Book Review: Charles Brittin – West and South

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By Jim Smith

This book is an incredible photographic display of Venice in the 1950s and ‘60s, and of the Civil Rights Movement in Los Angeles and the South.

Brittin, who died last January 23 at age 83, left us with images of a Venice that no longer exists. His photos of the struggle for civil rights are both breathtaking and shocking.

Here’s what Brittin says about Venice: “It felt like the end of the world then–Venice was about as far away from Los Angeles as you could get. It had the mood of a deserted colony, and there was a quality of remoteness to Venice that drew people whose chances were running out, or were just about to begin…Our apartments may have been small but there was a tremendous sense of space when you stepped outside…There were no confines, it was private, and you seldom saw any police.”

One of Brittin’s most famous photos is of the Venice West Coffee House when it was shut down by the LAPD for allowing poetry to be recited without a license. The photo has been published previously in the Beachhead.

Brittin must have taken hundreds, if not thousands of photos of Venice, and although there are 215 prints in the book, many of the Venice photos are not necessarily included. We are now dependent on the good will of the Getty Museum, which owns the Brittin archives, if we are ever to view these.

In any case, almost any Venetian would love this book. Fortunately, it can be purchased at Firefly at 1409 Abbot Kinney Blvd and Small World Books at 1407 Ocean Front Walk.