Fine Art Photography Exhibit Review

City Hall to the River B & W Master
City Hall to the River © Ding Kalis

The Los Angeles River Flows
by Ding Kalis

Calumet Gallery
1135 N. Highland Ave. Hollywood, CA 90038
August 5 – September 3, 2013
Artist Reception: August 8th, 2013 – 6pm

America has been and continues to be an experiment that embodies quick draw action under a white cloud of fluffy idealism. Turning most of the 48-mile Los Angeles River into a gray, concrete super-ditch is a prime example of an idealist shoot from the hip action that seemed to be the right thing to do in the depression era thirties.

Fine Art Photographer, Ding Kalis, tells us, “It is a fact that all great cities have great rivers. Los Angeles has its El Rio de Nuestra Señora La Reiña de Los Angeles de Porciuncula, a name created by Gaspar de Portola. In time, the population decided that they could not cope with this bloviated moniker and simply called the waters, the Los Angeles River. After a disastrous flood in 1938, the citizens decided they could do without the river itself. The Army’s Corps of Engineers arrived, and when it left, a scenic stretch of waterway had been replaced with a large concrete ditch stretching 48 miles from the San Fernando Valley to the Pacific Ocean.”

Vaquero Under the Bridge #1 B & W Master_WEB
Vaquero Under the Bridge © Ding Kalis

Kalis’ new exhibition, “The Los Angeles River Flows,” does not directly address the past decision to ‘stone in’ the meandering river, nor does he document the efforts underway to restore the river to its natural state, a project now underway by the Army Corps of Engineers and other groups. His eighteen eloquently perfect black and white prints examines his own curiosity about how the river scene speaks to the quintessential Los Angeles experience; the gothic bridges, flanking signage, industrial jumble, off kilter palm trees, and the ubiquitous concrete.

Born in the Netherlands and raised in Switzerland, Ding Kalis came to California in 1973 to attend the Art Center College of Design.  Graduating in 1977, he founded a successful photography practice specializing in architecture and landscape architecture. He has worked in a variety of creative and industrial mediums but returned to his love of story in monochrome with this project. Today, Ding and his wife, Rebecca, live in Pasadena, CA, and his talent for form presents viewers with a deep juxtaposition of Los Angeles’ graphic skyline against the City’s River of fluid moments and motions.

Fashion in the River B & W Master
Fashion in the River © Ding Kalis

Upon an initial review, Kalis’ images interpret river scenes as aesthetically crafted records of place and time. His visual story has a ring of insight similar to Pat Morrison’s excellent RIO LA, a book that documents and explains LA’s love-hate relationship with its river. Make a second pass and you begin to understand that Kalis has unpacked two of America’s greatest myths and symbols; river landscapes and the industrial revolution. In each image, there are equal parts of form and pressure as he balances concrete straights with low value flora and then back fills the body of work with images of folks on the river. A Vaquero cowboy on a slow gaited horse meanders along a concrete horse trail, a film crew shoots fashion video on the trickling riverbed, cars course along the slanted banks, and iterant characters live on some of the quiet stretches.  These are high contrast images to portray the high contrast issues of an ecologically sensitive river cramped and tamed by man-constructed concrete.

Rivermouth 5 B & W Master_WEB
Rivermouth 5 © Ding Kalis

But Kalis has been careful not to frame his work in an activist or political kind of way. He presents no restrictions, and allows his audience to see intimate parts of the 48-mile super ditch as a testament to idealist industrial heroism of times past or as new American experiment in restoration and myth redemption. Either way, the audience can’t miss the stark sometimes irreverent vision of the late industrial world against the present day figures who enjoy the minimalist river with a personal reverence.

Ding Kalis’ The Los Angeles River Flows is an exhibit that delivers on form and pressure, presence and past, and is an immensely satisfying visual experience.

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