Story Time with Mark Laita

It was my first week on the job interning for the Annenberg Foundation and already I was sent to cover one of our IRIS Nights lectures, a favorite among dedicated fans.

That night Mark Laita spoke about his new photobook, Created Equal, a collection of black and white photo diptychs contrasting the portraits of everyday Americans by putting, for example, a picture of Baptist minister next to members of the Ku Klux Klan or nuns next to prostitutes. The inspiration for the project is incredible: Laita left behind his polished life in the advertising world to find the real America he grew up with, the one he wanted to make sure the world would never forget.

But what stuck out to me was not necessarily his professional or captivating photos (which are absolutely incredible) but the way he engaged us in the process.  I found myself leaning forward, completely engrossed in every word, waiting on the edge of my seat for the next description of the photo pair.

His tales of having breakfast with the Hell's Angels, coercing an Amish man into being photographed or becoming best buds with some weed farmers had me and the rest of the audience rolling in laughter. It felt like you were getting to know his subjects personally and the portraits became more than pictures, they were real life people who were living in the same country as myself.   But that was the point.  He wanted to elevate the raw and rugged America to a place of glamor and importance.

"I was trying to find hidden gems that are normally overlooked," said Laita during his presentation, "It's not about finding these grand/great people, it's about finding the ordinary people and making them look great."

Later someone from the audience asked him what statement he was trying to make with comparing nuns to prostitutes.  Laita just smiled and said he meant to pass no judgment; he simply wanted to ask the question, "How then can two girls grow up in the same county and have two completely different fates?"

And from where I was sitting it was mission accomplished for every picture I saw I asked myself the same question. There are two men who look strikingly similar and I asked myself so how is it that one became a CEO and the other a janitor?   

Learn more about Mark on his official website.

(All lecture images by Unique for the Space)

Henry Rollins Rocks IRIS Nights

It was an honor to have Henry Rollins take part in IRIS Nights last night. Rollins spoke about his travels around the globe and the photographs he took of the different people and cultures during those trips. The Photography Space was packed - standing room only! One of those in the crowd was featured photographer, Ed Colver, whose photo of Rollins greets visitors as on an oversized layover on the front door of our building.

Rollins, Colver, and his giant image of the rocker on the door in the same place at the same time? That's a rare moment so there was only one thing we could do: post-lecture, we had Rollins and Colver pose in front of the door and we got the cool shot above!

We'll have Rollins' lecture on our site soon and Colver himself will take the IRIS Nights stage in September.

Photo by Unique Nicole for the Space.

"Burden of Thirst" with Lynn Johnson and special guest Jim Thebaut

Lynn Johnson, one of the featured photographers in our current exhibition, WATER: Our Thirsty World, was joined at the Space on Thursday by documentary filmmaker, Jim Thebaut.

The two environmental activists delivered a moving recount of the water crisis that included a blend of powerful imagery and stories of local heroes who act for change in their communities.

For what she describes as one of the most meaningful photographic works of her life, Lynn traveled on assignment for National Geographic to Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia to learn and document the stories of women and children and their struggle to gather water.

To find these stories, National Geographic partnered with WaterAid, an NGO nestled in the community - that has helped to implement responsible and sustainable solutions to overcome the crisis in these areas.

With the help of WaterAid, water committees made up of local constituents including women, have been established providing women the resources and education to organize and manage water and sanitation facilities.

Lynn's images depict the burden of water and the burden of violence as a connected conflict facing all women in these communities-

the sickness and disease experienced due to contaminated water and lack of hygiene education,

...inadequate human waste disposals due to water inaccessibility,

...and sexual violence and physical abuse due to long distance travels to find safe water.

While Lynn and Jim's lecture focused on the challenges of the water crisis,

it delivers a message of how individuals can create change with global impact right from their very own back yards.

To learn more about how you can create change visit WaterAid.com.

Francine Orr: The Listening Comes First

This is what Francine Orr revealed early on in her IRIS Nights talk: "photojournalism is my passion." The LA Times photographer showed just how much she cares about the people she photographs by giving an awfully touching and moving lecture.

The first series of photographs in Francine's presentation focused on her documentation of people in Africa who live on just pennies a day. She told the audience that she had a hard time talking to people suffering from poverty but spoke to them anyway due to a strong urge to tell their stories.

Francine spent a bit of time talking about one photo in particular, that of a wide-eyed African woman named Margaret who was dying of HIV.

She described the moment she convinced Margaret's children to allow her to photograph their mother. She told them that the haunting image would tell the world her story and in turn this would help others.

Francine uttered several fervent soundbites during the lecture. One of our favorites was "Poverty sucks!"

Orr has spent a large amount of her career ensconced in dangerous places all over the world. She recounted one story about a time when she was in Africa and suspected her "fixer," the man she hired to protect/translate for her, planned to rob her of her expensive camera equipment.

She remembered how she'd been told by others in her field to go with her instincts. One morning, she wisely ditched him and went out on her own for the rest of her trip.

Francine also went into detail about how she befriended several homeless people she documented who live under the 7th Street Bridge in LA.

During the presentation of her final slideshow, Francine held a brave 7-month old baby boy who is the subject of a story to be published in an upcoming edition of the LA Times - a truly touching moment. That night he became the youngest person to go up on our IRIS Nights stage!

When asked by an audience member if she records interviews with her subjects before she starts photographing them, or shoots them first and then interviews them, Orr responded that's it's neither. For her, the listening comes first. When dealing with a story, she says, "the number one thing I try to do is listen." Quite a statement for a photographer.

Her two years working for the Peace Corps, on the island of Yap in Micronesia, was where she said she really learned to listen. She taught in a school there with no electricity, no outside communication except for visiting documentary film crews and anthropologists. Gathering around oil lanterns at night the Yapese people would share stories with her and each other...with not a single distraction. One of her former students from Yap - now living in the US - recently found her on Facebook and came to the lecture with a sister in tow!

Thanks, Francine, for sharing such moving and inspiring stories. We hope to hear more of them in the future!

For more information about Francine visit her upcoming official Website.

We at the Space are very excited to bring you videos of IRIS Nights lectures in a more timely manner. Click here to watch Francine's lecture online!

(All images by Unique for the Space)

Make Me Beautiful


Matthew Rolston, an icon in fashion photography, came to entertain us at the IRIS Nights lecture yesterday. He also brought his long time friend, journalist Merle Ginsberg. Her questions and insight into Matthew's work helped reveal exciting information about his unique body of work.

Rolston confessed that he didn't see himself as simply a photographer or director but rather an 'idea' person, wanting to extend his talents into all areas of the creative world.

Rolston also explained his process of creation as collaborative and told stories of working with Anna Nicole Smith or Christina Aguilera. Aguilera actually came to him a year in advance in order to plan a photo idea for her upcoming album release.


Rolston then provided insight to his role in the industry and his vision for expanding the cannon of beauty. "For me photography is worship." said Rolston, "Human desire is about genetics - survival. The things we consider to be beautiful...go to the core of survival."

In a surprise turn of events the two guest speakers invited the entire audience to join them in a drink, outside on the plaza at our first IRIS Nights complimentary cocktail party.

Needless to say it was a glamorous night out with the Annenberg Foundation and two hundred of Rolston's closest brand new friends

Thank you Mr. Rolston for a lovely evening.

Spotted at the Space: Ted Danson & Mary Steenburgen

Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen stopped by the Space last night to take in last night's IRIS Nights lecture, which was presented by their pal (and featured Who Shot Rock & Roll photographer) Guy Webster. Look for his lecture to be added to our past lecture videos page in the very near future!

Photo by Unique Nicole for the Space

Rickman Rocked!

Who's Afraid of Getting Old? Not Rick Rickman or his subjects!

© Unique for the Photo Space - Rick Rickman

Last night Rick Rickman pulled back the veil on a "senior underground - a movement that few know about and little has been written about. It's the venue in which people over 60 are enjoying the aging experience by keeping themselves enthusiastically engaged in life itself."

His infectious enthusiasm and personal stories about the geri-athletes he profiles were the perfect mix. Rick even brought along some of his subjects, including senior surfer Eve Fletcher - who at 83 years is still catching the waves!

© Unique for the Photo Space - Rickman and Eve Fletcher - senior surfer

Apparently Rick hangs ten with Eve a few mornings a week and she cuts him NO slack....

© Unique for the Photo Space - Rickman with photo of Eve Fletcher

She was similarly feisty in the Q&A that followed the lecture - for us she was the poster girl of the lecture.

© Unique for the Photo Space - Rickman and Fletcher
Rick also had on hand a couple of prize winning weight lifters named Bill Cunningham and Jane Hesselgesser whose physiques were in perfect form...and they were well past retirement age.

© DS for the Photo Space - Rick with image of Bill and Jane
Holy Jack LaLane!

The list went on as did the expectation-challenging images. Senior synchronized swimmers, shot-putters and Iron Man competitors!

© DS for the Photo Space - Senior Synchronized Swimmers

© DS for the Photo Space - Senior Shot Putter

Apparently one Rick's subjects, Sister Madonna Buder (not pictured here) finished Iron Man (26 mile run 10 mile swim and 100 mile bike tournament) 22 TIMES - once with broken ribs, elbow and shoulder!

Just when we thought we couldn't see something new at the Photo Space - it came wrapped in the package of something old...amazing athletes with an amazing life perspectives captured by an amazing photographer.

© Unique for the Photo Space - Rick Rickman greeting guests
Thank you Rick Rickman.

The Space brings a little (Ken) Light to Town


Imagine photographing in complete darkness using a Hasselblad camera no auto focus, no fast film, with a single flash. Today this scenario would present quite the challenge but in 1982 it was the technique of photography and single best method for highly acclaimed photographer Ken Light.


Born in the Bronx, raised in East Meadows, NY- social photographer, organizer and filmmaker Mr. Light graced the stage at the Space and he brought the nostalgia of film and the great photographers of the past with him.


Covering his works of the last 40-years, Ken presented images of the 1970 Ohio State University riots, travels with President Nixon, race relations in Mississippi, to his current portfolio documenting the socioeconomic decline of California Central Valley.


He also discussed his now famous coverage of death row inmates and gave a nod to his recent court case with Current TV and Al Gore - where he sued for their unauthorized use of one of his images

...sadly the court sided with the other guy!

And of course as a professor and curator at the University of Berkley, Ken did not fail to mention the great traditions of American photography or its founders...


...giving shout outs to the great Lewis Hine, Dorothea Lange, and Walker Evans and their work during the Great Depression. During the lecture, Ken explained that it is the duty of every generation of photographers to reexamine the same issues of the past so these issues don't go ignored.

In other words, New School meet the Old School


and don't forget the R-E-S-P-E-C-T!

After answering questions from the audience, Ken autographed books in the ASP Reading Room.

Thank you Professor Light! Very illuminating!

(All pictures © Unique for the Space)

Recent Developments: Douglas Kirkland

"Recent Developments" is a new regular feature on the blog that will keep you up to speed on what's going on with photographers who have exhibited or lectured at the Space in the past. It will be a place where you can find out where work by these photographers is currently being exhibited and what new adventures they have embarked upon since we last saw them. We hope you enjoy reading these updates about our friends as much as we enjoy passing them along!

The first photographer in our "Recent Developments" update is Douglas Kirkland, who was featured in the Space's very first exhibition, L8S ANG3LES, a show that that included such iconic photos of his as the one of Marilyn Monroe above.

He was also our very FIRST IRIS Nights guest lecturer!

The famed photographer is having his first major retrospective in Australia, titled "Douglas Kirkland: A Life in Pictures," right now! All of our Aussie readers should rush over to Brisbane's Gallery of Modern Art to check out.

Aside from Monroe, photos by Douglas of Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Judy Garland, Stevie Wonder, Jack Nicholson, Andy Warhol, Gabrielle 'Coco' Chanel and many others are included in the collection. Also, in what sounds like an astonishing addition, is a large set of photos taken on the set of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" music video. The exhibit closes on October 24.

You can listen to an informative interview with Douglas conducted by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation about the exhibit here.

Here's Douglas at the opening of our Space standing between our fearless leader, Wallis Annenberg, and L8S ANG3LES photographer Greg Gorman, along with other exhibiting photographers like (clockwise) Carolyn Cole, guest curator Anne Wilkes Tucker, Julius Shulman, Kirk McKoy, our Foundation co-director Gregory Annenberg Weingarten and Tim Street-Porter.

Keep checking back on the blog for more "Recent Developments!"

Intoxicating Beauty

It was an incredible privilege to go to Andrew Southam's IRIS Nights lecture at the Annenberg Space for Photography. Southam, an Australian born beauty photographer, spoke with such genuine humility and introspection that it was hard not to fall in love him and his work.

He had such a sweet demeanor that when Southam admitted to a lifelong obsession with female beauty and being 'intoxicated by the fun of it all', the audience seemed to beam.

Throughout his talk Southam illustrated remarkable self-awareness describing himself as a "boy who spent his life, quite literally, on one knee in front of beauty."

He even opened up about sometimes feeling flustered in front of such direct sexuality.

But the core of his honesty was exposed when describing June Browne Newton and her husband Helmut Newton. Southam revered Helmut and became friends with June Newton after her husband's death. She continues to profoundly impact his life and his professional career to this day.

Southam also answered how and why questions regarding his famous techniques. "I am a student of lighting," confessed Southam when describing how he avoided using Photoshop or digital enhancing mechanisms.

"I always wanted to make my subjects look beautiful. I like people to look like they would on their best day," Southam explained when asked why he developed his unique style.

The sincerity of the lecture had the audience complimenting and thanking Southam for such a wonderful job. But, at the end of the day, he confessed that his main desire is to stay true to himself.

"You can only be who you are," said Southam in a statement to sum up the evening. And for both the aspiring photographers and non-photographers, it was probably his best piece of advice.

After the lecture Southam mingled with the crowd including his friends and peers, Joe Pugliese and Art Streiber.

For more information on Andrew Southam and his new photo series click here

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