Photographic Beauty

By Sarah Spitz

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Photographic Beauty
Scarlett Hooft Graafland, Pink Lady
If it hadn’t been for an offer of a jar of “Quarantinara” (a tomato marinara sauce he canned during the pandemic) in exchange for a donation to a non-profit organization, I might never have started following adventurer/photographer (and mini-philanthropist!) Michael Lee Jackson on Facebook. And I would’ve missed quite possibly the single-most riveting image of the 2019 SuperBloom season, taken by Michael, alongside numerous other amazing photographs shot on the road and at home, where he is most often accompanied by his superdog companion, Shadow. When I found out that a number of his photographs would be shown at Bergamot Art Station’s Galerie XII, I arrived early for the opening reception in June. That Superbloom photo is one of the highlights of “Michael Lee Jackson: Being There.” Glad I got the chance to soak up the energy emanating from the walls and the breathtaking beauty of his work, plus a little time to catch up and talk. Never heard of him? Well, I only knew him as a friend of a real-life friend, then began following his Facebook page, where he posts his most recent images. Then I decided I need to know more about him, so I dug into his website. Talk about a renaissance man! A former lawyer, a guitarist, a touring and recorded rock musician, a published photographer with the world’s coolest dog. Irresistible combo. On top of which he’s a mensch!
Carole Azuar, Bubble 2, 2022
Galerie XII has paired his Superbloom photos with his Star Circles (time lapse images of the stars over a fixed location) and they’re mesmerizing. Don’t ignore the side gallery with vistas viewed from window frames. There is also a book: SUPERBLOOM: Carrizo Plain National Monument available at the gallery and at:
The entire Gallerie XII offers a riveting visual experience. Another photographer, Carole Azuar, is a neurologist from Paris who scuba dives and shoots her images, titled “Abyss Blue,” in deep ocean waters. I fell head over heels in love with “Bubble 2,” a single air bubble from a scuba diver suspended in the deepest, most profound blue I think I have ever seen.

She’s been doing this for 17 years, and you’ll see images of undersea flowers, bubbles, coral and more. You could argue that what we see underwater, in part mirrors what our brains look like. And she describes how each ribbon of the color spectrum drops out one by one the deeper you sink so there’s only blue, but when she adds a flash you see the vibrant colors well below the surface: yellow, deep aquamarine blue, teal, even peacock blues and greens. It’s a dreamy underwater-scape and very meditative.

And then there’s Dutch photographer and sculptor Scarlett Hooft Graafland. She creates surreal images that are NOT photoshopped (she uses an analog camera) but ARE manually manipulated – in several instances, actually embroidered onto the photo paper itself. She takes her lens to such remote and inhospitable landscapes as the Bolivian salt flats, the Canadian Arctic, the islands Socotra (Yemen) and Vanuatu, staging surrealistic ruminations on nature, reality and fantasy by adding completely unexpected elements.

In one image, a woman in a pink dress, wearing a bowler hat with braids down her back, stands in a desolate landscape where two other bowler hats are mysteriously suspended in air. Very much in the vein of Magritte but utterly unique. But she leaves just the tiniest shine on the wire that suspends the hats so you know it’s a human intervention. Other images feature women, often in black, sometimes in brilliantly colored billowing fabrics, juxtaposed against structural objects set in a stark landscape.

Gallerie XII is located at Bergamot Art Station in Santa Monica, where parking is free and now there are two places to eat: the well-established popular Birdie G’s and the new outdoor grilling restaurant that took over the former Bergamot Café space, called Le Great Outdoor. Birdie G’s is dinner only; Le Great Outdoor takes reservations for dinner but according to their website, they’re now serving lunch, walk-ins only.
Find Gallerie XII information here: These photographs will be on view through August 31.

Sarah A. Spitz is an award-winning public radio producer, retired from KCRW, where she also produced arts stories for NPR. She writes features and reviews for various print and online publications.
Michael Lee Jackson, Star Circles series: Refuge.

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August 4, 2023