Richmond photographer's bold images find a home at The Getty
By Lou Fancher Oakland Tribune Columnist San Jose Mercury News
Photographer Malcolm Lubliner is not as he appears.
Like the soulful shadows and slashing diagonals lurking in the bold black and white or blazing colors of his images, the 80-year-old photographer's friendly, mild manner only hints at the underlying political and cultural firebrand.
The Richmond resident, who moved from his "beautiful double-yard, Mediterranean-style Oakland home" after giving up early idyllic visions of urban farming, has been chronicling California culture for decades. An avid fan of celebrated graffiti artist Banksy and public mural masters in Oakland, he has more in common with today's taggers than yesterday's Rotarians.
Recently, the Getty Research Institute purchased Lubliner's entire collection of late 1960s and 1970s images.
"Malcolm Lubliner's photographic archive is an excellent complement to significant archival holdings already in the Special Collections," says Marcia Reed, Getty Research Institute chief curator.
"It took 15 years, but they now have it all," Lubliner says. "For me, it's a resolution of that time."
In the '60s and '70s, after arguing policy and cartooning during a four-year stint with the U.S. Navy, Lubliner was hired by Kenneth Tyler as the contract photographer for Tyler's Los Angeles-based Gemini G.E.L., a premier publisher of limited edition prints.
L.A.'s lavish scene was in a seminal period, with West and East Coast legends like Ron Irwin, Jasper Johns, Claes Oldenburg, Roy Lichtenstein and Robert Rauschenberg shaking up the conventional art world. Gathered like stars at Hollywood parties -- or their subversive humor captured in rare, private studio portraits -- Tyler says, in an email, "Malcolm's wealth of images capture the zeitgeist of an exciting era in their uncanny precision and inclusiveness."
Lubliner remembers gambling -- putting aside his paint brush, purchasing a 35mm camera and a storefront and pitching a pictorial story profiling the making of a fine art print.
"I just migrated into documenting the birthing of what came to be called the L.A. art renaissance," he says. "As a kid, I knew the city as a vast wasteland. Suddenly, it was developing culture, with parties for people like David Hockney, Jasper Johns, choreographer Merce Cunningham."
Craig Krull Gallery in Santa Monica has represented Lubliner for decades and Krull says Lubliner's photos "capture the raw and exuberant energy" of the period.
Lubliner's body of work shows he never restricted himself to snapping only the glitterati.
"Auto Culture," an arresting collection featuring vehicles of all ages and conditions in urban and natural settings, makes plain the characteristic poignant-funny duality of his approach. Cars are aliens, clowns, masters, mistresses -- and more than anything, so are their owners, the photos suggest.
"The Anxious Landscape" photos, in which his use of shadow in pathos-saturated black and white images rises to the level of dramatic genius, leave the viewer pondering humans' relationship to place. In the 1980s Lubliner began creating still lifes made with fragile, vulnerable things.
"I used torn papers, broken objects never conceived of as sentimental or decorative," says Lubliner, who likes his Nikon D700's broader capabilities.
Shot against Translite, a Kodak material he backed with chrome Mylar, the objects appeared 3ï»¿-D.
But the works' visual novelty is far less important than their message.
A 2009 commission for Oakland's African American Museum stands out: a 6-foot montage of unedited photos from a WWI magazine and handwritten inscriptions are a massive cry against war proponents' investment in money, not humanity.
"I carry my pacifist protest views right out in front, very conscious," he insists. "But my landscapes and cars show my affection for humor. I used to deliver photos for a drugstore and keep the discards. Rejected photos showed astonishing images. They were of things people valued but didn't recognize as ironic. My lunacy picked up the humor."
He hasn't given up the idea that art should dispense socio-political lessons, lit with humor and expressed to expose succinct, focused juxtapositions.
"Art moves; it doesn't rest," he says. "Early tagging is no good to anyone, but Banksy and contemporary art influenced by hip-hop culture and graffiti styles are critically important. They are as direct as anything I know of in art history."