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  • Writer's pictureGary Gruber

The Story Behind the Story (Part 13)


In my early years as a photographer, it was disconcerting to me that I could not both participate and observe life as it unfolded in front of my camera. I was coming of age with my friends, and the notion of spontaneously enjoying oneself took a back seat to capturing the defining moment here and there so that those around me could revel in what they had missed because they had been too busy experiencing the events as they proceeded from minute to minute.


All this changed when I came to the Coachella Valley in the mid 70’s. My first client (The Cliff Brown Agency) thrust me into the vortex of a cultural phenomenon I had not participated in before, and I recognized the significance of my part in this new (to me) segment of society immediately. I had been propelled directly into the world of the movers and shakers that had a direct influence over how the valley was developing.


What struck me immediately was the humility associated with the ‘old’ wealth I was submerged in. To a one, they were gracious individuals who never regarded me any differently than their friends and colleagues. I was treated with respect and dignity -- never was I considered the ‘hired help’.


However, what I perceived was a surrealistic aspect to the events I was photographing -- an other-worldliness, where the people and events I was recording took on a patina somewhere between unreality and hyper reality. All at once, I was both observer and participant – and the duality of my new role was both refreshing and invigorating.


Each time I snapped the shutter I saw a slice-of-life that had a comedic or satirical bent to it that defied the reality of that instant. My wife echoed my perceptions, so I realized that I was not coloring the event with my own prejudices. We both intensely enjoyed these moments as each image magically appeared in the tray of developer.


After several years I had enough of a portfolio of these surrealistic moments that I thought it best to try and have these images recognized. Galleries in New York City rejected them immediately – perhaps they were uncertain what they were looking at.


The director of the Palm Springs Art Museum went a step further. She disparaged my work as little more than ‘photos you would see in the newspaper’. None of this discouraged me. We knew the images were powerful on multiple fronts – they chronicled the life and times of many of the wealthy patrons of the desert, and they opened a portal to moments in time that seemed to tell multiple intimate stories simultaneously.


The photograph above was taken during my first month as a photographer for the Cliff Brown Agency. It was a promo for the largest charity event in the valley, “The Bob Hope Classic Golf Tournament. So far, it is my best-selling photo at CODA Gallery.


The artist has an easier job – they must make something out of nothing. The photographer, on the other hand, has a much more difficult road to travel -- for they must make something out of something.




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