Art review: Charles Brittin at Michael Kohn
Photographer Charles Brittin died in January, and the sparkling show of his work from the 1950s and ‘60s at Michael Kohn makes a fine tribute. The exhibition also serves as a teaser to the array of Pacific Standard Time offerings due to start unfurling in the fall, adding more and more texture to our understanding of postwar culture in L.A.
A handful of Brittin’s shots of Wallace Berman and the Ferus group have become visual touchpoints of the era — candid, intimate and telling. This 70-print show, organized by Kristine McKenna, expands upon those familiar images to include Brittin’s keen observations of the city as a hybrid of found and fabricated wonders. A picture of a funhouse on the Ocean Park pier, its gables and shutters purposely askew, hangs above an image of its real-life counterpart, two abandoned buildings in Venice, one with its unhinged door laid sideways and the other standing at a diagonal tilt. Like many a street photographer before him, Brittin reveled in the idiosyncratic vernacular and the punchy wit to be found in signage and newsstand headlines.
Throughout the ‘60s, Brittin was deeply involved in social protests and the struggle for civil rights, and his photographs capture a sense of both individual empowerment and collective strength. A shot from 1967, looking up a slight rise on Wilshire, pictures antiwar protesters as a descending wave, a surging forward force. An image from a 1965 CORE demonstration edits out personal information to frame the scene purely in terms of action and skin color: a black hand tries to stay a pair of white hands that are gripping upended black legs. At one such demonstration, he recalls with relish in the accompanying catalogue, an officer grabbed his camera and asked, “Do you have any other weapons on you?”
-- Leah Ollman