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Getty Museum Project Pairs Students with their Mentors
Los Angeles Times

Photographers Ima Kurada and William Christenberry keep their cameras ready as they roam a North Hollywood sidewalk beneath a bright orange rooftop sign announcing "Miss SOUL FOOD."

Kurada is a diminutive 26-year-old photography student from Japan with green streaks in her short black hair who is becoming entranced with the shade of sky-blue paint on the stucco facade of a store.

Her tutor is Christenberry, 70, a tall, soft-spoken man who helped pioneer the use of color in fine arts photography. He is an Alabama-born artist based in Washington, D.C., renowned for his photos, paintings and sculptures of rural Southern churches, sheds and sign-laden country stores.

They have come together Saturday on Lankershim Boulevard with nine other college students as part of a project by the Getty Museum to pair artists with students learning to record their neighborhoods.

Forty college students were divided up between four nationally known photographers and sent out to East Los Angeles, the Santa Clarita and San Fernando valleys and Venice.

The goal of the project was to capture "where we live," a term borrowed from the new Getty photography exhibition of the same name.

Christenberry and the students from L.A. Valley College who followed him to North Hollywood and Van Nuys would find sidewalks alive with the kaleidoscope-hued facades and signs of African American, Armenian, Latino and Caribbean businesses. The scene became a classroom for both student and teacher.

"It's vibrant. Exciting. It's my cup of tea," says Christenberry before he points his camera toward the SOUL FOOD sign.

Two doors down, Kurada keeps Christenberry's lessons in mind as she studies the exterior of a hair salon specializing in black hair care, its faded sign reading "Crown Glory" with a little crown between the two words.

Kurada said she learned from Christenberry that she could take straightforward photographs of simple themes and colors, a technique new to her.

And the project taught her to view Los Angeles and its familiar scenes in a different way. "I realized it could be like art," she says.

She points her lens toward the blue facade. In a single frame, she captures a part of Los Angeles: the salon sign, the scarlet bougainvillea blooming on the fence next door, the blue facade painted with fresco-like clouds, and above it all, a cloud-dotted blue California sky.

"Sky blue, and this blue," Kurada remarks.

The Getty recruited Christenberry and the three other prominent artists with works in the exhibit -- Karen Halverson, Camilo Jose Vergara and Alex Harris -- to act as mentors for students from four Los Angeles County community colleges.

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