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Art review: Mark Swope at Craig Krull Gallery

February 5, 2010 |  8:00 pm

400.M.SWOPE_M06-0362-1 Mark Swope's photographs of the Los Angeles River are documents in the truest sense – not just evidence, but (using the Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary's definition) lessons, warnings. In the large, black and white pictures at Craig Krull, Swope assumes a straightforward stance. Each view is crisp, neatly organized, dense with information. There are no theatrics at work in terms of lighting or composition, but that doesn't make the images neutral, only less overt in their revelation of tragedy.

The river was a magnet to the area's earliest settlers, a life-spring. But as the city grew, and its unpredictable floods caused damage and death, the river turned into a danger and grand-scale inconvenience. Officials chose to tame it within concrete banks, and by the late 1950s, the river was fully denatured.

Swope's photographs, made between 2003 and 2007, present the river as yet another stripe in the urban landscape, alongside the strands of rail tracks, beneath the sweep of power lines. In one of the pictures, the sinuous course of the train tracks looks downright organic compared with  the river's graceless path. There are more lovely sections to the river than the ones Swope has shot, but these, in which the river is part of an angular hardscape of concrete, gravel, stone and iron, are the most instructive. They present the strongest evidence against the status quo, a powerful, plain-spoken case for the river's revitalization.

– Leah Ollman

Craig Krull Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 828-6410, through Feb. 20. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.craigkrullgallery.com

Image: I-5 Freeway from Riverside-Figueroa Bridge, 2006. Courtesy of Craig Krull Gallery.

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