moment for his stunning photograph of Jones, entitled Superstar, which is above,

Said Chris about the moment in the show: "I got the Royal Festival Hall (in London) to take all lights to black out when we did it first time. The laser coming directly down from above onto (her) crystal headpiece...the audience went wild. It was a magical moment-a kind of flash point. Grace was back! It has to be one of the best live shows I had ever seen by any artist. It was electrifying!"

Want to see for yourself how well Levine's design played out during the show? Then watch Jones' "electrifying" performance of the song in the clip below.

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