CULTURE MONSTER

Photography's past, present and future on view at Photo L.A.

The din of Photo L.A.’s opening night gala was a raucous mix of more than 3,000 people who streamed into the cavernous exhibition space that is downtown’s the Reef/LA Mart while a disc jockey spun Cuban salsa, blues and electronica. Guests pored over works by Elisabeth Sunday, Larry Clark and Paul McCartney's personal photographer, MJ Kim, while munching on tacos from Escuela Taqueria.

What began more than two decades ago as a casual meet-up for artists, galleries and collectors organized by art dealer Stephen Cohen of Cohen Gallery in Los Angeles has blossomed into an international art fair for photography. This year’s Photo L.A. consists of more than 80 exhibitors from around the world as well as lectures, tours and panels touching on collecting, photography as activism, and new developments in printing technology.

“We aim for a diverse mix in our programming,” Photo L.A. director Claudia James Bartlett said, adding that exhibitors include established galleries, local art schools and nonprofits. “The result is a more dynamic representation of photography’s past, present and future.”

The evening also was something of a silver anniversary party for the art fair, which is celebrating its 25th iteration this year. Organizers call it the longest-running art fair in L.A. The event was a tribute to photography and the art of collecting.  

This year’s Photo L.A. includes two curated installations, one showcasing photographer James Welling’s work and the other, “Point of View,” exploring questions about the art of collecting — specifically, what draws individual collectors to certain works of art? And what is their process like?

Those were questions we posed to a few collectors at the gala.

DANNY AND MARY SOLOMON

What do you collect?

The history of photography, from the 1840s through to Robert Adams.

What’s your collecting strategy?

We try to be opportunistic — finding people doing interesting work early in their career before their prices escalate.

What drew you here tonight?

Oh, I’ve been coming 25 years. There’s a young, emerging artist I was interested in, Christopher Colville.

Any advice for young collectors?

Look a lot. The key to developing my eye was going to all the museums. You can make a private appointment to view things, like a box of Eugène Atgets at the Getty, and spend hours with it.

PAULA ELY

What do you collect?

Latin American photography.

What’s your collecting strategy?

I watch the auctions for vintage works, but what’s more interesting to me is contemporary work. So I try to pay attention to work being done now in museums and galleries. There’s not a lot of Latin American photography being shown in the U.S., though, so it takes a while. It’s an overlooked region.

What drew you here tonight?

I came to see friends and to check out the scene. I had no plan. I just wanted to see what would present itself.

Any advice for young collectors?

Go out and look at everything. And don’t be afraid — just take the leap.

SCOTT STOVER

What do you collect?

I collect mostly experimental photography.

What’s your collecting strategy?

Looking a lot, that’s important, and reading as well.

What drew you here tonight?

James Welling. He has an important role in my collecting. He’s also been a mentor in terms of what I like.

Any advice for young collectors?

Look a lot, and don’t buy with your ears. A lot of young collectors hear what they should be buying. I think it’s important to go to museums, really talk and listen to curators.

DEBORAH IRMAS

What do you collect?

Everything — sculpture, furniture design, contemporary art, lighting, photography.

What’s your collecting strategy?

Buy often and in depth. But I have a problem with that — because you need to have a lot of money to be a collector.

What drew you here tonight?

I’ve come to support James Welling. He’s one of the best artists of his generation, who just happens to be a photographer.

Any advice for young collectors?

Look a lot. Look before you buy — and that goes for old collectors too.

STEPHEN REINSTEIN

What do you collect?

I generally collect portraits and landscapes — usually with an edge, somewhat confrontational.

What’s your collecting strategy?

I have to be passionate about it. Usually, my strategy is: I can’t get the work out of my head. There are just certain artists I’ve identified and really like: Richard Avedon, Robert Mapplethorpe, Irving Penn.

What drew you here tonight?

I have a work on loan here for the "Point of View" exhibition, a piece by Michael Cook.

Any advice for young collectors?

Buy what you love, but really look and see what you like. Ask lots of questions and don’t be put off by snotty gallery owners.

Photo L.A. is open to the public Friday through Sunday at the Reef, inside the LA Mart building, 1933 S. Broadway. www.photola.com.

deborah.vankin@latimes.com

Follow me on Twitter: @debvankin   

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