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photo l.a. opens -- call it Raging Image World

January 9, 2009 |  5:56 pm

Photo_la_0012 It's a good thing the Barker Hangar at Santa Monica Airport is a building of relatively modest size. Because, as it is, about 70 U.S. and international galleries, including book dealers, line the three aisles of photo l.a., the 18th annual (and now much-anticipated) photography fair that just opened to the public. The number of pictures on immediate view -- on walls and tables; in bins, folders and opened books; on video screens, etc. -- is in the thousands upon thousands. And, if you ask, you'll find that most dealers have more tucked away.

Such is the ubiquity of camera work, from 19th century tintypes to 21st century digital images, and photo l.a. is reputed to be the largest exhibition of its kind. If you can't find something here that knocks you out, you're just not trying.

Still, once you've plunged into Raging Image World, it does take awhile to get your bearings. And if, at the end of the far aisle, you're nonplused by encountering a sweet yellow Labrador retriever that is also a trained guide dog, the explanation comes soon enough: Peter Eckert is a blind person who makes photographs using the senses of sound and touch rather than sight. "I am not trying to depict the sighted world," he says in a handout. "I am trying to show the world I now see using my other senses."

The opening afternoon crowd Friday was sizable though not huge, but certainly enthusiastic. One effect of the economic downturn is that the art market has shed most of the rampaging herd of speculators more interested in chasing investments than in chasing the right works of art. It's just as well -- although expect the crowds to be larger on the weekend (photo l.a. ends Sunday).

-- Christopher Knight

Photo credit: Christopher Knight