CSU Channel Islands (CSUCI) will host an exhibition of documentary photographs by artist Larry Gassan entitled, 100 Mile Runners & Dead Man’s Bench. More than 20 large-scale photographs will be on display in CSUCI’s Napa Hall Gallery from November 12 to December 6, 2019, with a public reception held on Thursday November 21, from 5 to 7PM. Photographer Larry Gassan, a resident of Camarillo, CA, will be in attendance on the night of the opening and will discuss his work.
Larry Gassan’s extraordinary photographs document the world of “ultra trailrunning,” a fringe sport in which participants traverse 50, 100, and sometimes even 200 miles, through rugged wilderness along remote mountain trails. The sport has gained popularity in recent years, with races taking place throughout the world. Gassan’s gritty and grainy images capture sweat-soaked and grime-coated runners using traditional medium format film cameras, which he sometimes sets up in distant mountain environments.
“When I started the Finish Line Portrait Project in 2004, nobody else was doing it.” Gassan describes, “Here was a unique opportunity to make portraits of 100-mile runners—definitely an unusual group of individuals. I thought I’d be done in six months, and I’m still at it.” His series of 100-mile finishers chronicles isn’t solely focused on the winners; rather, a distinct and diverse cast of characters, with many racers still active in their late 60s and early 70s.
Gassan’s images from the notorious “Dead Man’s Bench” capture runners mid-race at mile 81 of the Angeles Crest 100 Endurance Run, perhaps the most challenging moment of this historic race. “At this location, everything is still in doubt,” Gassan says, “The race outcome is still uncertain. The finish line is 20+ miles away, and you can still miss cutoffs at the next 3 aid stations.” These images reveal the intense dramas that play out for his runners as they struggle through the darkest hours of the night.
This is Larry Gassan’s second solo show and the first to feature several life-sized prints that were created especially for the Napa Hall exhibition. Attendees will have the opportunity to stare eye-to-eye with his subjects, many of whom have been moving for more than 30 hours straight. Gassan understands his subjects because he has also participated in numerous trailrunning events and continues to race. He recently logged an impressive finish in the local 68-Mile Backbone Trail Ultra, running the entire length of the Santa Monica Mountains in 25 hours and 4 seconds.
Luke Matjas, CSUCI Professor of Art and curator of the exhibition, first met Gassan out on the trails of Wildwood Regional Park, but he was already well acquainted with his work. “Gassan’s high-contrast black-and-white photos are iconic amongst runners,” Matjas says, “I knew it would be unconventional for an exhibition at CSUCI, but considering the artistry of his approach, I thought his work would be important to share with our students and the campus community.”
Sports photography, as a genre, is not typically featured in gallery settings, but Matjas hopes visitors will see there is something different about Gassan’s work, “The installation is really exciting and the life-sized prints are incredible—he has an eye for the chiaroscuro effects of baroque painters such as Caravaggio and the heroism of Neoclassical painters such as Jacques Louis David, not to mention his more overt nods to contemporary artists such as Diane Arbus and Gary Winogrand.”
The exhibition highlights the positive effects of physical activity and the strength of the human spirit, and, as Matjas adds, “This work is inspiring for everyone to see—Larry’s images make us all want to get outside and do something positive.”
The Napa Hall Gallery is located on the CSUCI campus at the entrance to Napa Hall, near the corner of Santa Barbara Avenue and Ventura Street. Visitors can park (Select stalls are free for 30 minutes or $6 for a general permit) in the Round Mountain Parking Lot. The gallery is open Monday through Friday from 9 to 5PM.