‘The Surfing Essay’ depicts the dark side

Anthony Friedkin’s photographic exhibit, “The Surfing Essay,” depicts the grittier side of the Southern California lifestyle. Above: “Clockwork Malibu: Rick Dano on PCH.” Left: “Skateboarder Nadas Kaupas in Venice, Calif.” Photos courtesy Anthony Friedkin from “The Surfing Essay”

The grittier, behind-the-scenes side of the surfing lifestyle is depicted in photographer Anthony Friedkin’s latest exhibit.

By Roxanne McCann / Special to The Malibu Times

The lifestyle of the Southern California surfer, much of which was shot in Malibu, is depicted in photographer Anthony Friedkin’s latest exhibit, “The Surfing Essay,” at DRKRM Gallery in Santa Monica.

It is also a personal visual record of his life as an avid surfer and photographer.

This collection of Friedkin’s images is a part of “Pacific Standard Time,” a joint initiative of the Getty Foundation and the Getty Research Institute, and is part of a collaboration of more than 60 cultural institutions across Southern California to document post-war art in Los Angeles.

“The Surfing Essay” spans more than three decades, beginning in the mid-sixties and continuing to the present. There is no romanticizing the surf scene in the “Beach Blanket Bingo” spirit in these photos. Instead, viewers are privy to a gritty, behind-the-scenes look at the time spent on the other side of PCH.

Friedkin’s beautiful shots of the ocean and waves serve as a counterpoint to the sense of danger and decay in the images of people and the beach, yet in all the images, it feels like lives might be threatened. The viewer is put on edge, on the brink of something unknown, and possibly fearsome.

Much of the work was shot in the 1970s, when there were still houses standing on Topanga State Beach, and Quaaludes and coke were among the drugs of choice. It is a broad, and at times disturbing, look at the goings-on from the Ventura County Line to Venice in the Dogtown days.

Friedkin’s long and successful career as a photographer began with his first shots of Malibu, taken at the age of eight with a Brownie camera at his family home on the beach north of Topanga. He bought and developed film at the drugstore in the little shopping center at Las Flores Canyon Road and Pacific Coast Highway where Malibu Divers is now located. By the age of 11, he was working in the darkroom, processing and printing his own images.

The expertise of a master printer is seen in this show. The flawless, detailed, perfectly realized, shades-of-gray photographs are full frame black and white limited edition gelatin silver prints, all printed by Friedkin himself in his darkroom.

Friedkin’s work is firmly established in the Los Angeles art scene and he is one of the many important Los Angeles artists whose work has been collected by the Getty Center for the ongoing Pacific Standard Time project.

The exhibition “In Focus: Los Angeles 1945-1980,” organized by the Department of Photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum, which includes Friedkin’s work, begins Dec. 20 and goes through May 6, 2012.

Surfing Essay at John Matkowsky’s DRKRM Gallery, 727 Spring Street, Los Angeles, continues through Oct. 29. www.drkrm.com