Mark Chamberlain is a fine art photographer, as well as an environmental, assemblage and performance artist. He owns BC Space Gallery, Laguna Beach, California, begun in 1973, exhibiting photography, visual and performance art. He has used various media, his 2,400 square foot gallery, his intelligence, artistry, altruism, energy and charisma to create his own groundbreaking artworks, many of which have helped preserve our natural environment. His artworks and those exhibited by hundreds of other artists at BC Space over the years have influenced the perception of photography as art, locally, nationwide and worldwide.
Art reviewer Peter Clothier writes about Mark Chamberlain in the Huffington Post: "His pictures seek passionately to preserve momentary events before they are gone, to mark the occasion of their passing, or sometimes to draw attention to their transition as they wither and die. He brings his meticulous craftsmanship to the creation of images that convey that reality in its smallest, most intimate detail. In his assemblage work, that same fascination with the mystery and temporality of objects leads him to extricate them from their original, mostly superannuated context, and invent for them a new, often whimsical new life in art."
Mark Chamberlain and photographer Jerry Burchfield (now deceased) opened BC Space on April 1, 1973. In that initial 1,000-square-foot space, they shot and processed film for commercial clients, but soon focused on shooting and printing for other galleries, museums, and artists. They also presented photography exhibitions displaying a wide range of work, many infused with political, social and environmental messages. As word of their innovative shows spread, BC exhibitions became standing-room-only events.
Dubuque Passages and Future Fossils
"My first major body of work, after returning from the military in 1969, was the Dubuque Passages, collected mostly from 1972 through 1976," Mark explains. "I often returned to Dubuque, Iowa to visit family, friends and the river, but began to see my own roots with fresh eyes.
"In the mid seventies, I shifted my camera's focus to the California urban landscape, and my adopted home of Laguna Beach. I changed to a larger format camera, added color to the palette, and began a new series entitled Future Fossils, steel and glass structures with the energetic colors, in the glossy billboards advertising the new age, dominated the western landscape. They seemed almost super realistic to me, and the newly minted Cibachrome print material allowed me to convey these impressions."
Mark and Jerry created The Tell photomural (assisted by numerous volunteers) in 1989. The Tell, a small mountain, 636 feet long and 36 feet high, dwindling down to the ground, was composed of hundreds of thousands of family and personal photographs, donated by people from across the country and the world. This environmental artwork rallied – through its nature and its numerous supporters – to preserve the bucolic Laguna Canyon against encroaching urban development.
The name "Tell" comes from the archeological term for a mound of artifacts from prior civilizations, buried over by natural elements. A Tell was cited in James Michener’s best-selling 1965 book, The Source, which deals with the evolution of civilization.
The Tell became the site of numerous demonstrations, as well as receiving coverage from CNN, Life magazine, and other national and local media. "On November 11, 1989, we coordinated with environmental groups to host a Walk and Demonstration to the mural. It was attended by an estimated 11,000 people," Mark explains. "As a consequence, the land was released for public acquisition. The Canyon is now a key part of the Laguna Wilderness Park."
Mark Chamberlain assumed sole ownership of BC Space in the late 80's, expanding the gallery's perspectives, adding visual and performance media. "Ideas and issues expressed through art became more important to me than just one medium," he says.
Exhibitions since then include Just War (1991), about the first Gulf War; Cities of Chance, LA/NY (1998), contrasting coastal life styles; Pretty Lies, Dirty Truths (2002), opening two months before the second Gulf War; For Shame (2004), a reaction to a politician's prohibition of nudity in art; Come Hell and High Water (2007), a scathing photographic essay on Hurricane Katrina; and My Father's Party is Busted, mounted in advance of the 2008 Presidential Election.
The Legacy Project
In 2002, Mark and Jerry renewed their art activism, expressing their desire that the proposed Orange County Great Park would connect with the Laguna Wilderness Park. In 2005, Park proponents prevailed and construction was slated for its transformation. Shortly afterward, they, along with four other photographers, created 'The Legacy Project' to document the evolution of the Great Park over the next decade.
In July 2006, The Legacy Project created The Great Picture, the world's largest photograph, 3,375 feet square, 3 stories high by 11 stories wide. In 2007, The Guinness Book of Records certified the Project's Camera Obscura as the largest ever recorded. The Great Picture has been exhibited in two venues, featured in several hundred publications, and will travel to China in 2011.
Mark Chamberlain was born and raised in Dubuque, Iowa, received a bachelor's degree in political science and a master's in business administration in 1967 from the University of Iowa. After two years in the US Army during the Viet Nam War, he moved to Southern California. He has taught photography in several colleges, and has won several awards including an Art in Public Places Award from the Architecture Foundation of Orange County and the AIA.
To support BC Space, Mark has worked as a photographer, shooting artwork of numerous artists, including: Joseph Albers, Paul Darrow, Richard Diebenkorn, Laddie John Dill, George Hermes, Ed Kienholz, Paul Outerbridge, Ed Ruscha and Jeffrey Vallance.
He explains, "To keep BC Space free to exhibit artwork unrestrained by commercial concerns, the gallery is supported primarily by the Photographic Art Services we provide. With over 35 years experience in photographing and printing two and three dimensional work of all styles, sizes and mediums, sculpture and jewelry, and even kinetic work, we understand the exacting demands of galleries, museums, and individual artists in reproducing their work. As exhibiting artists ourselves, we also appreciate the need for high quality work ... at an affordable price." (Contact info: 949-497-1880, or firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Mark's own photographic artwork is in numerous public and private collections, including Laguna Art Museum, the former Newport Harbor Art Museum, the University of Dubuque, the Polaroid Collection and the Cincinnati Museum of Art.
Bill Lasarow, publisher of ArtScene magazine, wrote in the April 2010 issue (about two recent art exhibitions, one featuring Mark’s works, "Reflections of an Armchair Arteologist," at Soka University, Aliso Viejo, CA, the other featuring many works by 45 artists shown at BC Space over the years, “Mything in Action,” at Grand Central Art Center, Santa Ana, CA), "It is heartening to see an artist like Mark Chamberlain gaining regional recognition for a more than 40-year body of work distinguished as much for its community and collaborative nature as its pure aesthetic achievement. There is a moral dimension to his work that is especially deserving of wider attention."
The Tell at the Festival of Arts
An exhibit on The Tell was at the Festival of Arts, Laguna Beach through the summer of 2010. The following, written by Mark Chamberlain, is from the narrative accompanying The Tell Exhibition.
"In 1990, while Green Initiatives were failing at polls across the country (largely because of the economic slump of that time) Laguna Beach was a shining exception with an 80% majority of its voters agreeing to tax themselves to buy the land for preservation. Donald Bren of the Irvine company agreed to the sale and negotiations began.
"The philosophical and physical foundation of The Tell was a female figure echoing the silhouette of the surrounding hillsides when viewed from the field in front of the mural. The head itself was stylized slightly to resemble those of the giant Easter Island Moai.
"The stories created by what ultimately grew into over a hundred thousand collaged photographs spoke of the lives and history of successive inhabitants of this region in the early stages; but later faded to reveal other messages about humankind’s relationship with the land. These more enduring tales (comprised of longer lived photo material) emerged on the chakra points of the larger body of the mural."
See also Laguna Canyon Project page.
Comments for Mark Chamberlain
My hat will always be off to him.
by: Miriam Preissel
Mark should sleep like a baby. I haven't met many people like him inside or outside of the art world. On the artist side, he follows his heart that is directly connected to an empathic love and concern for the inhabitants of the world.
When Mark wears curator hat he is absolutely uncompromising in his execution of meaningful, thought provoking exhibits. He accomplishes this with joy, his relationships with artists based on appreciation and support.
I hope that hat stays firmly on his head because my hat will always be off to him.
by: Arie A.Galles
"Multitasking" hasn't been invented yet when Mark Chamberlain came to be, yet his being alive could have been the template for its meaning. Artist, Photographer, Thinker, Philosopher, Visionary Social Activist, Impresario, Gallery Director, Teacher, Student and, to so many, a Friend.
His photography, imbued with a keen sensitivity to record images with a unique, solitary, perception, transcends the frozen moments of time. Chamberlain’s images, whether saturated with color, incised in black and white or juxtaposed within a frame, are present memories of past and future. Their strength is reinforced by a mature sense of technical virtuosity and compositional innovation.
Mark works well with people. Art for art sakes is important, but so is art for cause. Mechanism for social justice is not an unknown contraption, it is a dedication to unite people in something greater than their individuality. The Tell project is one from many. A singular vision made real by the effort of many. A stunning discourse of what is important in a community’s life.
After so many decades of concern and support for countless artists, activists and dreamers, it is wonderful to see these images from Chamberlains personal visions. They feed the eyes and satisfy the senses! We are honored by this exhibition.
Viva BC Space! Viva Mark Chamberlain!
by: Eadweard r. York
It is always exciting to hang out in a city for a while and then find a new secret gallery or a hip space that you didn't know existed. For me, discovering BC Space was as cool as the day I discovered the Zero-Zero Club in Hollywood, back in the punk days or when I bought my first record.
Hidden in plain sight in downtown Laguna Beach is a grey metal door. Behind the grey metal door is a set of stairs leading straight up to a happening place called BC Space. This last bastion of independent art looks out its windows onto a cesspool of insipid, boring, overpriced, waste of prime-real-estate, "Giclee Art" that has invaded Laguna Beach like a bad parasite which needs to be stopped.
BC Space has held some of Orange County's best, non-commercial, thought-provoking exhibitions in its 37-year existence. The gallery survives like a runaway train with its conductor and co-founder Mark Chamberlain running the little engine that could with pure perseverance on a budget that would barely support most peoples coffee addictions for a month. So help him out and support the arts!
Once you reach the top of the stairs the revolution of BC Space begins. Inside you might find Chamberlain sitting on an old, lumpy couch discussing his long awaited trip down the Mississippi River on the houseboat he built. He might be sorting through a two-foot high pile of papers, or photographs as old as the gallery itself. He could be explaining the story behind his meat grinder filled with shredded money to a lucky soul who was fortunate enough to open the grey door and walk upstairs. You may even get lucky and see him frantically trying to frame and hang his next exhibition. While unbeknownst to you, the ghost of co-founder Jerry Burchfield is watching Chamberlain and smiling. Chamberlain is finally getting the respect and admiration he has worked so hard for and deserves.
Whatever you find up the stairs, Chamberlain will always be there to offer a good word of advice, constructive criticism or socially conscious thought. He is actually one of the only photographers I have ever listened to or considered when they have offered their advice about my work.
I have been quite fortunate and honored to have met Mark and become his friend. I was able to exhibit alongside him and Burchfield at BC Space, to be included in the BC Space "Mything in Action" retrospective at Cal State Fullerton Grand Central Art Center, and to co-curate the "My Fathers Party is Busted" exhibition with him and I hope to see BC Space around for some time and I look forward to the next exhibition! Eadweard
An amiable guerilla
by: David Wilson
It's a always pleasure to run across someone who can show both effective anger and pointed amusement at the same time (or choose between them in a split second when one or the other is the preferable response), and Mark is one of those people. A rare artist whose skills in imagery are matched by his ability to compose pitch-perfect prose, Mark and his ability to express a larger-than-local viewpoint would be welcome in any regional culture. We're just fortunate that the region he chooses to call home is Orange County.
I've known the guy for more than 20 years. Even when I disagree with him, I always enjoy the conversation.
by: Dave Kelleher
Your work (at Soka University) is reMARKable. I can't tell what I liked best, your "old" work with black & white photos worthy of any I have seen in Getty exhibitions, or your more recent color work at the El Toro Marine Base. Those and all in between are excellent.
I marvel at what goes into photography. It isn't just "taking pictures." I see the necessity of choosing what to shoot, to see meaning, to make it work with insight to make it worth seeing by others - appreciation so to speak.
Lastly, I see all of the work that goes into professional photography - taking the picture, processing it, storing them, transporting them, exhibiting them and returning them to idleness for a time.
I am impressed.
Passion for environmental preservation and human dignity
by: Spencer Olin
I have known and respected Mark Chamberlain since the late 1980s, when we worked together to produce an issue of "The Journal of Orange County Studies." The issue included a splendid article by Mark on "The Tell" in Laguna Canyon. At the time, I learned that his social activism via photography was informed by a passion for environmental preservation and human dignity. More recently, Mark and I have joined with others to create a lively set of History Programs for the Orange County Great Park. His participation in "Legacy Project," consisting of more than 90,000 photographs of the Marine Corps Air Station at El Toro and its transition to the Great Park, is an invaluable historical asset. That significant project would simply not exist without the persistent dedication of Mark Chamberlain and his colleagues. Finally, I was immensely impressed by the display of Mark's photographic art at Soka University this spring and by the informative remarks he offered at the closing reception for that show.
With much appreciation to Mark Chamberlain --
Spencer Olin, Professor Emeritus of History, UC Irvine.
by: Peggy Darnell
To get to see this wonderful body of work, to get to be part of it, actually is to be part of something truly great. To see all of it so wonderfully displayed, to show with these how much of art touches our hearts in the most universally important ways...it shows that we are more alike than we are different in our desires to preserve our world.
Privileged to have Mark reside in our community
by: Carey Conklin
I recently had the pleasure to attended a solo photography exhibition at Soka University that featured the works of Laguna Beach resident Mark Chamberlain. To see the totality of Mark's body of work in this show was a journey in the exploration of change in both the physical and social landscapes within our county and beyond.
Mark Chamberlain's body of photographic work is so impressive in history, scope and scale that volumes could be written about this man's personal journey behind the camera. When viewing Chamberlain's photographic images, it is evident that he has dedicated much of his life to his chosen craft, and committed great energy to numerous projects that included both conceptual works and traditional... a few of these projects being of massive scale and ambition.
On a technical level, Chamberlain's images are well-crafted, crisp and executed with precision, balancing light in a chiaroscuro style which make his compositions captivating. Honed by technical knowhow gleaned from decades of practice, not only is the viewer given beautiful photographic compositions, but we also see Mark's "gift" in his ability to capture images of "folk." These images resonate with potency and set Chamberlain's work apart from the pack, striking magic.
Just one example within this expansive show, the Dubuque Passages project, executed in the 70's when Mark had returned from Vietnam as a young man transformed by War. After returning from a one-year tour of duty in Korea with the U.S. Army (during the Vietnam War), Mark would embark on a mission to return to his roots and document life in his native home of Dubuque, Iowa. Mark was motivated to capture images of the town and people before both would forever change consumed by encroaching modernity. Captured within these images is a narrative of life in Mark's home town. Mark's images of citizens from Dubuque come alive and confront the viewer with contemplation of a town and people so foreign to our life in Orange County.
These images pulled me from my snow globe perception of life in Laguna, confronting me with a foreign place within my own country - a place frozen in time with people from socioeconomic realities so removed from my own. Seeing these images helped me to understand and see beyond my own boundaries. In effect, seeing through Mark's eyes enlightened me. We are privileged to have Mark reside in our community and share his life's work, wisdom and soul through the lens that he embraces, opening our eyes to the land and people beyond our own social and regional boundaries.
Rohrer Fine Art, Laguna Beach, CA
An artist, activist, friend and a brother
by: GJ Pelissero
When I met Mark 35 years ago, he was (among other things) the black & white guy at BC Custom Lab in Laguna (pre BC Space). When he heard I needed an archival-quality print from a neg depicting an old toilet, he said, “I’m your guy!” And indeed he was. In those days, he printed black & white exquisitely and with ferocious attention to detail. That print was the first photograph I sold and the experience solidified the belief within me that I was a photographer and photography would be my career. It wasn’t long after that that the opportunity arose and Mark and Jerry invited me to work with them at BC.
Those were the days of transition on several levels for Mark and his art with the most significant being a move from his 35mm black & white "Dubuque Passages" to the medium-format color work he would call "Future Fossils." This was no simple choice, because at the time, there was debate raging in the art world as to whether color photography would even be considered "art." Such a move could doom an artist.
However, Mark was excited about color and the "urban" direction his work was headed, and he shot a lot of images in the evenings after work.
At BC, Jerry was the color printer and I worked as the color print processor. With all of the work being done by hand (dip and dunk), variations and flaws were inevitable; numerous prints had to be made to get a few perfect examples. I saw so many 16/20's remade that year. For me, "Future Fossils" will always be "WOW" Batteries.
That was also the time when the seed of the Canyon Project germinated, fertilized with philosophical discussions through the black curtain that separated the individual darkrooms, and over marathon card games and deli sandwiches. Mark knew that this project was important. This would be more than a document a la Ed Ruscha's "Every Building on Sunset." This would be an attempt to stay the onslaught of urbanization on our idyllic enclave and lifestyle. This was art that mattered. That concept became the foundation for all of Mark's future work and a necessary element in art and artists he helped to promote.
Mark is an artist, activist, friend and a brother.
Mark is a Community High Point
How can I say this? Mark butts in and makes me think. Causes me to create with that thought. And has helped me move forward in a BIGGER fashion than my original vision might have constricted. Looking forward to the Solstice!
Too easy to take for granted...too bad!
by: Stephen Gillette
Mark Chamberlain has recently reemerged on the fickle radar screen of Art in Orange County courtesy of two fine exhibitions: "Mything in Action" at Grand Central Art, and "Reflections of an Armchair Arteologist" at Soka University.
The later presented an impressive overview of 40 years' work--the scope of which only became apparent as one realized this was all--or mostly all--the creation of a single artistic engine. The former highlighted some of Mark's work, but in the context of his ongoing collaborative experiment: BC Space.
Mark's generosity of time, energy and spirit is so legendary that I think many in the Southern California art world--and beyond--might tend to take it for granted. Alas, this would be a mistake. That Mark chose to make Orange County his home for both studio and gallery has made appropriate recognition of his career as fine artist, mentor, curator, gallerist and collaborator all the more difficult. Los Angeles would have been the better choice for an artist focused on advancing his or her personal agendas. But not for Mark.
Perhaps because he avoided the siren call of Los Angeles, he better heard that quiet inner voice that has demanded that he invest integrity in all his efforts, both personal and collaborative.
Mark Chamberlain is hardly an unknown. But as the two recent surveys made obvious, his work deserves expanded and ongoing attention.
Mark, congratulations! And may your most satisfying work lie ahead of you!
Vision and Artistic Skill Sets
by: Charles Michael Murray
Mark Chamberlain - truly an artist with the vision and artistic skill sets to awaken, inform and chart intelligent and often evolutionary directions. He often shakes those who act as if life is a spectator sport into a visual literacy and action lifestyle of how each one of us can make a positive difference for the future of humanity and every living thing. Amazing what his art and camera has achieved - but I am not surprised - he has a wonderful global soul.
Charles Michael Murray, Endangered Planet Foundation
Committed artist and community activist
by: Sheila Pinkel
Mark has dedicated his life to making artworks that create consciousness about the world in which we live. He has continued to evolve as an artist, working both individually and collectively on historically relevant projects such as "The Legacy Project," "The Tell," and "The Great Picture," which have received national recognition in major publications. He has also generated opportunities for other artists to manifest their own ideas by curating exhibitions in the gallery B.C. Space. Since the early 1980s this gallery has been the site of engaging and provocative exhibitions that have involved and energized the community in which he lives. His commitment to engage others is integral to his definition of the role of an artist in community and he has manifested this vision of commitment throughout his professional life.
Kudos, and deservedly so....
by: Jeannie Denholm | SCAPE
It is so nice to see Mark Chamberlain begin to get the recognition he has long deserved. He has been a dedicated photographer and art visionary who has contributed a tremendous amount to our community. I am continually inspired by his drive, his dedication and unwavering commitment to his own work and that of other like-minded individuals. I have always admired his collaborative spirit; in particular the one he shared with his life long friend Jerry Burchfield.
Jeannie Denholm, SCAPE, Southern California Art Projects and Exhibitions
Mark is a dedicated activist and a true innovator
by: Jim Rue
In a region where financial concerns tend to cause artists to play it safe, Mark has a long history of standing up for principles he holds dear and then causing collaborations and his own collections to whirl around those bold statements.
He is a true original thinker in a time of offensively rampant 'me-too' commercialism.
The Guerrilla In Our Midst
by: Bolton Colburn
While I'm not sure I call Mark a gentleman, at the least I'd call him a provocateur. Mark has worked outside the normal confines of the world of art and academia with great affect. He's the guerrilla in our midst, constantly challenging and being challenged. I've no idea how he has been able to walk this line for so long, but yes, I agree he is way under-recognized and appreciated on every level.
Bolton Colburn, Director, Laguna Art Museum
Resolute in His Passion
by: Pat Sparkuhl
A discussion of Mark Chamberlain would involve many art historical references to Laguna Beach. Thirty-five years ago, I met Mark at an art function, and have had many connections with him over the years, primarily through the exhibits that he (and Jerry Burchfield) mounted at BC Space. I have been most fortunate to show at BC on many occasions; as the gallery has always represented the purity of creative endeavors by both local and international artists.
While being recognized in art circles as one of the very few serious and many times politically charged art galleries, it has been (and continues to be) the back rooms of BC where the motivation by this unsung hero resides. Mark often labors in the 'dark' or darkroom, creating work for others as a master printer does, rearranging areas in his space to photograph other peoples' artwork in order to support his passion for maintaining his personal style of artmaking.
A most historical and significant consideration is the ongoing Laguna Canyon Project that resounds so clearly and creatively when one reflects on how to approach a concern for our environment.
Mark's persistence and perseverance to create projects 'in the big picture' illustrate a perspective on an environment that has certainly become fragile. Mark has carried the 'environmental torch' for many of those who give lip service to concern for the surrounding environment, but are impotent when it comes to being proactive.
The numerous 'phases' of the Laguna Canyon Project demonstrate how Mark has not pursued ventures to gain an immediate response, but rather with the concern of his ongoing career as an artist, showing his ability to understand and see the significance of ongoing environmental issues and transitions.
Mark's long-term presence has influenced much of the thinking about art and the environment in and around the region. He is resolute in his passion to create not only objects that are aesthetically pleasing, but to present to all of us artworks, installations and exhibitions that provokes us to think about our relationships to each other and to the world around us.
by: Marsha Red Adams
Yea Mark! Let's give him all the accolades we can! Much deserved for a life time of important and RIGHT-MINDED work!
Long Overdue for Wider Recognition
by: GIna Genis
Mark Chamberlain has been a strong and influential presence in the OC art scene for more than a generation. His work has helped preserve Laguna Canyon, and is currently documenting the transformation of El Toro Marine Base into the Great Park. He has encouraged the artistic endeavors of countless photographers by exhibiting their work at BC Space. Mark is long overdue for wider recognition. His humble and quiet personality are contradictory to today's self promotion, and therefore, I feel I should speak up for him.
and a gentleman and a scholar
by: Janice Tieken
Mark is the rare embodiment of the Renaissance artist/gallerist/activist, able to roam in different realms of art, with varied media, make it, show it, support others who show it, and not lose aesthetic focus. His gallery is that rare bright spot for the exchange of exciting ideas without the interference of the need for commercialism. (my only complaint is it is far from where I live) I have seen it include not only visual art in all its forms, social commentary, community, free speech, raw politics, but also music, election results broadcasts (Yes!), camaraderie and even belly dancing.
I am forever grateful to Jerry Burchfield for the good fortune of my being able to meet Mark, know him and to be included in shows at bcspace where the idea is paramount and all participants have something worthwhile to say. Few venues exist where shows have a serious theme about things that matter - delivered with humor, perhaps shocking intent - and bring together like-minded art-makers and kindred spirits. For those of us who veer off into those arenas of making socio-political statements with imagery it is no small thrill to have it seen.
I hope there will be a video - book? - of the great Soka retrospective for those of us who were unable to attend while it was there. What an incredible tribute to be given 8000 square feet to re-visit and share 40 years of great work.
Kudos to Mark! Long may he thrive and all he produces and the place he created in which to do it. We need more like him.
MC, the artful dodger
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.
Walks the Talk
by: Lisa Lodeski
Mark Chamberlain is one of the few people I know who walks his talk everyday.
Mark Chamberlain at Soka University.
by: John Gardiner
Finally! We get a chance to see the work of the incredible artist, Mark Chamberlain, in a venue that allows us to time travel with him. Two floors worth! If you haven't been to Soka University to see Mark's work, then you must go ASAP!Back to top