BC Space Gallery, Laguna Beach celebrates its 40 year anniversary as a contemporary fine art photography gallery on April 1, 2013. In 2010, to commemorate the venue's nearly four decades long history, an exhibition [BC Space: Mything in Action] was held at California State University, Fullerton's Grand Central Art Center, Santa Ana.
The show featured artwork by 45 artists who exhibited at the gallery over the years. These artists helped BC move forward in its mission to define and exhibit contemporary fine art photography while provoking our opinions and understanding of sex, politics, economics, war, race relations, environmental concerns and other controversial issues.
In turn, many artists shown at the gallery have gone on to recognition and fortune; owning galleries worldwide, exhibiting in galleries and museums, featured in major publications, and chairing university art and photography departments.
In keeping with the BC Space mission, the Grand Central show also documented environmental art projects that BC sponsored and promoted in Southern California, including the Laguna Canyon Project, The Tell and the Legacy Project.
Going through BC Space Gallery archives, a 1984 publication, Obscura, published by the Los Angeles Center for Photographic Studies, was unearthed. Within that publication is an article, documenting the first decade of the gallery, written by Linda Bellon, a photographic artist.
Here is Bellon's 1984 article:
BC Space: Maturation of a Contemporary Pioneering Effort
Although the words "contemporary" and "pioneer" evoke opposing ideas, they well describe Jerry Burchfield and Mark Chamberlain, co-owners and directors of BC Space Gallery in Laguna Beach. Like Steiglitz, nearly a century before them, Burchfield and Chamberlain are devoted to the promotion and public acceptance of photography as a fine art form.
Steiglitz fought his battle well, but photography, as all art media and forms, requires a new battle with each generation for its acceptance. Burchfield and Chamberlain contributed much energy to this battle at a time when photographs were not always accepted by the art establishment...
In 1971, Mark Chamberlain convinced Laguna Beach Art Festival officials...to allow two eight-foot pegboard panels for exhibiting the dubious medium. Jerry Burchfield answered a local newspaper ad placed by Chamberlain to solicit photographs for the Art Festival. As a result of their meeting, Burchfield became enthusiastically involved in the exhibit.
They obtained two Outerbridge prints from Lois Outerbridge. Having no idea of their value, they displayed them along with the other prints...
Realizing the need for a center to serve as a focal point for local photographic energy, Chamberlain later proposed co-ownership of a commercial lab, which would support this type of endeavor. Thinking it was merely talk, Burchfield agreed and was later surprised when he received a call from Chamberlain who had just rented a space. The space was on the second floor of an architecturally intriguing building, which formerly served as the local Masonic Lodge.
Opening the Space
On April Fools Day, 1973, against much well meaning advice, BC Space opened for business. Neither partner was aware of the other's lack of interest in the commercial side of their endeavor. Burchfield, who had been employed as a commercial photographer, was growing increasingly interested in his art photography and, in fact, soon returned to school for his master's degree in art.
Chamberlain, who held a master's degree in business administration, had long since decided that the artistic side of photography, not the business side, was his main interest. However, the lab provided the ideal situation. It supported the photographers' artwork and began to serve the photography community in an unplanned way.
Realizing the local photographers' need for exhibition space, Burchfield and Chamberlain began inviting artists to exhibit photographs in their foyer...
By 1978, BC Space Lab had grown lucrative enough to support the addition of a gallery. Because Burchfield and Chamberlain felt that a gallery's main role was to educate, they continued to exhibit the work of many photographers who had not had much exposure...it gained a reputation for exhibiting work by local artists, such as Patrick Nagatani, Michael Levine, and Sheila Pinkel, before the work received widespread attention.
Burchfield and Chamberlain also contributed to local photography's growth by presenting workshops and lectures, reviewing portfolios whenever possible, and being supportive and helpful toward amateur, student, and emerging photographers. They felt that having a space to exhibit gives an artist the impetus to carry through an idea.
By creating the unique situation of a commercial lab that supports a gallery, Burchfield and Chamberlain were free to exhibit work chosen solely for its artistic value, without consideration of marketability.
Improving the Gallery
Toward the end of 1980...Burchfield and Chamberlain decided to keep the gallery only if they could improve it. They planned an auction to support the building of a second gallery room. The auction's success was dependent on the photographers enlisted to donate prints.
In response to Burchfield's and Chamberlain's request, 260 pieces by 150 artists from across the country arrived at BC Space! The support from the photography community was overwhelming. The gallery was virtually converted into a museum where visitors spent three to four hours viewing prints by Matthew Brady, Imogen Cunningham, George Hurrel, Philippe Halsman, Andre Kertez and Helmut Newton, as well as work by young artists from California.
A tremendous amount of hard work, artist support, and volunteer help secured the auction's success and financed the second gallery room. Burchfield and Chamberlain were assured of the photographic community's support and interest.
They have since improved invitations and mailers, created a new filing system for reference slides, renovated the gallery, and hired a full-time assistant. The exhibits usually include three photographers: two local artists and one from outside the Los Angeles area. The openings now approximate 200 people.
10 Year Anniversary
The opening reception for the ten-year anniversary celebration and the exhibit entitled "Ooparts the Uncategorical," which followed April Fools Day 1983, again provided local artist support. The exciting and unusual exhibition which featured the "ooparts" (visions, artifacts and technologies that are unconnected to the time period of their discovery and/or are unable to fit into any previously established categories of classification) of 55 previous BC Space exhibitors was attended by 300 people on opening night...
The partners are pleased with the growing artistic energy in Orange County. They are hopeful that Laguna Museum visitors will cross the street to BC Space to discover that contemporary photography is not only every bit as vital as other contemporary media, but also often defies categorization. They hope to bridge the gaps and break classifications that keep photography separate today, decades after Stieglitz's struggle. However, unlike Steiglitz, who himself became convinced of the superior vitality of traditional art media, Burchfield and Chamberlain remain enthusiastically committed to photography. Indeed they are contemporary pioneers. © 1984 Los Angeles Center for Photographic Studies
BC Space Today
A stone's throw from the Pacific Ocean, BC Space, located in an 80-year-old building of a former Masonic Lodge, replete with small stage, ancient lavatory and three darkrooms, has been quietly making waves for 38 years.
Born from the fervent but not widely accepted belief in photography as a valid art form, Mark Chamberlain and Jerry Burchfield supported the venue by shooting and processing film for museums, galleries, artists and print publications.
Over the years, BC Space has generated standing room only photographic art shows, many with a politically liberal emphasis, as well as groundbreaking environmental artwork and installations that have helped preserve the bucolic face of Laguna Beach while attracting major press nationwide.
Employees, artists and supporters have come and gone, Jerry Burchfield left for more lucrative pastures in 1987, then passed away in 2009, while Mark Chamberlain has continued to man the helm and reinvent the space physically and metaphorically over the years.
Today, BC Space, as one of the longest running venues of its kind nationwide, has dramatically influenced our appreciation for photographic art.
See also Laguna Canyon Project page.
Comments for Mark Chamberlain
HOUSE BOAT AND RIVER TRIPPING
Your work has all the elements I appreciate and then some.
Hope you are going to produce something soon on your River trips.
All the best,
Art has always been the central focus
by: Jorg Dubin
"I can only say that in all the years I have known Mark and BC space, that my experiences there have always been unique and rewarding on many levels.
"The personal conversations I have had with Mark at random moments over the course of unmarked time have allowed me to understand this individual, (and I do mean individual),in a way that has reflected back on my own thoughts and views of a complex world.
"Art has always been the central focus of our relationship however the lexicon of our conversation has transcended that elusive topic to other areas of social and political relevance. Always with a good dose of humor and irony. I am thankful that in a commerce driven art world that we, artists, art lovers, protagonists and certainly the region as a whole are very fortunate that Mark and Jerry landed here to add such an important venue to Southern California's creative community."Back to top