Laguna Canyon Project

"The Laguna Canyon Project: Defining Artivism" is scheduled to be published by Laguna Wilderness Press in 2015. The book will be about the Laguna Canyon Project (1980-2010), a multi-faceted photographic art project that brought attention to and promoted preservation of Laguna Canyon; the Canyon is one of the last natural corridors to the Pacific Ocean in Southern California. Concurrent with the book publication, there will be an exhibition of the Laguna Canyon Project at the Laguna Art Museum.

By employing numerous artistic tools, the Project also stimulated community involvement to help preserve the Canyon, the gateway to Laguna Beach. This combined monumental effort ultimately helped prevent suburbanization of this bucolic area.

"The Laguna Canyon Project" will illustrate in words and images the 15-phase Project, including the influence and impact that these phases had on the environmental debates, and on decision making by community and political leaders.

Particular emphasis will be on Phase VIII, "The Tell" photographic mural that was erected in the Canyon in 1989, which served as the focal point and catalyst for involvement of thousands of participants. This phase received coverage from CNN and Life magazine, among numerous national and international media, and is credited with being a major factor in the preservation of the Canyon.

The story of the Laguna Canyon Project is intended to inspire environmentally proactive individuals and groups to persist in their efforts even in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds.

From "The Laguna Canyon Project" Book

Mark Chamberlain and Jerry Burchfield opened BC Photography and Custom Lab Services on April 1, 1973 to provide high quality photographic services for galleries, museums and artists. In that small upstairs space in downtown Laguna, they also presented photography exhibitions displaying a wide range of work, many infused with political, social and environmental messages. As word spread, BC exhibitions became standing-room-only events, some attended by hundreds of people, many gaining coverage by local and national media. The partners soon broke through the walls, expanded the venue to 2,400-square-feet, and renamed it BC Space to reflect the open-ended character of their activities and ambitions.

The Laguna Canyon Project had its genesis in the early 1970's when the partners began photographing Laguna Canyon, the nine-mile gateway to Laguna Beach, with its gently winding two-lane country road. In 1980, they formally commenced their multi-faceted “Laguna Canyon Project: The Continuous Document” to provide documentation of changes to the Canyon over time. The Project had 15 separate phases.

Extending Documentary Photography

Chamberlain and Burchfiield’s intention was to document the still bucolic Canyon to preserve it in the tradition of documentary photography. To accomplish Phase I, with a small crew, they sequentially photographed both sides of the nine-mile length of Laguna Canyon Road, resulting in 646 frames per side that were subsequently printed into twin color prints, depicting their passage down the “last nine miles of the westward migration.”

Evolution to Performance Art

The next year, Chamberlain and Burchfield repeated a similar procedure, but at night, called “Phase III: Nightlight Documentation.” Publicity from this project generated many responses from people offering to help with future projects. With the media success, they quickly realized that the work was as important as performance art as it was real documentation. With “Phase V: Primary Light Documentation,” they planned to “paint the canyon with light,” a project that would take many more people, expensive equipment, and permits from governmental agencies. With their growing army, the pair started lobbying regional environmental groups, the art community, and local public officials. The community was also getting actively involved in the struggle to save the canyon.

Paying Attention

In September 1983, Chamberlain and Burchfield executed the “Primary Light Documentation.” This phase required a 30,000-watt generator towed by a 40-foot flatbed truck, 65 designated participants, 13 vehicles, escort by three different police agencies and Caltrans officials. From 6 PM to 6 AM, they moved this entire caravan methodically down the road taking 1,239 individual frames every 32 feet, every 45 sections. The results were assembled into a single color print, depicting the entire length of the Northeast side of Laguna Canyon Road.

The Tell Photomural

By 1987, Chamberlain and Burchfield decided to stop the “traveling shows” as they were becoming consumptive of their energies and resources. More important, core samples were being taken for the first toll road path in Orange County and the maps were drawn for a new housing development to be built in the canyon, with construction for both slated to begin in 1989. With these developments in mind, The Laguna Canyon Project conceived and built The Tell” photomural, constructed seven miles into Laguna Canyon, across from the Irvine Company’s proposed massive Laguna Laurel Housing Project.

Final Phase

The Laguna Canyon Project’s final phase occurred on June 21, 2010. For this phase, Chamberlain and two-dozen supporters (Burchfield died in 2009) photographed the entire nine miles of Laguna Canyon Road, from the Santa Ana Freeway off-ramp to the Pacific Ocean. This was the seventh time that Project members walked and photographed that route.

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