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Art review: John Humble Other Places/Venice' at Craig Krull Gallery

May 5, 2011 |  3:00 pm

Over the last 30 years, John Humble has photographed Los Angeles as if he were making a great, multifaceted portrait of someone he loved. His crystalline pictures find beauty, romance and empathy, as well as enchantment, surprise and delight, where you’d least expect it: in the buildings, roads and overpasses we routinely drive by.

Humble IowaHumble’s laser-sharp prints reveal as much about the character and substance of Los Angeles as they do about his sensibility and perspective. His open-minded attitude is animated by calm curiosity, keen attentiveness and the patience to wait for those loaded moments when everything falls into place and serendipity delivers insights beyond words.

At Craig Krull Gallery, a two-part exhibition titled “Other Places/Venice” shows Humble doing two things: taking his long-cultivated outlook on the road and zeroing in on neighborhood eccentrics. For the last four years, since his mid-career survey at the J. Paul Getty Museum, “A Place in the Sun: Photographs of Los Angeles by John Humble,” the hard-working photographer has criss-crossed the country, getting off the beaten path to capture the mundane strangeness that defines life in the United States.

Neither formulaic nor spectacular, his pictures of small-town intersections, shiny grain silos, shuttered storefronts and mom and pop shops make Middle America look flat-out extraordinary. Scratch the surface of any of Humble’s roadside photographs and real weirdness bleeds through — not the stylized eccentricity of niche-marketed products, but the naked charge of ordinary folks struggling to wrestle something authentic and meaningful from a landscape that couldn’t care less about their wants and needs.

Desperation is present in Humble’s best photos. It’s always accompanied by a sense of long-shot possibility, a sort of last-ditch optimism that is laced with defiance and does not go quietly.

Humble Apartments-and-CasinoIn the show’s largest image, Humble transforms a blacktop road through an Iowa cornfield into a powerful parable about life’s ups and downs, in which the desire to get away from it all collides with responsibilities that cannot be shirked. Other stunners suggest that although the West may have been won in the 19th century, it’s on the brink of being lost in the 21st, its plains and prairies becoming their own sort of ghost towns.

Humble’s pictures of misfits, eccentrics and perfectly ordinary folks on the boardwalk in Venice reveal the extremes to which Americans sometimes go to make lives for themselves in a world overrun by push-button experiences and prepackaged tastes. Turning Southern California sunshine into harsh, unforgiving light, Humble lays bare the humanity that pulses beneath the tawdry showmanship and superficial gimmickry all around us. It’s worth a second-look. And a third. And the sympathy it triggers sticks with you long after that.

-- David Pagel

Craig Krull Gallery, ends Saturday. 2525 Michigan Ave., Bergamot Station, Santa Monica, (310) 828-6410, www.craigkrullgallery.com.

Images: Top, John Humble, "Driving West, Great River Road, Iowa," Bottom, John Humble, "Apartments and Casino, Atlantic City, New Jersey," Credit for both: Courtesy of Craig Krull Gallery

 

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