Helen K. Garber

fine art photography

Venice: Yesterday/Today or still crazy after all these years is a collaboration between myself, the Venice Historical Society and master printer Titano Cruz.  We worked as urban archeologists to pinpoint the exact locations of where the vintage images were taken.  I then take new photographs from that same location and with Titano's great help, present them side by side as archival pigment ink diptychs.  They are available individually or as a folio of the complete set of 16, 16 x 20" prints in a custom designed clam shell box.

Quick History of Venice
Abbot Kinney, pictured on the left in the first photograph, was a visionary and created Venice of America at the turn of the 20th century to reflect the beauty of Venice, Italy along with amusements offered at Coney Island, NY.  Canals circumvented the streets and gondolas and small boats were able to navigate the waters.  The ocean front walk at the beach and the pier offered amusements, cultural attractions and rides.  Including a roller coaster and miniature railway he had built.  And of course cool temperatures for the masses to escape the summer heat of Los Angeles before air conditioning was invented.

By 1929, the popularity of the automobile and power of the oil industry influenced the city to fill in the canals.  Not nearly as beautiful, they are far more functional as the area attracts hundreds of thousands of people on the weekends.   There are still a few canals, but unknown to most, these canals were not part of Abbott Kinney's vision, but built to service the railroad. 

Blocks around the central Windward Avenue contained buildings with ornate neo-Italian Palazzo facades including colonnades.  The facades began to crumble in the middle of the twentieth century and most of the ornamentation and some upper floors were removed for safety reasons including preventing squatters from living there.  There are few remaining buildings and little ornamentation left, but enough of a hint of the past to keep a dialogue going among those interested in urban history. 

The beat generation came in the 1950's and the 1960's brought the hippies.  Artists flocked to the area.  The short walk to the beach with its' infinite view to the West and amazing light was a great inspiration for the artists while the temperate climate allowed them to work all year round in unheated old warehouses.  Some of the most important contemporary art was conceived and created here during the past 50 years.  Ed Ruscha, Ed Moses,  John Baldessari, Peter Alexander, Larry Bell are among the more famous still working here. 

The area remained rough despite it's close proximity to the ocean.  It wasn't until the 1990's when the adventurous few began to trickle in and gentrify the "hood".  The crack dealers fought back and held off the gentrification for a few years, but the dredging and restoration of the remaining canals beckoned a new class of residents...owners who hired the best architects to create visionary homes along their banks.  The gentrification trickled out throughout the area and now there is very little evidence of the 20th century ghetto... just a few small pockets remain.  A number of low income housing units originally built to accommodate the average Venice resident are now heavilly outnumbered by the 2-3 million dollar architectural homes that are shown off during paid tours that support local charities.

A replica of the original Venice sign was installed at the corner of Windward and Pacific Avenue just a few years ago and one of the original gondolas was placed on the center island of what was once the main lagoon.   The city as all cities, continues to evolve. 

It is now 2016, 4 years after I have finished the project of historical images of venice beach printed as diptychs.  My love for Venice was destroyed by the corporate invasion of Google, SnapChat and the financial forces that pushed out most of  the artists to turn the creative vibe into Silicon Beach.  I am glad I was able to capture Venice when it reached the peak of Abbot Kinney's vision.