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Photography: Beyond the Surface

Various Artists

Solo exhibitions:

Matthew Finley

Rob Grad

John Peralta

Melanie Pullen

Christopher Russell

Joni Sternbach

Rodrigo Valenzuela

Site specific installation:

Kira Vollman


Selections from the Permanent Collection

The Lancaster Museum of Art & History (MOAH) and the Lancaster Museum and Public Art Foundation (LMPAF) invite Antelope Valley residents and visitors to its newest exhibition Beyond the Surface, a survey of contemporary photography.  The exhibit will be on display November 9 through January 12, and the opening reception will be November 9 from 4-6 p.m.

Beyond the Surface features the work of eight photographers, including a survey of Melanie Pullen’s work in the Main Gallery, Joni Sternbach’s Surfland series in the East Gallery, This Too Shall Pass by Matthew Finley in the North Gallery, Rob Grad’s Finding Foreverland series in the Wells Fargo Gallery, work from Christopher Russel in the Moore Family Trust Gallery,  photographic installation by Rodrigo Valenzuela in the South Gallery, along with sculpture by John Peralta, and 16mm, a site-specific installation, by Kira Vollman.

Photography has long been associated with its ability to document reality. As a medium, photography has neatly satisfied the human need to search for objective truth. But truth is not objective. Like photography, the truth is crafted, manipulated, and enhanced. In the digital age, with the advent of augmented and virtual reality, the blurring of the line that separates real from unreal has reached an unprecedented level. Beyond the Surface examines these permeable boundaries. Its artists, who each utilize traditional photographic processes, challenge the viewer to look deeper and find a greater sense of truth that lies just beyond the images’ surface.



Matthew Finley creates conceptual portraits that connect with the viewer on an intimate and emotional level. By using the handcrafted photographic processes of tintype and ambrotype, Finley harkens back to the fixedness and inerasable quality of his own personal history. He explores instant film as a way to create portraits as original and authentic works of self-examination, capturing elusive, often fleeting moments of self-realization.

In the series, This Too Shall Pass, Finley reflects on his personal journey of coming out as a gay man after being raised in a religious household where being gay was not accepted. Each Polaroid acts as a looking glass, through which the viewer experiences Finely’s “past selves.” His memories, though fuzzy and impressionistic, are a vulnerable look into his youth, realization of his sexuality, and the persistence of time. Shame, fear, and rejection slowly transform into love, desire, and belonging as Finley takes the viewer through his journey to self-acceptance. His goal is to share these memories, set free the ghosts that have haunted his past and connect with andencourage others who are going through similar experiences.

Based in Los Angeles, Matthew Finley has been a photographer for ten years and is a core member of the Advanced Photography Critique Group at the Center for Photography at Woodstock. His work has shown in galleries on the West Coast, New Orleans, and Cincinnati. His images have also appeared in publications including Fraction Magazine, Shots Magazine, and Plates to Pixels where he won the Juror Award in The Visual Armistice 10th Annual Juried Showcase.



Rob Grad’s sculptures are photo-based mixed media. Each piece consists of layered plexiglass parts that combine painting, drawing, and photography in a variety of ways that highlight or conceal various elements. Grad uses his work to address existential issues, using the physical layers of his sculptures to tackle the multiple layers of each issue. These meditations give the viewer license to consider their personal histories and discover their own truth.

Finding Foreverland reflects on his interest in nature and the evolution of humankind’s relationship with it. Grad says, “from as far back as I can remember, I’ve always felt at home surrounded by nature. It’s wise. And patient. It was here before us, and will probably be here long after we’re gone.” The artist’s inspiration comes from a poem he wrote while reflecting on the wisdom and authenticity of a flower’s life. He saw the flower as delicate, but also unreservedly tough and unapologetic. Each sculpture in the series is a metaphorical character that struggles to grasp the wisdom that the flower embodies so effortlessly. The complementary environments cropped into hand painted gestural shapes, fused together with colors and text and assembled into a three-dimensional wall hanging brings each character to life.

Grad is a current resident of southern California. He won First Place in the “New Media” Category of the Beverly Hills Art Show in 2015. He has shown his work in solo exhibitions at Fabrik Projects in Culver City, California, Gallery 825 in Los Angeles, California, and the Frame Gallery in Agoura, California, as well as in group exhibitions throughout southern California and Florida. Grad’s work was included in Art Basel, Switzerland, and at SCOPE Miami in 2017.



John Peralta is a self-taught artist whose unconventional style of sculpture incorporates iconic mechanical objects and high-tech materials to produce beautiful and complex representations. His interpretation of what is known in engineering terms as the exploded diagram, is original and demonstrates his imagination, technical expertise, and inventiveness.

Peralta’s The Mechanitions Series reverses the fabrication process by taking utilitarian objects from the past and turning them into sculpture. Each three-dimensional exploded diagram makes each object feel vulnerable and approachable, while also creating a sense of reverence as the viewer takes in the intricate workings of the device. It allows the viewer to connect their own intimate experiences with the object, “like the typewriter your grandfather used in the war, your grandmother’s sewing machine, your father’s pocket watch, an iconic electric guitar,” as Peralta explains. These memories evoke a strong emotional connection to these objects and invite the viewer to imagine the vast memories each object holds.

Peralta is a native of New Mexico and, although he now lives in Austin, Texas, his New Mexico family and heritage remain major influences on his life and work. Some of his earliest memories are of him and his brother pulling their red wagon around the neighborhood, knocking on doors, collecting broken radios, televisions, tape players – anything they could get their hands on – opening them up to see what made them work. He received no formal training in the arts, and it wasn’t until his thirties that he found his creative voice. Peralta is currently represented by the George Billis Galleries in New York and Los Angeles, Galerie Goutal in Aix-en-Provance France, Wally Workman Gallery in Austin, Gerald Peters Projects in Santa Fe, and Cinq Gallery in Dallas. He has had major exhibitions in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Austin, and Santa Fe.



Melanie Pullen’s photography tells a story in a single frame. Her work is cinematic and theatrical, often taking inspiration from film, photojournalism, forensic photography, and war journalism. This retrospective features work produced over the course of the last 14 years, including images from her High Fashion Crime Scenes, Violent Times, and Soda POP! series.

Widely known for her work in the fashion industry, Pullen often uses fashion and media consumption as themes in her work to express the subtleties of her ideas. In her most extensive series, High Fashion Crime Scenes (2013-2017), Pullen outfits her models in haute-couture while staging them in re-enacted vintage crime scenes. The outfits distract and draw the viewer’s attention away from the gruesome scene of the crime. In Violent Times (2005-2009), Pullen focuses on the history of violence and its glamourization from early documentation in historical painting to the contrasting reality of modern photojournalism. Her series Soda POP! (2015) takes the idea of iconic soda ads and flips it on its head, making the viewer feel uneasy by placing the models in questionable nighttime settings.

Melanie Pullen was born in New York City in 1975. She is self-taught and was raised in a family of photojournalists, publishers, and artists. Currently she lives and works in Los Angeles, California. Pullen has both exhibited and her work is in the permanent holdings of The Getty Museum, The Museum of Contemporary Art, The Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego, California and Museo Jumex in Mexico City. Pullen has been recognized in numerous publications including Art Forum, Art Review, CBS News, CBS Radio, Elle, Fortune, GQ, Los Angeles Times, National Public Radio, New York Times Magazine, Nylon, Photo, Rolling Stone, San Francisco Chronicle, Vogue, and W.



Christopher Russell analyzes the use of photography as technology has advanced over time. Originally, chemical photography was used to faithfully record people and places around the world, often feeling as if the viewer saw or experienced the actual place or thing firsthand. With the progression to digital photography, that sense of truth and reality is lost due to the complete malleability of images. Russell takes these digital images and emphasizes their changing position in the world from objective truth to subjective realities by scratching, cutting, folding and painting on the print, often creating his own narrative.

In this series Falls, Russell fictionalizes a travelogue of a highly acclaimed Western photographer from the 1860s, Carleton Watkins. Russell travels to locations that Watkins previously photographed and photographs them himself, looking at them from the opposite end of a historical continuum. As he photographs each location, he manipulates the light that enters the lens to ensure they are fuzzy and hard to follow. As Russell scratches into the emulsion of the print, ghost-like patterns and fictional narratives begin to appear, warping Watkin’s original travelogue. Each of the images in this exhibition is “waterfalls.” This connecting theme is portrayed in a variety of ways throughout the work. It can take form in a sudden change in the flow of a pattern, an interpretation of a historical photograph of Willamette falls, or a muddle of ships approaching a watery precipice.

Born in 1974, Russell received his Master of Fine Arts degree from the Art Center College of Design in California. In 2009, he produced a solo exhibition at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, California. He has also been featured in group exhibitions at the Tokyo Institute of Photography in Japan, The Norton Museum in West Palm Beach, Florida, Armory Center for the Arts in Los Angeles, California, White Columns in New York, New York, De Appel Arts Center in the Netherlands, Oakland Museum of California in Oakland, California, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in Los Angeles, California among others. He has published numerous critical articles in addition to being a featured subject of positive review by the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Huffington Post, Artillery, Frieze, and ArtForum.



This exhibition of tintype portraits was made during Sternbach’s visit to Oahu in December 2017 and 2018. It is part of a larger body of work, entitled Surfland, depicting various sized large format portraits of surfers, made on location around the globe. Surfland explores the real and conceptualized state of the surfer in the American imaginary. This project is a latter-day ethnographic document that unites different ages, genders, cultures and geographies through sport. The artist’s project places the everyday “soul surfer” (those who surf for the sheer pleasure of surfing) next to the elite, pro-surfing competitor just as they might exist in the water, waiting for the next wave.

Sternbach’s work examines the ever-changing juncture between land and sea. This series was born out of her life-long desire to clarify the connection between humans and nature and her enduring love of the ocean. Surfland is an in-depth body of work that delves into the nature of identity and the character of portraiture. It’s an endeavor that can engage an entire community at any given time. What started as a local project on Long Island developed into a broader global study of people and place, sport and culture.

Each tintype uses a liquid emulsion (collodion) that is poured onto the plate just minutes before it’s exposed and developed. All of Sternbach’s photographs are processed on site using a portable darkroom. The plates are fixed in daylight, allowing the image to be shared immediately with her sitters, which is crucial to her interaction and relationship with her subject. The attention to time spent making and evaluating each detailed collodion plate transforms the standard photographer/subject connection to a shared experience.

Joni Sternbach is an artist and educator based in New York. She received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Photography from the School of Visual Arts and a Master of Arts degree from New York University and the International Center of Photography in 1987. She is an advisory board member and founding faculty at Penumbra Foundation in New York City, where she teaches wet plate collodion. Sternbach’s work is part of many international and public collections including the National Portrait Gallery in London, Joslyn Museum, MOCA Jacksonville, Nelson Atkins Museum, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. She is the recipient of several grants including New York Foundation for the Arts and Creative Artists Public Service and Santo Foundation. Her monograph Surf Site Tin Type was published in the Spring 2015 by Damiani and is now sold out of the second edition. She is represented in Los Angeles by Von Lintel Gallery and in Paris, France by Galerie Hug.



Rodrigo Valenzuela’s work in photography, video, and installation is rooted in contradictory traditions of documentary and fiction, often involving narratives around immigration and the working class. The artist often expands upon his own personal experiences, such as feelings of alienation and displacement, to inform universal concepts throughout his work. Valenzuela’s photographic technique involves orchestrating “performances for the camera,” which entails creating complex spaces by using his own photographic work as a backdrop against which additional installations are seamlessly built and rephotographed. The illusionistic quality of these spaces engage the viewer in questioning the way their own experiences influence their view on truth and reality.

Valenzuela’s new series, Stature, is a progression of his previous studio constructions. In this series, the artist casts discarded electronics packaging in clay and concrete. These abstract constructions appear sterile, harsh, and sometimes even monsterlike, reminiscent of Brutalist architecture that was popular in the 1950s. None of these forms are glued or connected in any way. Instead, each object is precariously balanced in each arrangement. By taking these cast off items and making them permanent, structural and valuable, Valenzuela indirectly examines capitalist endeavors.

Rodrigo Valenzuela was born in Santiago, Chile in 1982. He completed an art history degree at the University of Chile in 2004, then worked in construction while making art over his first decade in the United States. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from Evergreen State College and a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Washington. His work has been exhibited in a variety of museums and galleries including the Upfor Gallery in Portland, Oregon, New Museum in New York, New York, Laurence Miller Gallery in New York, New York, Arróniz Arte Contemporáneo in Mexico City, Mexico, USF Contemporary Art Museum in Tampa, Florida, Kathleen O. Ellis Gallery, Light Work in Syracuse, New York and the Galerie Lisa Kandlhofer in Vienna, Austria. He is a professor of art at the University of California, Los Angeles and represented by Klowden Mann Gallery in Los Angeles.



Kira Vollman’s installation, 16mm, combines photography, painting, sculpture, and sound into an interactive experience. Vollman collects refuse from scrap yards, thrift and surplus stores, combining these disparate objects and synthesizing new meanings in this next phase of their life. As a visual and sound artist, Vollman sees each medium in constant interaction with one another, as “parts of a whole” rather than separate entities. Byincorporating music into her work, she curates a connection between the artwork, the viewer, and herself,orchestrating a moment of unity via interaction.

16mm is an abstract, static film clip which takes the viewer on a narrative of their own choosing. As the viewer travels down the 16 foot piece, the provided score, along with the photography, collage, and painting invites the audience to imagine themselves on an adventure, drama, or even a romance. Vollman muses, “Danger might be lurking around the next corner. There are escape routes. There is a serious pitfall at the center of your journey. Can you avoid it? The red threads are your lifelines.” The undulating frames draw viewers deeper as the plot thickens. The score for the piece is incorporated via steel frames that have been woven onto diffusion frames used in lighting for film.

Kira Vollman is a Los Angeles based artist, curator, and vocalist. She is currently the owner, director, and curator of ARK Gallery Studios in Altadena, California. She is also a composer and vocalist for the group, Non Credo. Her artwork has been shown in galleries such as The Neutra Institute Museum & Gallery, Sylvia White Gallery, SOPA Studios Gallery, and MOAH:CEDAR. In 2017, she won first place in the All Media Exhibition at the Irvine Fine Arts Center in Irvine, California.

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