BC Space Gallery, founded by Mark Chamberlain and Jerry Burchfield, has been a fixture in Laguna for so long—since 1973—that visitors and passers-by tend to forget how pioneering this space was in its early days. Yet, the gallery and lab were founded to promote photographic art back when few art venues were willing to exhibit this medium.
Jerry and Mark were neophytes in the gallery business; yet they possessed the drive and spirit to promote this significant medium. Jerry, previously employed as a commercial photographer, was increasingly interested in the art side of his chosen field: while Mark, having attained advanced degrees in political science and operations research, discovered that photography was his real passion and life pursuit.
Former Masonic Lodge
The partners set up a studio and lab in a second story former Masonic Lodge in Laguna Beach to provide custom work for the growing cadre of photographic artists. Their underlying goal was to establish a work space and income, freeing them to create their own photographic art images and to offer exhibition space for the work of others. Within months, they were exhibiting prints by better-known artists such as Darryl Curran and Victor Landweber, as well as that of such emerging photographers as Patrick Nagatani, Michael Levine and Sheila Pinkel.
In 1976, the partners formally converted the BC foyer area into a gallery and added an extra room. By then the photo lab and studio services were capable of supporting monthly exhibitions, most of which dealt with contemporary societal issues. In 1981, they held an auction to support the construction of a third exhibition space. In response to their query for photographic artwork, 150 artists from across the country sent images to BC Space in support of the gallery’s commitment to photography! For this exhibition, the entire space was converted into a veritable museum, displaying prints by Matthew Brady, Imogen Cunningham, George Hurrel, Philippe Halsman, André Kertész and Helmut Newton, side by side with work by unrecognized photographic artists. The auction was a great success and revitalized the BC Space mission.
Standing Room Only
By the mid-1980’s, BC Space openings were often standing room only, with major publications regularly covering their shows. As a commercial enterprise, the venue was providing quality work for clients, including the Orange County Register. BC processed and matted that newspaper’s 1984 Olympic photographs to museum standards, creating the visual presentation for which the Register won that year’s Pulitzer Prize.
In 1987, Jerry left BC Space to pursue a full-time teaching career. Once the dust of that agonizing separation had settled, Mark expanded the gallery’s perspectives, including exhibiting other visual and performance media on an equal footing with photography. “Ideas and issues expressed through art became more important to me than displaying just one medium,” he explains. “Besides, photography had secured its place in the art world.”
In 2010, BC Space’s exhibition history, much of its work infused with social, political and environmental themes, was displayed at Grand Central Art Center gallery, Cal State Fullerton, “BC Space: Mything in Action.” (A book of the same name was published in 2013.)
Shortly before Jerry Burchfield passed away in September 2009, he told me, “There wasn’t any separation between art and life. We did our work out of love, and attracted extraordinary people to share in our mission. Anyone could approach us about exhibiting here. BC Space was like living a dream. We created a playland that allowed us to explore art and life.”
(See also Laguna Canyon Project.)