Oil Is History, photographs by Horace Bristol and
Louise Marler. At the East/West Gallery, through September 10.

Reviewed by Brett Leigh Dicks bristol-13.jpgIn drawing together a series of
nostalgic black-and-white photographic prints from the archives of
Horace Bristol and a selection of more contemporary color offerings
by Louise Marler, the East/West Gallery presents two distinct
photographic treatments that reflect on the decline of fossil fuel.
Presented by Energy Independence Now, Oil Is History is the
inaugural exhibition for this emerging Eastside gallery. The
gallery has carefully culled Horace Bristol’s broad visual legacy
to present a historical examination of the oil industry in its
heyday. In ironic contrast to the energy crisis we currently find
ourselves in, Bristol’s classical approach to his subject projects
an innocent romanticism.

The intensity of Bristol’s work resides in its reflective
beauty. In one image, a line of wooden oil derricks traces the path
of the railway line through Carpinteria. The vigor of this image
magnificently captures the inherent enthusiasm associated with the
tapping of what, in 1933, seemed like an endless resource. In
Bristol’s world, wooden towers rise silhouetted against the sky,
jetties and platforms stand astride a caressing sea, and
reflections embrace an oil sump. These venerable offerings stand as
powerful symbols to an age that is now passing away before our very
eyes. The photographer’s graceful vision is further enhanced by its
implementation. Deep shadows and piercing highlights characterized
the printed execution, bringing a sense of otherworldliness to
Bristol’s work.

bristol-1-.jpgIn Louise Marler’s contemporary vision
of the world of oil, derelict automobiles lay in various states of
rusty decay. The subtle tonal range of her color prints gorgeously
captures the essence of what were once bastions of progress and
fashion. These marooned beasts now lie in desolate waste. Cars that
were once revered classics are now neglected relics. While the
images themselves are beautifully seen and executed, for this
viewer, their elaborate framing overwhelms the prints.

Such an approach to presentation might have worked in another
setting but, in conjunction with the poignant starkness of
Bristol’s elegantly presented work, Marler’s contributions come off
as somewhat kitschy. Adjacent to the show there are other photos by
Horace Bristol. One of the real treasures from this selection is an
image of a scuffle from within a Japanese Shinto Shrine. A mass of
entwined bodies in blurred skirmish aptly conveys a sense of
overwhelming chaos. With the promise of a greater exploration of
Bristol’s considerable visual legacy in a pending exhibition, one
senses this stylish gallery space will quickly prove itself a Santa
Barbara staple.


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