Price List, 1974
In downtown Laguna Beach, a Frisbee‘s throw from the ocean, there‘s an innocuous steel door with a discreet sign that says “BC Space.” Open that door, climb a steep, narrow stairway to a large, bright entryway lined with artworks. Walk into two well-lit galleries, the second with a skylight and black ceiling. Continue into a large open area, the combined studio/entertainment/performance area. Facilities include a small stage from the Masonic Lodge that earlier occupied the space, a first-rate sound system, a projection screen, and large glass doors facing a quiet lane.
Mark Chamberlain and Jerry Burchfield opened BC Photography and Custom Lab Services in Laguna Beach, California on April 1, 1973. “BC” combined the owners’ last initials, and also placed it high up on the phone book’s yellow pages—its only advertising.
Mark and Jerry opened this venue, later renamed “BC Space,” “to both generate income and provide the tools needed to explore and print our own and others’ photographic art,” Mark explains. “With proceeds from this work, we were free to exhibit contemporary work based solely on merit, not salability.”
At that time, there were no other photography labs in the area producing the quality color and black & white prints that Jerry and Mark desired for their own artwork.
They chose the original 900 square foot upstairs location on Forest Avenue for its inexpensive, convenient, and desirable location.
“Artist friends told us we were crazy to start a business like this in Laguna,” Jerry said, “that we needed to be in Los Angeles where the action was. But we liked our cheap rent, working near the beach, and our upstairs studio space, a former Masonic Lodge that Mark stumbled onto.”
“This was a time of great change,” Mark adds. “We were affected by the ongoing war (the American war in Viet Nam) and the undercurrent of protests. You could say that BC Space was forged in the cauldron of that contentious time period.”
Mark & Jerry, 1977
By 1974 they had added custom film processing, archival b&w printing, art reproduction (transparencies and negatives), restoration of old photographs, photography for museum and gallery brochures and catalogs, commercial specialty printing, and artist’s portfolio printing.
In 1976, Mark and Jerry formally converted the foyer area into a contemporary fine art photographic gallery, renaming the venue “BC Space” to reflect the open-ended character of their ambitions. By then the “photo lab” services were capable of supporting a modest gallery with monthly exhibitions—many infused with political, social and environmental messages. These shows also generated a larger interest and audience for art with social relevance among photographers and non-photographers.
As word spread about their innovative shows, BC exhibitions became standing-room-only events, some attended by hundreds of people, many gaining coverage by local—and national—media.
Mark & Jerry Cribbage, 1996
Jerry explained, “We were a pioneering entity showing aggressively contemporary work by some of the most innovative photographers in the country. We ignored the tourist tradition of most Laguna galleries. As our audience was mainly artists and enthusiasts, not collectors, we often spent more money on exhibits than we took in.”
Their photography exhibitions also attracted clients needing sophisticated fine art and portfolio printing of the highest quality. Mark and Jerry photographed and printed for other galleries, museums, and artists, inspiring them to keep reproduction quality as high as possible. BC Space was evolving into a self-supporting and artistically nurturing biosphere.
In 1977, BC Space broke through its back wall, opening up a storage area behind the original space—expanding from 900 to 2,400 square feet; and hired two more people to meet demand for their services and exhibitions.
In 1981, BC Space held its Photography Auction Exhibition, published an extensive catalogue, and formally hung 245 works by little-known to famous photographers—among them Ansel Adams, John Divola and Brett Weston. The exhibit received extensive media attention, and took in $18,000, but Jerry and Mark had spent everything they had on the show—remodeling the space to accommodate the exhibition, mounting the exhibition, and publishing a major catalogue.
BC Space was to take another big financial plunge in 1983, purchasing a high-end Cibachrome print processor to create large color prints with visual vibrancy and archival qualities to meet museum standards. Photographic artists, many adding color to their own palette, began commissioning BC to print their work. Mark explains, “Unlike most custom labs, we had better understanding of their needs and goals and could speak their language.”
In 1984, the Orange County Register commissioned the gallery/studio/lab to print its photographs from the Los Angeles Olympics. Using Cibachrome, BC processed the prints and matted the images to museum standards, creating the visual presentation for which the Register won that year’s Pulitzer Prize.
As BC Space grew in vision, complexity of exhibitions, and size, several hundred people joined its evolution. These employees, volunteers, and artists helped construct the space, mount the shows, display their own work, and even perform there. The Space became a multidisciplinary venue, encompassing all visual arts including film and performance arts.
Mark & Jerry, 1978
“I left the gallery to better support my family and child, turning to full-time teaching [Jerry earned a master of fine art degree while at BC]. It was the most agonizing decision I have ever dealt with.”
“In BC fashion, we exhibited The Art of the Matter about the breakup; it was an evolving, expanding dialogue on the role of the artist in American society. We have remained great friends and continue to collaborate on art projects...and Mark kept the B in BC Space.”
In time, teaching gave Jerry a new perspective, mentoring numerous photographers toward more creative expression.
Jerry also continued to develop as an artist, creating his photograms and later Lumen Prints.
After Mark Chamberlain assumed sole ownership of BC Space, he gradually expanded the gallery’s perspectives, exhibiting other visual and performance media on an equal footing with photography. “Ideas and issues expressed through art became more important to me than just one medium,” he explains. “Besides, photography had gained its place in the art world.”
The gallery continues to explore and present art issues as an expression of our deepest yearnings. Topics range from the shamelessness of healthy sexuality; societal evolution; politics and economics; the defamation of native peoples; the hell and hypocrisy of war; and environmental concerns. The most persistent theme has been and continues to be on environmental issues. The only work censored or considered obscene at BC Space is bad art.
OC Register, 1986
Within BC Space, Mark Chamberlain continues to explore his personal artwork, while mentoring (and curating) other artists in their quest for creative expression–all free of the need for commercial conformity. He has taught in several colleges, sharing and, through teaching, amplifying his extensive knowledge of photography and its history.
BC Space is not a foundation and does not solicit donations to support its rent and the cost of exhibitions. Located in a commercial area on Forest Avenue, Mark Chamberlain continues to support the gallery through his Photographic Art Services.
Today, BC Space remains firmly ensconced in the building in which it was launched. It has kept pace with the dramatic changes from film to digital image making, while also presenting exhibitions of painting, sculpture, installations, and video, as well as film, music, theatre, and dance events.
For Mark Chamberlain, BC Space Gallery—presenting innovative and courageous work that often challenges the status quo—is his passion, his bliss and his mistress.
BC Space Gallery
235 Forest Avenue
Laguna Beach, CA 92651