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Charles Brittin papers, 1914-2009 (bulk 1950-1979)

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Brittin (Charles) Papers

Biographical / Historical Note

American photographer and artist Charles Brittin came to prominence in the 1960s and 1970s through his association with Los Angeles artists Wallace Berman and George Herms. Born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Brittin relocated with his mother to the Fairfax district of Los Angeles in 1944, following the death of his father. After studying film and photography at UCLA, he settled in Venice, California, and began capturing images of the rapidly changing landscape. Employed variously as a tour guide at ABC, a darkroom assistant, and a mail carrier, Brittin also managed to capture images of the entertainment world, such as Orson Welles' transformation of a Venice neighborhood into a set for his movie A Touch of Evil.

After meeting Berman, Brittin began photographing him and his circle of underground artists, actors, writers, and musicians. During this period, Brittin also began creating works of art himself, and helped produce three of the nine issues of Berman's now rare periodical, Semina. Brittin's skill at photographing the artistic moment continued to develop as he captured images of events and no longer extant artistic locations in Los Angeles, such as the ephemeral Artists' Tower of Protest (also known as the Peace Tower) and the innovative Ferus Gallery co-founded by Berman, Edward Kienholz, and Walter Hopps. It was Brittin who photographed the now-infamous police raid at Ferus Gallery in 1957.

Throughout his career, Brittin was a political activist. During the early 1960s and 1970s, he became involved in the civil rights movement and photographed the social protests that characterized the time. He documented his experiences canvassing neighborhoods with the equal rights group Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). His commitment to political activism and civil rights issues continued to grow as he photographed feminist and labor demonstrations as well as numerous protests against the Vietnam War. Brittin documented many Los Angeles area clashes between police and protesters and eventually became involved with the Black Panther Party. The struggles of this movement are among the most dramatic subjects of his photographic art.

Brittin continued with both artistic and sociopolitical photography well into the 1970s. His work has been shown in several solo exhibitions and nearly twenty group exhibitions. His images have also been used in numerous books on the dissident 1960s and the Beat scene in Los Angeles. Charles Brittin died of pneumonia in January 2011.

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