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Photographic memories: Cannery Row exhibition

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Photograph by Lawrence Manning

Photograph by Lawrence Manning

Jerry Hicks is sitting in the back room at Carrow’s in Gardena, shuffling through copies of photographs that are now on the walls of Cannery Row Studios in Redondo Beach. It’s an exhibition that features the work of five artists – Lawrence Manning, Mark Comon, Eric Raptosh, Janet Milhomme, and Hicks himself. The title is “F/8 and Be There: Serendipity in Fine Art Photography,” and everyone within shouting distance of this article is expected to attend the opening reception this Saturday, from 6 to 9 p.m.

Hicks has quite a few accomplishments under his belt – he’s now in his mid-70s – and these range from being a publisher (in Phoenix) of Motor Sports magazine and The Nitty Gritty newspaper to co-founding, with Jim Doane, the Redondo Poets, which held poetry readings at the Coffee Cartel and other local venues.

Currently he’s a member of the Redondo Beach Arts Group and the Torrance Artists Guild. He’s also an engaging conversationalist and we’ve just started to talk about the late novelist John Gardner (Grendel; The Sunlight Dialogues) when the tape runs out. Maybe that’s even a blessing in disguise.

I ask about the title of the new show.

“F/8 refers back to the older photographers,” Hicks replies. “They basically put the sun over their shoulders, set their camera to f/8 (dropped in ASA 100 film), and that would give them a perfect picture automatically, so they didn’t have to think. And then they had to be there – be at a scene where something is happening. It didn’t matter what the equipment was, essentially. It really mattered a lot to be there… and to have the eye.

“Photographers have different eyes than ordinary people,” Hicks continues. “The serendipity thing is to walk around, to get outside, to look at people, and all people, not just some people. Look at animals, look at graffiti, look at everything. And, if you’re looking, you can walk out of your door and you can find something to shoot, a great picture.”

Ideally, then, be there but don’t intrude or interrupt. Melt into the background and become an invisible presence. Serendipitous works are candid, life as it’s lived, and not posed.

The inspiration, or DNA of the new show, as Hicks describes it, goes back a couple of years to a juried show, with Peggy Zask and Ruth Trotter as the jurors, that was conceived by Hicks along with Patty Grau, Paul Blieden, and Jianella Zimmerman.

“We took the art and we hung the gallery, the four of us,” Hicks says. “We did it as a democratic organization and our total goal on doing that was to make the gallery as beautiful as we could make it. And it worked; it was stunning, and we all loved it.”

That was the impetus for and the inspiration behind “F/8 and Be There.”

Photograph by Janet Milhomme

Photograph by Janet Milhomme

Making Choices

After being asked by Richard Stephens of Cannery Row to curate an art show, Hicks gave it some thought for a few months and first approached Lawrence Manning, because he knew him and his work. They must have settled early on to show selections from the photographs Manning took in India. These stunning images would be a focal point of any exhibition. Manning in turn suggested Eric Raptosh, whose work, Hicks says, has a gay bias.

“Eric wasn’t sure what to put in and I said, well, give me what you think will work. I didn’t put any restraints on it, and this is what he gave me.”

Hicks displays an array of images. There are young, physically fit men in black and white and, in color, physically fit young men at the base of a waterfall.

Photograph by Mark Comon

Photograph by Mark Comon

Mark Comon’s contribution to “F/8” features black and white photographs taken during Mardi Gras in New Orleans. It’s the sort of work that used to accompany long essays in Life or The Saturday Evening Post. In other words, photojournalism but without the journalism. Hicks notes that he’d seen Comon’s work in an exhibition at Madrona Marsh as well as on the wall of Paul’s Photo, in Torrance, which is own by Comon’s father.

Hicks then speaks at length about how he found the show’s one female photographer, Janet Milhomme, and why she was the perfect fit.

“A large number of photographers concentrate on people because they’re interested in humanity. When Lawrence went to India he took pictures of common people, people leaving church, people living at the Ganges River and so forth.

“When Janet went to Africa (Ghana, 1984) she concentrated on people. You’ll see a lot of mothers and children; you’ll see a lot of what I might call family pictures – people preparing for a birthday or something like that. Now, I looked for Janet. Lawrence was the first person I had for the show she was the last. I wanted to have an integrated show that had diverse viewpoints.”

Hicks was over at the Loft Studios in San Pedro a few weeks back, looking at the current show (and you can see it tonight, during the First Thursday Art Walk), which is curated by Paul Blieden and Jim McKinnis. Hicks knew that he wanted someone to counterbalance Manning’s work, and he knew he preferred a woman. When he spotted Milhomme’s work, something resonated. And that was before he saw her Africa series. After that, he was completely sold.

But, I tell him, you haven’t shown me your work!

Hicks finds this funny: “I’m the typical shoemaker here; my children have no shoes. I’ve been so busy that I didn’t have the chance to make you those shoes.” He then brings out a shoreline image and places it in front of me. “I don’t make the same [picture] twice. A lot of the artists just keep painting the same thing, because they find out what their public wants and they more or less stay in that genre. I’m unable, mentally, to do the same thing twice.”

He passes another picture across the table, one in which the foreground is clear and so is the distant background.

“When I was seven years old,” Hicks says, “the Second World War started. My mother had sent me to Nevada. I lived with my grandmother who lived with a miner (presumably not minor), a mile up in a little town called Kimberly. At that time it was the largest open copper pit in the world, and there were these beautiful mountains. At that point I could see 30 miles easily, and the mountains were clear.” Far away, sheepherders were tending their flocks. “You could see the sheep; they weren’t obscure like they are now. They were totally clear, and I remember that.” It’s this memory that has reconfigured itself into the print lying in front of me.

A résumé this long

Photograph by Eric Raptosh

Photograph by Eric Raptosh

As mentioned earlier, Hicks can point to a bundle of accomplishments, and these go back at least as far as the four years he spent in the Air Force, then his years in Phoenix where he earned a Master’s Degree at Arizona State.

“I was an engineer. I started out in engineering because I was one of the guys that got caught up in this ‘We got to get a man on the Moon.’ I should have never gone into engineering but I did.”

Did you feel you had a choice back then?

“Should have gone into history,” Hicks replies. “History was my forte; it was something I just understood. I should have got my Ph.D. in history but I didn’t.”

Curator and photographer Jerry Hicks

Curator and photographer Jerry Hicks

He photographed for Road & Track, interviewed and also sold pictures to many of the racecar drivers, and eventually came to California where an appearance at El Camino College by Ansel Adams inspired Hicks to delve deeper into art photography.

In addition to trying his hand at writing novels, Hicks ran a writers’ workshop and later on a poetry workshop. Less cerebrally, he’s been a sailor and, for about 20 years up until the 1990s, a pilot. He wrote, somewhere, about flying over Sydney, Australia, and being men of letters we take a detour to talk about Antoine de Saint-Exupery and Night Flight.

“I think my world’s a little larger than some people’s worlds,” Hicks says, “because I’ve had these experiences. If you live long enough, you’re probably going to do everything. I have a different focal point, I think, than other people.”

Art has rules or guidelines, and sometimes – well, because it’s art – those rules go out the window. As I write this I look up and there’s a book on Mark Rothko and another (a gift from Jari Havlena) on Willem de Kooning. These were two men who did academic work early in their careers and then chucked the rules, the well-trodden path, looked around inside of their souls or psyches, and went on to forge their own paths.

“And then all of a sudden we end up now when there are no rules,” Hicks is saying; “there’s no rules on anything.

“So the only rule is, you have to be true to yourself. That’s the only thing that’s selling art right now – artists who are true to themselves, and have a self. You have to have a self to be true to it. And hopefully I have a self. But these people” – and Hicks indicates the photographers in “F/8 and Be There” – all seem to have that self also that they’re being true to.”

Then it’s a matter of finding your art public.

“There’s an audience out there for everyone,” he says, “no matter who you are; no matter what you make there’s an audience for it. The trick is to find it.”

Plans for the future? Ambitions?

Photograph by Jerry Hicks

Photograph by Jerry Hicks

“My whole ambition is just to keep playing the game,” Hicks replies, “and to get better. I want to do everything better.”

That doesn’t sound like such a bad strategy, does it?

F/8 and Be There: Serendipity in Fine Art Photography, curated by Jerry Hicks and featuring his work as well as photographs by Lawrence Manning, Janet Milhomme, Mark Comon, and Eric Raptosh, opens Saturday with a champagne reception from 6 to 9 p.m. at Cannery Row Studios, 604 N. Francisca Ave., Redondo Beach. Through August 19. More at Canneryrowstudios.com.

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