Atwater Village is not exactly the place you'd expect to stumble across a posh art opening, but Saturday night a well-heeled crowd descended on the Enisen Gallery for a showing of work by photographers Michael Yamashita and Richard John Vartian.
The gallery (which opened in December) hopes to bring high-profile artists to an area undergoing a slow but steady gentrification. Functioning much like its parent company, Enisen Publishing (a publisher of booklets on international news), Enisen Gallery is focused on work by local and international artists on a variety of political and societal themes.
For its inaugural show, Enisen displayed work by L.A.-based Armenian photographers. On Saturday, the gallery opened a show that directly reflects the current geopolitical climate, giving a diverse audience from the area's local ethnic communities a glimpse into a culture in danger of being devastated by war.
Vartian's work translates the ancient Persian verses of "The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam" into black-and-white photos, artful dramatizations of scenes evoked by various passages, providing the perfect match to Yamashita's images from his moving journey through modern Iraq.
A National Geographic photographer for more than 20 years, Yamashita has been traveling the world since his first trip to Japan when he was 21. In 1999, National Geographic gave him his dream assignment: a three-part series on Marco Polo.
The images he captured for the magazine would eventually be compiled for his newest book, "Marco Polo: A Photographer's Journey."
"We got unprecedented access at the time because the Iraqis thought it was a good moment for a story like that," said Yamashita, "a story that would look at Iraq in a nonpolitical way. Thanks to Marco Polo, I got to go to territory that most people never get to see."
Yamashita's images of Iraq are particularly resonant in that they capture not only the everyday lives of the Iraqi people (children at play, men at work and religious rituals) but also the striking beauty of a country that has been portrayed as little more than a vast and arid wasteland.
At Enisen, Yamashita gave a subdued and serious crowd a much larger glimpse -- vivid and moving images of towering mountains, wide green valleys and incredible architectural wonders.
"It's been a wonderful experience," said Yamashita. "There are Armenians here tonight and Israelis and Iraqis as well. I think it's very appropriate to show these images in such a diverse ethnic community.... It's interesting because now that we are on the brink of war with this country, suddenly these pictures take on a different life. It becomes maybe the last glimpse of Iraq before we potentially destroy it."
Iraq: A Photographer's Journey
Where: Enisen Gallery, 3419 Glendale Blvd., Los Angeles
When: Noon-5 p.m., Wednesdays-Saturdays
Ends: May 3
Info: (323) 660-3789 or www.enisen.com