Photographers' Mural to Document Canyon Changes in 40,000 Pictures

Robert Lachman is the chief photographer of The Times Orange County Edition

Jerry Burchfield and Mark Chamberlain are photographers who want to build a mural 600 feet long that would trail off into the wilderness of Laguna Canyon--made entirely of snapshots. Forty thousand snapshots.

Burchfield and Chamberlain are calling it "The Tell," the archeological term for buried artifacts.

Several obstacles already have been overcome--raising the money to build it, insurance, coordination with the Laguna Beach City Council, coordination with the California Department of Transportation. And they have picked a date--May 1--for the construction to begin.

Another 20,000 photos are still needed, however. (Got any? Burchfield and Chamberlain are accepting shots of anything, in color or in black and white.) The photographers are confident that they will get them, though.

"There's too much energy to stop it now," Chamberlain said of the project.

The mural, which would stay up through Sept. 30, is the eighth of 10 phases of Burchfield and Chamberlain's "Laguna Canyon Project: The Continuous Documentary 1980-1990."

"We started documenting Laguna Canyon because of a particular fondness for the location," said Burchfield, who teaches photography at Cypress College. "Its unique rural nature separates Laguna Beach from the rest of the more congested urban Orange County."

"We felt," however, he said, "that some sort of development was inevitable. As photographers, we believed that we might not play a role in stopping the development. So the least we could do was use our craft to document the environment so that there is a record of it. We decided to show the change over a length of time."

The project began in 1980 when they photographed Laguna Canyon Road from one end to the other. But "the only places these photographs were seen was in a museum or gallery," Burchfield said. "They were seen only by a select audience, people who had an interest in the fine arts. Yet the issues relating to the environment, and the development of it, can touch a much broader audience.

"A lot of people are intimidated by museums or galleries," Burchfield went on, "because they are not sure what art is all about. They're not sure that they can relate to it. (A lot of art is done for people who are already involved in the arts.) The line between art and everyday living isn't as broad as people think."

Burchfield and Chamberlain figured that the rural Sycamore Hill area of Laguna Canyon is about as far from a museum or gallery as it is possible to get, so they decided to build their mural there.

It will vary in height from about 25 feet closest to the road to about 2 feet at the other end. The idea is that, seen from the road, it will look as though it trails off into infinity.

A parking area will be provided so that viewers can get out of their cars and really look at the snapshots. They could see someone they know, perhaps even themselves.

The photos will be arranged, Burchfield said, so as to connect "symbolic images into a narrative" with "references to the change from prehistoric to contemporary time." They also will be coordinated by hue and tone so as to evoke various moods. Burchfield and Chamberlain are using a computer to help them sort through the contributions, most of them from Orange County, they have received so far. The sizes of the contributions have varied, they said. Some people send just a few shots while others send shopping bags and even boxes full.

Those wishing to contribute snapshots to "The Tell" can drop them off before April 22 at: the photo gallery on the second floor of the Cypress College Technical Education Building; Room 285 in the Fine Arts Complex at Cal State Fullerton; or to the photography gallery in the Fine Arts Building at Orange Coast College; Cal's Camera, 1770 Newport Blvd., Costa Mesa; Cypress Photo-Art, 6177 Ball Road, Cypress; BC Space Gallery, 235 Forest Ave . , Laguna Beach. Information: (714) 497-1880.

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