The view from above

Great Park opens 'Marks on the Land' exhibit featuring aerial pictures of former El Toro air base taken by Laguna Beach photographer.

March 29, 2012|By Imran Vittachi
  • Photographer Tom Lamb talks about "Tustin One," the photograph above, and what it takes to capture the unusual perspectives of flat landscapes while looking down from a flying helicopter.
Photographer Tom Lamb talks about "Tustin One,"… (DON LEACH, Coastline…)

Tom Lamb could never have taken his pictures of a changing patch of Orange County at ground level.

From his vantage point riding in helicopters airborne and tilted at varying angles above the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station and surrounding areas — and through his lens and artistically trained eye — the Laguna Beach photographer gives the viewer an entirely different way of seeing the land.

Lamb framed his photographs in a way that deliberately takes them out of context. The pictures now on display in his "Marks on the Land" exhibit at the Orange County Great Park, the site of the former base, depict images where nature's course and man-made developments squash up against each other.

"The idea of these images ... it isn't so much about the place," Lamb said. "It is about the abstract connections that I am seeing about this place. There's not a sense of scale, for instance. You don't know whether this is large or small."


There are photos showing weeds and shrubs cracking through the surface and encroaching on abandoned base parking lots and playing courts, or of natural growth creeping onto the footprints of former buildings.

"The idea that the land is reclaiming these places, I think, is very important to me from a philosophical nature," Lamb said.

There also are photos of sections of the land that seem patterned like paintings.

"Tustin One," Lamb's photo of the no-longer functioning No. 1 helicopter pad at the former Tustin air station crossed out with a yellow "X" and surrounded by overgrowth that resembles an electrical grid, is an example. His "Tustin Artist Palette," which shows mounds of building dirt in a variety of colors at a future housing development, which could be mistaken for paints on a palette, is another.

In her introduction to the show that appears in its catalog, Kristine Thompson, a photography instructor at UC Irvine and Cal State Long Beach, offered an expert's perspective on how to interpret Lamb's photos.

"The production and tension in Lamb's work resides in the push and pull between abstraction and representation," she wrote. "Upon close inspection, we are aware that we are looking at a photograph, at objects and spaces that have an indexal relationship to the camera. But the simple gesture of pointing the camera toward the ground and eliminating the horizon lines causes us to arrive at a different perceptual understanding of these locations."

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