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Political Photographer Fills a Tall Order

He had, by his own reckoning, just seven seconds to shoot.

Bull’s-eye!

They’d put in a rush call to prize-winning political photographer Leigh Wiener in Hollywood. The photos they were getting back East were lousy. Could Wiener zip up to Sacramento and get a sort-of official campaign portrait of Michael S. Dukakis and Lloyd Bentsen for the campaign finance committee, one that would be the centerpiece of a poster to be given to top fund-raisers and VIPs on the eve of the election? Wiener could. And did. And they loved it.

“They didn’t want the candidates in a hotel room, they wanted the feel of the campaign: people around, excitement,” says Wiener. “To complicate the assignment, they wanted the candidates together, but they wanted me to make sure Dukakis came off as the presidential candidate. Read that ‘taller.’ As you know, there’s a big height differential, but, hey, you don’t vote against a guy because God gave him only 5 feet 8 inches.”

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There were only seven seconds of D/B together on the Capitol steps, before the coattailers noodged between them to mug for the cameras. As for height, “I used a relatively long lens, Dukakis talking, Bentsen behind him in the background, close but not too close. Seven seconds. Bingo.”

(Bingo indeed, confirmed Claude Ruibal, deputy press secretary of the California Campaign: “The photo’s great! It exemplifies the campaign, it shows the real strength of both candidates. . . .”)

It was not exactly Wiener’s first tough gig: He’s traveled with every candidate since Truman/Dewey; his works hang in museums and galleries (a Wiener exhibit opens today at Cal State Long Beach: “Images of Greatness: The Leaders, the Losers, the Legends.”); he’s barnstormed with JFK, literally charmed the Stetson off LBJ. . . .

So what about today’s crop? “I went to Sacramento as a cynic,” Wiener says. “I’m a registered Republican; I have my own business; I’m a conservative. So don’t laugh yourself sick when I say Dukakis reminds me most of a guy I covered for Life--Adlai Stevenson. Bensten? A Lyndon Johnson with morality.”

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Wiener’s tab for the ’88 election? “This country will ultimately get what it deserves. And that’s sad.”

Don’t Sell Father Junipero Serra Short

“He was only 5 feet tall and asthmatic,” says Carol Green. “He was already 58 when he came to California, and promptly got stung by a bee in San Diego. It got infected, leaving him with a limp for the rest of his life. Yet he must have walked the length of California 12 or 15 times. . . .”

He was Father Junipero Serra, and the last mission he founded was at San Buenaventura, where Green is the lively and assiduous assistant to the city manager. (“Sure, most call it Ventura, but that’s our official name; most people in the city don’t even know it.”)

They still revere Serra in “Ventura,” and back in 1936, one Uno Palo Kangas, a local artist on WPA subsidy, carved a statue of the Good Father--"not the most magnificent piece of art in the world,” says Green, “but a nice statue.” Trouble was, Kangas’ cement contained silica; 50 years later, “Father Serra was in trouble, he was falling apart.” Rather than lose him, the city decided to take a mold, but not of the original statue, too cracked to be touched. “Rather,” says Green, “the Channel Island Woodcarvers, a group of mostly retired guys led by master carver Wilbur Rubottom, carved a basswood replica from which to make a mold--a first in the history of art.”

Last week the new statue was dedicated. The wood piece graces the City Hall atrium; the bronze stands in front of the city’s beautiful 1912 courthouse.

“Father Serra belongs there,” says Green. “It’s his place. And it’s our Statue of Liberty.”

A Sole-Searching Art Exhibition

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The appeal is universal--practically everybody has feet--and the aim admirable: “There’s a real trend toward bringing art to the people through the business space,” says Elsa Cameron, originator of “The Foot Show: Art, History and Ethnology.”

The display is on view through Nov. 10 in the lobby of the 26-story office building at 400 S. Hope St. “It’s floor-level art; no pretension,” says Cameron, director of the San Francisco-based Community Arts Inc. “Art can be a lot of fun, you know?”

If you didn’t, you will after a quickie tour. First, a pedestrian but pithy look at the common foot: plaster casts, the foot in sculpture, the reminder that fully 25% of the body’s bones are clustered below the ankle.

Then there are the “foot coverings": Indian moccasins to high-fashion stiletto heels; gear for athletes’ feet (including Kareem’s schooner-sized sneaks); a clodhopper one of the astronauts wore on the moon; and pincers endured by Chinese women in the bad old days to bind their feet.

“Did you know,” asked Cameron, “that the average person walks 65,000 miles in a lifetime? That’s twice around the world!” The world of foot art is broader than our own.


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