Curated by Kristine McKenna
Michael Kohn Gallery is pleased to present Charles Brittin: West & South, a retrospective exhibition of work by Los Angeles photographer Charles Brittin. Featuring more than 100 photographs, many of them previously unexhibited, the show is organized by Kristine McKenna, and accompanied by a comprehensive monograph recently published by Hatje Cantz.
Born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 1928, Brittin briefly attended UCLA, then dropped out of school and taught himself how to take photographs. During the 1950s, Brittin became the unofficial house photographer for the Beat community that coalesced around the artist Wallace Berman, and contributed several photographs to Berman's ground-breaking artist's magazine, Semina. Brittin settled in Venice Beach, California, in 1951, and his beach shack became a hangout for the Berman circle, which included actors Dean Stockwell and Dennis Hopper, artist John Altoon, curator Walter Hopps and poet Brittin was working as a mailman at the time, and spent much of his free time wandering the streets with a camera; he came to know Venice intimately, and his pictures of the sleepy beach town are freighted with a hushed beauty and forlorn sweetness.
In the early 1960s the focus of Brittin's life shifted dramatically when he became involved with the civil rights movement. "I suddenly realized I was compelled to do something," Brittin recalled, "because the times demanded it." As a photographer for the Congress of Racial Equality, Brittin documented the dramatic non-violent protests that occurred throughout Southern California, and made a courageous trip to the deep South, in 1965, to assist with the registration of black voters. As the 60s progressed he documented the antiwar movement, and by the end of the decade was devoting most of his time to the Black Panther Party. These two very different social revolutions are at the heart of photographs by Charles Brittin, who passed away after a long illness on January 23, 2011.