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He stood in a temple of photography funded by the Annenberg Foundation, devised by the late ambassador Walter Annenberg, publisher of TV Guide, Seventeen and other print assets, who sold his company to Rupert Murdoch in 1988 for about $3 billion. A third of that was used to create Annenberg’s charitable foundation to support causes in education, the environment and humanities. When the Foundation moved its offices two years ago from Westwood to the 10th floor of the redeveloped 2000 Avenue of the Stars, Annenberg took over an unused space downstairs set aside as a cultural pavilion, and invested millions building out the thematic interior. The program’s emphasis on photography would be an extension of the old family business.
Guest curators will be brought in to guide each four-month show, and there will be no permanent collection other than the digitized content that will likely be made available online in the future. The Annenberg estimates it’s had more than 50,000 visitors. “The foundation is doing this to crack open a conversation about our lives,” said Leonard Aube, executive director of the Annenberg Foundation. “That’s what we really hope to do here.”
The debut show, L8S ANG3LES, was the work of eight Los Angeles–based photographers gathered into a statement on the city, with 1,100 images included in the digital presentation. The show was anchored by the architectural photography of Julius Shulman (who died July 15 at age 98). His pictures of glass houses, the LAX Theme Building and Los Angeles City Hall lined the first wall of the gallery, setting the scene.
There was Douglas Kirkland’s Marilyn Monroe wrapped in a bed sheet, Greg Gorman’s frail Bette Davis having an elegant smoke in her final days, and Lauren Greenfield examining youth culture and severe eating disorders. There were current and historic photographs from the Los Angeles Times, and a wall collecting the vivid portraiture and political Polaroids from Catherine Opie. Only mixed-media selections from conceptual artist John Baldessari reached beyond the traditions of documentary and portraiture.
After POYi comes a show on sports photography, celebrating the fine work of Neil Leifer and Walter Iooss, though it suggests a pattern that leaves little room for more controversial statements from the likes of a Sally Mann or Andres Serrano. Is there no Immediate Family or next-gen Mapplethorpe in its future?
“I think that’s coming,” said Lanza. “We’re going to push the envelope. We’re just beginning. There is so much creative potential here.”
At the café outside the Annenberg, Morenatti was having a second beer with his wife, Marta Ramoneda, and Gardi. The next day would be an awards dinner, and then the long trip back home. The two men argued over how graphic a photograph should depict death, and wondered how long any of them could continue this line of work.
“Being 50 years old, and working in Pakistan and doing what I’m doing right now?” said Morenatti. He looked at his wife. “Can you imagine, Marta, to be there 15 years more?” He laughed but added, “She has to be covered in Pakistan, so I feel completely guilty. But we enjoy it very much.”
While Ramoneda must remain under a veil whenever outside their home, she is working on her own project: photographing transsexuals in Pakistan, deep in a region notorious for religious extremism and sexual oppression. Morenatti opened his laptop to show off his wife’s pictures of men in flamboyant colors and makeup, moving freely within their community, singing, laughing. “We were in shock at the underground crazy people,” he said. “They don’t care about the Taliban, they don’t care about nothing.”
They were three photojournalists far from home, bringing back some coveted awards and new lines for their résumés. Yet as they gathered around a laptop, nothing excited them more than the prospect of another photograph of the unknown and unbelievable.
Pictures of the Year International, through November 1. Annenberg Space for Photography. 2000 Avenue of the Stars, #10, L.A. (213) 403-3000. www.annenbergspaceforphotography.org. Wed-Sun: 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. Admission is free.
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