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Former Vaudeville performer gives new light to Bunker Hill in photo exhibit

By Kylie Reynolds
Published: Tuesday, July 10, 2012, at 08:19AM
George Mann/Courtesy of Dianne Woods

This photograph of a Bunker Hill house in the 1950s by George Mann is one of the images featured in the "George Mann's Lost Bunker Hill" exhibit at the Take My Picture Gallery.

While digging through her basement in the early 1990s, Dianne Woods stumbled upon a box. Inside were thousands of negatives - which the professional photographer instantly recognized as something valuable.

The negatives belonged to her then-deceased father-in-law, Vaudeville performer turned photographer George Mann.

From the 1920s to the 1940s, Mann was well-recognized as a Vaudeville headliner, but he moved into photography in his post-entertainment days. His work was seen throughout Los Angeles in the form of 3-D viewers he built himself, which he leased to restaurants and doctor's offices. The photographs were later stored in his son's home, and seemingly forgotten until Woods' discovery.

Mann's photos run the gamut on "California iconic imagery," including Catalina Island, Disneyland and the Salton Sea, said Woods, who now handles Mann's archive. But it is his rediscovered shots of Bunker Hill in the 1950s and 1960s that have shed light on a part of L.A. history.

This weekend, Mann's photographs will be coupled with historical presentations and a book signing at the "George Mann's Lost Bunker Hill" exhibition at Gary Leonard's Take My Picture Gallery. The exhibit will debut Thursday night for the Downtown Art Walk, and will feature a Bunker Hill historical presentation by Los Angeles historians Richard Schave and Nathan Marsak, Bunker Hill-native Gordon Pattison and Esotouric-owner Kim Cooper.

Jim Dawson, author of Los Angeles's Bunker Hill: Pulp Fiction's Mean Streets and Film Noir's Ground Zero!, will be signing his book Saturday night at the exhibit.

The 24 images on display highlight the gracious and genteel Bunker Hill rarely seen by people outside of the neighborhood. While film noir from the 1940s and 1950s portrayed this part of DTLA as dark, grim and seedy, Mann's photographs - which were shot in the daytime - set Bunker Hill in a different light.

"If you think you know Bunker Hill because you've seen film noir or gritty photos ... you are going to be completely flabbergasted to see what it looks like in the bright sun in the 1950s," Cooper said. "It's absolutely beautiful."

Making Mann's photos even more of a rarity is the fact they were shot in color. Black and white photos abound of Bunker Hill, but the same cannot be said for chromatic images.

"There are lots of black and white photographs of Bunker Hill, but very little in the way of color," Woods said. "The difference is you really feel like you are there - it's pretty magical."

This weekend's exhibition will be the first artistic viewing of Mann's work in L.A.

Mann never thought of his photos as fine art - he knew he was a good photographer, but the shots were just part of a business he moved into after dancing, Cooper said.

"The notion of printing them off and putting them onto a wall was something Diane (Woods) came up with," she said.

By partnering with Cooper in exhibits like the one at Take My Picture Gallery, Woods said she hopes to give exposure to Mann's photographic work.

"My personal motivation is to get George on the map as a photographer," Woods said. "He's a national treasure in my mind."

The historical presentations and book signing will provide context for the Bunker Hill photos. Schave and Marsak are passionate historians of architecture and Bunker Hill, while Pattison, whose family owned the last two houses on the Hill, will be there to talk about what it was like growing up in the area, Cooper said. Dawson, who first approached Take My Picture Gallery owner Gary Leonard about the exhibition, will be signing his new book that features some of Mann's photography.

For native Angelenos or history buffs, the exhibition aims to provide a new way of looking at the Bunker Hill neighborhood of DTLA.

"There is something about looking at these photographs - when you go to the actual location (of the photographs), and see what it is now and what it was then," Leonard said. "It can be transcendental, the experience."

Thursday's exhibition and historical presentation starts at 7:30 p.m. and will be repeated again at 8:30 p.m. Saturday's exhibition and book signing is from 6 to 10 p.m. Take My Picture Gallery is located at 860 S. Broadway street, Los Angeles, CA 90014.


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