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Central Avenue: A Community Album

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20-Years After LA's Civil Unrest MOPLA Presents "Central Avenue: A Community Album" 4/14 - 4/21/12

Twenty-years after LA's 1992 civil unrest, the City turns its attention to South Los Angeles, where a photography exhibition in the heart of the community is taking a personalized approach to telling the history of one of LA's storied neighborhoods. Central Avenue: A Community Album, premiering on Saturday, April 14, 2012 from 7:00 to 10:00pm, is a curated collection of previously unseen vernacular photographs submitted by neighborhood residents exhibited alongside a series of new portraits made in the same community by documentary photographer Sam Comen.  The exhibition of over 150 photographs contributed by residents and business owners portraying their lives in the neighborhood will be displayed in an immersive series of multiple projections in a new 3,000 square-foot retail space in the heart of the Central-Adams neighborhood.  The exhibit will present a retrospective of the rich cultural heritage of the area and a contemporary view into the state of that community today. Nearby youth center A Place Called Home will provide a jazz quintet.  Local small business owners will serve complimentary light food and beverages. Sapporo will provide complimentary beer. The projected installation will be up through Saturday, April 21, 2012 at 2515 S. Central Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90011 at the corner of Adams Blvd. Central Avenue: A Community Album is part of Month of Photography - Los Angeles' (MOPLA) citywide annual initiative that showcases the enormous photography community, inclusive of commercial, fine art and photojournalism. For more about the project, visit https://www.facebook.com/events/263975363690596 and for more about photographer Sam Comen, visit www.samcomen.com.

On the following day, Sunday, April 15th, there will be an open house and bike tour from CicLAvia's hub – one mile north of the exhibition – at the African-American Firefighter's Museum (1401 S Central Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90021) down to the exhibit between 10:00am - 3:00pm.  See below for more information on that event.

Central Avenue was the vibrant epicenter of African American culture and commerce during Los Angeles' early 20th century boom through the 1940s.  Since then, Central Avenue experienced economic decline and blight proliferated, punctuated by civil unrest in 1965 and again in 1992.  Like many other neighborhoods in Los Angeles, over the past 30 years the Central Avenue community has become predominantly Latino, adding to the cultural and commercial diversity of this historic neighborhood. 

It's been 20 years since the 1992 civil unrest, and two months since the dissolution of the CRA/LA, the redevelopment agency charged with revitalizing the scarred portion of the city. It's an opportune time, organizers say, to re-focus public attention on Historic Central Avenue, and highlight not only its rich cultural heritage, but also the thriving community it has become.

"Set against the backdrop of Central Avenue, these family photos are true first-person accounts of life and work in this neighborhood," said Sam Comen, magazine photographer and co-organizer of the exhibition.  "We're daylighting these extraordinary photos that would never have been otherwise seen, and adding them to the historic record."  

Comen also produced a new series of portraits of Central Avenue area residents, which will be featured alongside the residents' own photos. Over the course of six weeks, Comen walked, drove, and pushed a cart of photo gear through the community, and made portraits of the people he met in his wanderings. Of the experience, Comen said, "It was an incredible way to shoot, and experience the neighborhoods. I've conveyed in my pictures that this is not the blighted ‘South Central' people may think of."

The project has unfolded over the past three months as a small group of artists, urban planners, and business owners canvassed businesses, churches, community organizations and residents' homes to solicit contributions from family albums for the show. More than 600 photos were scanned from 40 individual contributors.

"Central Avenue is one of the most storied neighborhoods in the city, but many of these stories have never been heard by those outside of South Los Angeles," said Jason Neville, an urban planner working on Central Avenue, and co-organizing the exhibition. "By inviting Angelenos from across the city to Central Avenue to see these stories through residents' family photos, this project is more than simply an exhibition, it is an arts-driven community revitalization effort."

Organizers wanted the exhibition itself to help build the growing awareness of the flourishing neighborhood; the event is being held in a new retail space at the heart of Central Avenue, and the process of daily canvassing and conversations has created a buzz among locals eager to see what photos made the final cut. The exhibition will transform the space into an immersive environment of multiple photo projections.

"I'd like to think that it was small businesses like ours, who stayed in the community through its ups and downs, that helped generate this renaissance underway on Central Avenue," said Vivian Bowers, exhibit co-organizer and owner of Bowers and Sons Cleaners, which has been on Central Avenue for over 60 years.  "The story of this, our community, is as diverse as the families living here, and it is a story worth telling.  That's why this photo project is so very special."

CicLAvia Bicycle Tours –

The exhibition was planned alongside the fourth CicLAvia, a one-day event in Los Angeles where 10 miles of roads are closed to cars, and 120,000 cyclists and pedestrians take to the streets.  CicLAvia will for the second time reach out to South LA, and Central Avenue: A Community Album organizers will lead hourly bike tours from the CicLAvia hub one mile to the exhibition. CicLAvia organizers have embraced these tours as a way to further engage South LA in their efforts. Tours will depart from the CicLAvia hub at the African-American Firefighter's Museum at Central Ave. and 14th Street on the hour at 11:00am, 12:00pm, 1:00pm, and 2:00pm. To learn more please visit http://www.ciclavia.org.

MOPLA –

In April 2009, the inaugural Month of Photography Los Angeles (MOPLA) showcased the enormous photography community, inclusive of commercial, fine art and photojournalism. As the second largest photography community in the United States, Los Angeles provides a distinctive backdrop to the celebration of the photographic image. MOPLA was established and exists to advance the celebration of photography through a variety of events and programs designed to inspire and invigorate the photography professional, enthusiast, emerging professional and collector. MOPLA's two-fold mission is to advance dynamic programming designed to engage and stimulate the photography community, as well as to present a comprehensive resource of exhibitions and events in April.

Central Avenue: A Community Album sponsors include Meta Housing, MOPLA, Samy's Camera, Smashbox, Quixote, Box Brothers Downtown, Bowers And Sons Cleaners, Coalition for Responsible Community Development, CDTech, Primera Taza Coffee House, and A Place Called Home.

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