In Process

South Bay photographer Mark Tanner uses traditional shooting equipment to create art images that are anything but.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then any one of Mark Tanner’s beach photographs is an epic novel. An innovative Redondo Beach artist who cherishes the concept behind a project, Mark says, “Expressing an idea visually is a challenge I love to undertake.” And he admits that he prefers to rise to the occasion with the help of a traditional film camera.

Ironically, as evident in his Beach Series, he uses a particular method to produce anything but traditional images. Instead of simply blasting through a roll of film and developing the best picks in a darkroom, Mark employs what could be called the “three-times-a-charm” technique. He shoots through one roll of film and rewinds it multiple times in order to create three separate layers of images. This process obliges each layer captured to randomly contribute one-third of the power to the final exposed creation. Revealed is a multifaceted collage, featuring a sometimes-iconic ensemble, and other times a more peculiar selection of seaside elements that speak with equal authority to a collective “day at the beach” psyche.

When viewing Mark’s Treasure photograph from the aforementioned series, it is readily understood that the ubiquitous southern California palm tree found within the work is not, in and of itself, spellbinding to us beach dwellers. Rather, what mesmerizes the eye is the special way in which Mark’s multiple exposure technique arbitrarily selects and positions the tree, causing it to engage with the other objects in the photograph in a very spontaneous manner. The tree, like the people on the boardwalk or the commercial building storefronts, adopts a mysterious quality amongst its counterparts. This mystique ebbs and flows like the ocean tides, strengthening and then weakening as another piece of the image takes precedence.

The drama of the scene is further amplified by Mark’s use of sepia tones, a color treatment that almost weathers the pictures, making it somewhat difficult to apply a specific time stamp to them. In the end, each component in each frame takes its place in a different chapter of the photographer’s narrative. And collectively, all of the elements work in unison to provide a compelling visual story.

Mark enjoys giving viewers “a fresh way of looking at the familiar.” In his Tim Kelly Memorial photograph from the series, he does just that. And his efforts garnered him the Award of Distinction from the Beach Cities Art District Show in the summer of 2010. Measuring roughly 60 by 20 inches, the work includes four predominant features: the statue honoring the legendary lifeguard, people on the boardwalk, the ocean and the pier.

What is so captivating about this photograph is that it straddles the fence between what’s real and what’s not real, making it difficult to tell where the statue begins and where it ends. So at certain times, it appears as if Tim Kelly has been brought back to life and is once again finding bliss in the South Bay. The real-life skateboarder performing tricks on the boardwalk further blurs the relationship between the statue of Tim Kelly and the real man himself.

As the layers of activity claim different levels of importance, the eye continues to travel through the sequence of images, trying in vain to settle on just one thing. This concept of activity or movement was surely what the photographer had in mind when he saw these scenes working in conjunction to produce the picture. His imagination, then, along with his expert photography skills, is to thank.

Mark started putting his imagination to work at a very early age. As the youngest of six children, he was encouraged to use his own creativity as his primary source of entertainment. He quickly realized that the more his creative juices flowed, the stronger his desire to get these juices moving became. His father’s example also influenced this practice. While Mark’s dad was not an artist, he was, according to his son, “confident that he could make, fix, build, or create just about anything.” And the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

Mark’s love for the art of photography was solidified during his high school years. After graduation, he went on to earn a photography degree from the Art Institute of Colorado in 1985. A career in commercial photography followed. With many years of shooting commercial and editorial work under his belt, Mark came to the realization that his true passion belongs to the world of fine art. He explains, “The ability to merge the knowledge and technique I have gained through the commercial field with the creativity and imagination I learned as a child has brought my fine art work to a new level.”

In tune with this inventive spirit, Mark is a photographer who constructs his own world, one frame at a time. Literally. Refusing to forfeit any part of the artistic process, Mark designs his own photo frames. Comprised of materials ranging from wood to steel, these art frames are anything but standard surrounds. Instead, they are extensions of the personalities present in the photographs they border.

Along with holding photographer and frame designer titles, Mark is currently vice president of Photographic and Digital   (PADA), a local group of photographers. He is also a member of the Redondo Beach Art Group (RBAG), a local group open to artists and art enthusiasts in and around the South Bay. And it is of interest to note that Mark is a man who likes to shoot with a 30-year-old 35mm Canon A-E-1. While he appreciates digital technology, the process of utilizing it can cause him to experience a disconnection with his work. Therefore, he chooses to shoot with film when it suits his artistic needs as well as the needs of the project. “The motion of rewinding the camera, and the clicking sound that accompanies the action,” he says with childlike glee, “provide a freeing, liberating experience.”

To scope out Mark’s complete Beach Series for yourself, visit Or email the photographer at [email protected] to arrange a viewing of his work in person.