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Santa Barbara Celebrates Local Photographer Nell Campbell

07 Jul 2017 1:15 PM | Anonymous

Two new Santa Barbara exhibits shine the spotlight on a locally based artist known for her keen observations of everyday life. 

By A. Van Houten

Although Nell Campbell is based in Santa Barbara, many of the photographs in her two new solo shows feel more at home alongside the work of noted Southern Gothic photographers Walker Evans and Clarence John Laughlin than with any of her central California contemporaries. 

"bearing witness: the photography of nell campbell"

Organized by the Santa Barbara County Office of Arts and Culture and the Santa Barbara County Arts Commission, “bearing witness: the photography of nell campbell” celebrates the work of the documentary photographer who for over 40 years has documented the lives of people met during travels and political gatherings. 

Her projects, often concerned with issues of cultural representation and social justice, have featured topics like anti-war demonstrations during the Vietnam and Iraq wars and the organizing drives of the United Farm Workers Union form 1976-77. However, her photos also capture the quotidian: panoramic landscapes of Louisiana wetlands and street photography in Havana comprise a substantial portion of her oeuvre, as well. 

"Nell Campbell: About Face"

Located at the Channing Peake Gallery in downtown Santa Barbara, "bearing witness" is presented in conjunction with another display at UCSB’s Art Design & Architecture Museum. “Nell Campbell: About Face” — the artist’s first solo show in her home state — features many never-before-seen images from some of her well-known series. 

Ranging from New Orleans Mardi Gras to political demonstrations, the subjects include early photographs of family and friends, shots of migrant workers from Campbell’s time as a staff photographer with Cesar Chavez, hunters from Louisiana and even activists at the recent Women’s March in L.A.  

The linking thread? Each selection depicts an individual who caught the photographer’s eye. Campbell’s photographs at UCSB are complemented with prints of other photographers whose practices resonate with her own, including Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange and fittingly, Walker Evans.

A current resident of Santa Barbara, Campbell’s upbringing yields a clue as to her interest in the South. She was born in Biloxi, Mississippi and grew up alternately in New Orleans and Lake Charles, Louisiana — the birthplace of the aforementioned Clarence John Laughlin . Now, her photographs can be found in the permanent collections of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, The Wildling Museum of Art and Nature and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orlean. 

The UCSB show will remain on view through August 20; museum hours are noon-5pm from Wednesday through Sunday and noon-8pm on Thursdays). The Channing Peake exhibit is open until December 1 at 105 East Anapamu Street, in the first floor lobby.

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