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New Gallery Deals Strictly With Camera Artworks

TIMES STAFF WRITER

While the price of fine art photographs continues to climb and the controversy over photographers’ images continues to make news, it would seem that opening a photography gallery would be a good idea.

That’s what Betsy Smith and Tyll Pennock, owners of The Laguna Beach Gallery of Photography, are counting on.

But what makes this new art gallery in Orange County unusual is that it only sells photography.

Laguna Beach has more than 70 art galleries but, up until now, none dealt exclusively in photographs. BC Space Gallery & Photographic Art Services in Laguna Beach is a Cibachrome photo lab with a small gallery. Susan Spiritus Gallery in Costa Mesa was the only full-time commercial photo gallery in the county before the new gallery opened May 11.

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The optimist can look at Orange County as a place with very little competition, making owning a photo gallery profitable here. The pessimist can see it as a place where there just aren’t enough buyers to support such a venture.

Smith, 34, a documentary photographer and the former director of the Goddard Art Center and Gallery of Fine Arts in Daytona Beach, Fla., believes there is a need for a photo gallery in Laguna Beach. She says photography that is recognized as an art form and that Laguna Beach is the central location for the arts in Southern California.

“I think Ansel Adams helped us out a lot (in establishing photography as a fine art form). The 150-year anniversary of photography is another key,” Smith explains. “We don’t seem to be running into any resistance at all.”

She has an aggressive sales force that doesn’t depend on walk-in traffic. She hopes to sell in quantity to corporate clients and interior designers.

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The Laguna Beach Gallery of Photography, just a short walk from the main beach, offers a relaxed atmosphere to view the images. There are two levels, and on each, walls are tightly packed with photographs. A wide variety of work is displayed, ranging from sensual nude portraits by established photographer Joyce Tenneson on 20-by-24-inch Polaroid film ($3,000) to the more affordable work of lesser-known landscape photographer Christopher Broughton ($500). The 1,500-square-foot gallery is at 303 Broadway, Suite 103.


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