With this body of work, I turn my back on the city and aim my camera towards the wilderness of Santa Monica Bay. I depart my studio when I see exceptional light, cross the human traffic and clutter of Ocean Front Walk and move through the sand to the surging surf and migrating birds.
The bay is spectacular from wherever it is viewed, but the experience becomes fuller the closer you get to the water. You hear a surreal quiet when you reach the halfway point in the sand between the tourists and the shoreline. The sound level shifts again as you approach the waterline – waves crashing and birds screaming gradually overwhelm echoes from the city behind you.
The sensual rhythms of undulating water have mesmerized me for the thirty-three years I have lived in Santa Monica. The lush femininity of the bay draws me in, enveloping me with sensual pleasure. My senses are delighted with the visual beauty and full complement of sound. I love feeling the warm sun and cool wind on my face while inhaling the unique aromas of sand and water. The reflection of the sky creates an ever-changing palette of dimension and color. The bay is my muse.
When I was six years old, my grandparents moved to Coney Island and my parents and I walked the boardwalk and ate Nathan’s hot dogs there many times each year. Now, the Santa Monica Pier beckons me. I have walked the pier no less than 1000 times since we moved to Ocean Park in 1982. It was derelict then and I have watched it grow from a danger zone to a family-friendly international destination. My two Springer Spaniels are self-appointed Santa Monica ambassadors who draw attention from tourists missing their dogs left at home thousands of miles away.
The pier carries me back to the world of my childhood while informing my life as a professional photographer. I teach nocturnal Noir photography workshops on the pier through Otis College of Art and Design and my photographs are featured in Jim Harris’ book honoring the centennial of the Santa Monica Pier published by Angel City Press in 2009. I am considered an official Friend of the Pier.
The pier continues to inspire me, as seen in many of my newest photographs presented here. There are certain spots on the pier that allow me to look down with my camera and meditate on the swirling waters below. The infinite patterns of foam visually soothe and transfix. The luscious rhythms of the undulating bay stir my senses and rouse my vision to create captivating, often highly eroticized images.
Although my reputation has been that of a black-and-white photographer, my printer, Titano Cruz, and I have allowed captured color to seep through in many of the photographs so as to convey the muted, near-mystical, affecting tones seen in early morning and at dusk. The use of large format is deliberate, seeking to mirror the overwhelming visceral experience of Santa Monica Bay’s embrace.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Helen K. Garber is known for her night urban landscapes taken in cities such as Los Angeles, New York, Paris and Venice, Italy. Her images are exhibited internationally and are in museum, corporate and private collections. Museums include LACMA, the George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography, NY, the Brooklyn Museum, NY, MOMA Dublin, the archives of the Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, Beverly Hills.
Helen’s work has been published in a number of books and she authored Venice Beach, California Carnivale in 2005. Her photo essay about life on Ocean Front Walk became the official commemorative book for the 2005 Venice Centennial. She received the 2014 Santa Monica Artist Fellowship for her images of breaking waves.
Helen K. Garber is a member of the faculty of Otis College of Art & Design and has taught night photography workshops for Emerging Focus (for Photo LA) and the Skirball Cultural Center. She maintains a studio on Ocean Front Walk at Venice Beach, CA.