A strange trip into the vinyl dimension
by Kendra Hartmann
Jun 28, 2013 | 7290 views | 0 0 comments | 25 25 recommendations | email to a friend | print
John Purlia's "Spirit in the Sky."
John Purlia's "Spirit in the Sky."
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Those searching for some thought-provoking art to take in over the coming weeks might want to stop by Pannikin Coffee & Tea starting on July 1.

Fine art photographer John Purlia, whose work centers around large-scale photos of three-dimensional dioramas he creates in his La Jolla studio out of a staggering collection of found objects, will present “Tales from the Vinyl Dimension: Portraits and Landscapes” at the coffee house from July 1 to July 31.

Purlia’s vignettes, which usually include a message embedded in their titles, send the viewer into a surreal world where Kewpie dolls and other figurines dominate strange landscapes, often against the backdrop of a vintage vinyl record.

For the upcoming exhibit, Purlia said he wanted to zoom in on the central subjects — action figures and other toys — to force the viewer to look more closely at what often goes unnoticed.

“Over the past few years, I’ve been diligent about taking ‘behind the scenes’ photos of the stage construction to document elements you don’t see in the final image,” Purlia wrote in an email. “I take these with my point-and-shoot camera from all kinds of angles to give new perspective on a piece, or to just get a little closer to an interesting aspect of the story. In the past, I’ve used these shots in book projects or on my web site, but more recently have posted these shots to social media as ‘sneak peeks’ of new photos.”

Purlia was struck, while working on “Tales from the Vinyl Dimension,” by one of these behind-the-scenes shots.

“The shot appealed to me because one of the things I’ve tried to accomplish through my work is to invite the viewer to look very closely at objects they may otherwise take for granted,” he said. “As kids, we look very closely at our toys, examining every detail and every flaw, and I felt this particular behind-the-scenes shot accomplished this in a manner that likely would be missed in the large piece, as it brought the viewer even closer to the scene I had constructed.”

He decided to add to the show a series of “mini-landscapes” — close-in shots centered on a figure emerging from the center of a vinyl record. He then wondered how much closer he could get to the figures, and using the macro setting on his point-and-shoot, took another series of portraits shot about an inch away from the toys’ faces.

Purlia also added a video element to the exhibit, with more than 30 minutes of looping video, including stop-motion animation, slideshows and time-lapse footage. Viewers, he said, will get a sense of the three-dimensionality of his work through the video, for which he started with a finished photograph set up in his light tent, and, step by step, removed the figurines, toys and other elements, slowly emptying the tent.

“The frames are then reversed on playback to create the illusion of the scene building itself up from nothing,” he said. “It’s an interesting — and time consuming — process that requires me to develop a storyboard for the animation in reverse.”

Purlia said his work is often mistaken for Photoshopped images created by compiling images from different sources.

“That is not at all the case — and I don’t even own a copy of Photoshop,” he said.  “Each piece is built as a three-dimensional diorama inside a light tent using all kinds of collected objects: records, books, toys, curios, religious figures, etc.”

Once the scene is set up, his exhaustive process involves taking photo after photo for reference shots and scrutinizing them on his computer, then making minute changes to the scene — a step that can take days or even weeks.

“With the final staging in place I take several photos, all from the exact same vantage point using a variety of camera settings, then process these shots on my computer — sometimes working on a single photo, sometimes combining as many as a dozen photos — to generate a single image that will be shown at an exhibit,” he said.

“Tales from the Vinyl Dimension” will feature themes of political and religious conflict, narratives Purlia said he has been exploring for several years. The exhibit will include a reception with the artist on July 6 from 5 to 7 p.m. Pannikin Coffee & Tea is located at 7467 Girard Ave. For more information about Purlia’s work, visit www.johnpurlia.com.
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