La Cienega Area

The work of died-in-the-wool formalists has proven the old adage that if you plumb structure carefully enough, some deeper reality is revealed. Australian-born photographer Grant Mudford says that his work is designed to take one subject and thoroughly examine its formal features in a controlled setting. He applied this strategy to earlier abstractions of urban architecture and now scores another coup in a current suite of structurally exact black-and-white photo portraits of Los Angeles artists.

Mudford paid his dues for many years working as a professional photographer and the technical acumen garnered in the real world pays off. For each finished portrait, he shoots several hundred views of the same frontal bust pose, then lets a perfectionist eye scrutinize negatives for the best one. Designing his own elaborate equipment, positioning his enlarger a great distance from a wide blank wall where huge photo paper has been mounted, Mudford is able to blow up small, precise negatives and end up with crisp, nearly 5-foot images. Using a fine-grain photo paper and controlling depth of field, he records his stark mug shots (that is really what they remind us of) with every mole, blemish, wrinkle and furrowed brow writ large.

Artist subjects wore what they wished (bare-chested John Boskovich wears a cross and an earring) and Mudford toyed with a limited number of variables--background, clothing and hair--to pictorially organize and exaggerate the penetrating stares of some of Los Angeles' innovators. There's Mike Kelley in shoulder-length jet-black hair, a puffy-faced Chris Burden whose glint looks boyishly edgy. Lean and assiduous as his formidable abstractions, Roy Dowell looks out from the dark geometry of his vest, and the handsome face of Renee Petropoulos peeks out from the exotic headgear she donned for the sitting. (Rosamund Felson, 669 N. La Cienega Blvd., to Aug. 4.)

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