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Characters

By Matt Katz

 

have a fondness for characters.

Not celluloid fabrications or literary characters, but flesh and blood people—passionate types who march to an off-tempo beat. Ventura photographer Neal Barr (cover and pages 14-15) isn’t what I’d call “eccentric,” but he is fueled by an artist’s passion. And he’s a prime example of what can be achieved when someone turns their back on normalcy and pursues an unlikely dream.

Barr’s success as a fashion photographer is evident on the pages of magazines, but it wasn’t until I visited his studio off Telephone Road that I really got a feel for the man. The studio is something of a progressive labyrinth: four rooms, each richer and more absorbing than the last. From outside, the place is totally nondescript; but normalcy dies at the front door.

Turns out, Neal Barr has been collecting 1920s couture for decades. In the deepest room, one finds camera lenses trained on mannequins dressed to the nines, every detail of their poses perfectly coordinated to show off a particular article of clothing. The room is a cross between a museum of vintage fashion and Gheppeto’s workshop, with high ceilings and blackened walls. Neal Barr, by the way, is retired. He’s built this sophisticated photo studio for a book project he’s working on—and he’s doing the whole thing purely out of passion.

In the Editor’s Note of our August issue (Mark Hartley cover), I addressed the creative process, applying it to the construction of a magazine. I’m quite certain that Neal Barr’s eventual book will be an artistic masterwork. But the creative process he’s currently immersed in is every bit as impressive.

Art takes many forms. We tend to focus on the end product—the painting, the sculpture, the book, the film—yet the artist’s path is often more intriguing. Consider the emotional swan dive Harris Goldberg took in directing his autobiographical movie Numb, which premieres this month at the Ojai Film Festival. I’ll leave the details of Goldberg’s “dissociative disorder” to writer DeWitt Smith, an Ojai resident and new contributor who interviewed him for our feature article on page 42. Suffice it to say, Goldberg swims freely and publicly in a mental condition that many sufferers choose to hide. The art of film depends on this sort of gritty reality, and regional film festivals like the one in Ojai provide a venue for poignant works that might otherwise be lost in the smoke and mirrors of Hollywood.

In keeping with the film theme, we share a rare glimpse into the life of one of the most naturally gifted performers of the modern age—Jamie Foxx, who recently moved to Hidden Valley in Thousand Oaks. And in our Travel section, bad boy actor and frequent Ojai visitor Colin Farrell shares some insiders’ tips about his hometown of Dublin, Ireland.

As usual, we feature bits and pieces from a variety of local cities. I wish we could pack all the great characters and stories in Ventura County into every issue—but the magazine would be too heavy to mail. Thanks again for sending your comments and suggestions. We read every one of them and plot our course based on what you have to say.

09-01-07

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