Mark and Jerry, 1978
In downtown Laguna Beach, a Frisbee‘s throw from the ocean, there‘s an innocuous steel door with a discreet sign that says "BC Space." Open that door, climb a steep, narrow stairway to a large, bright entryway lined with artworks. Walk into two well-lit galleries, the second with a skylight and black ceiling. Continue into a large open area, the combined studio/entertainment/performance area. Facilities include a small stage from the Masonic Lodge that earlier occupied the space, a first-rate sound system, a projection screen, and large glass doors facing a quiet lane. Mark Chamberlain
and Jerry Burchfield
opened BC Photography and Custom Lab Services in Laguna Beach, California on April 1, 1973. "BC" combined the owners’ last initials, and also placed it high up on the phone book’s yellow pages—its only advertising.
Mark and Jerry opened this venue, later renamed "BC Space," "to both generate income and provide the tools needed to explore and print our own and others’ photographic art
," Mark explains. "With proceeds from this work, we were free to exhibit contemporary work based solely on merit, not salability."
At that time, there were no other photography labs in the area producing the quality color and black & white prints that Jerry and Mark desired for their own artwork. They chose the original 900 square foot upstairs location on Forest Avenue for its inexpensive, convenient, and desirable location.
The partners set up a studio and lab in a second story space 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.
Custom Film Processing
By 1974 they had added custom film processing, archival b&w printing, art reproduction (transparencies and negatives), restoration of old photographs, photography for museum and gallery brochures and catalogs, commercial specialty printing, and artist’s portfolio printing.
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, many of which dealt with contemporary societal issues. These shows also generated a larger interest and audience for art with social relevance among photographers and non-photographers.
As word spread about their innovative shows, BC exhibitions became standing-room-only events, some attended by hundreds of people, many gaining coverage by local—and national—media. At that time, museums and universities were beginning to recognize the growing allure of photography as art. Yet few art galleries exhibited photography in the front gallery space. Mark and Jerry were helping to change this, prominently featuring photography.
Jerry explained, "We were a pioneering entity showing aggressively contemporary work by some of the most innovative photographers in the country. We ignored the tourist tradition of most Laguna galleries. As our audience was mainly artists and enthusiasts, not collectors, we often spent more money on exhibits than we took in."
In 1981, BC Space held its Photography Auction Exhibition
, published an extensive catalogue, and formally hung 245 works by little-known to famous photographers—among them Ansel Adams, John Divola and Brett Weston. The exhibit received extensive media attention, and took in $18,000, but Jerry and Mark had spent everything they had on the show—remodeling the space to accommodate the exhibition, mounting the exhibition, and publishing a major catalogue.
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.
As BC Space grew in vision, complexity of exhibitions, and size, several hundred people joined its evolution. These employees, volunteers, and artists helped construct the space, mount the shows, display their own work, and even perform there. The Space became a multidisciplinary venue, encompassing all visual arts including film and performance arts.
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.)
From October 2015 through January 2016, an exhibition on the Laguna Canyon Project
(which was spawned at BC Space in 1980), titled "The Canyon Project: Artivism," was held at Laguna Art Museum, Laguna Beach, California. A book on the Laguna Canyon Project is scheduled to be published in 2016.
Shortly before Jerry Burchfield passed away in September 2009, he explained, "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."