The Perfect Exposure Gallery
Walk past a beige-colored plaza on the West end of Valley Blvd. near Fremont Ave. and there is little evidence that an art gallery is located among the storefronts. Nestled amongst an engineering services shop, a tattoo parlor, and a party supply store, the Perfect Exposure Gallery blends into the small-business community of this Southwest corner of Alhambra.
On a September morning, the first thing a visitor sees when they step inside is a small stage with a pile of suitcases underneath an empty frame hanging from an iron wire. Huddled on the left side is a dusty drawer, a conserved typewriter and worn chair. Each one of these items has a tag with a date and historical context. These items, carefully placed by the owner, are meant to evoke an art installation feel and spark nostalgia.
Not far away are 32 black and white framed photographs that make up the current centerpiece of the gallery, the WRA (War Relocation Authority) Exhibition by American documentarian Dorothea Lange. The body of work was commissioned by the federal government during the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Each Lange photograph is printed from the original negatives preserved by the National Archives.
The modest 2,100 square foot location has the feel of an exhibition space up front, work space in the center, and a full on photo developing studio in the back. Each section is open to the public. Armando Arorizo, the owner of The Perfect Exposure Gallery, likes the flexibility of the layout. He enjoys showing visitors what happens behind the scenes and illustrating how the space configuration can change as needed. “We do everything everywhere. As you can see, all the tables have wheels,” he said.
The Perfect Exposure Gallery can be best described as a multi-functional space that works as an art gallery but also provides photographic services and hosts an array of workshops. Arorizo does a lot of freelance photography both from his business and from his personal website. He specializes in commercial photography, landscape photography, event photography, and other styles.
According to The Perfect Exposure Gallery’s mission statement on its website, the space’s “free of charge” policy for exhibition viewing aims to complete the goal of “exemplify[ing] the rich variety and impact of photography, freedom of expression, a forum for the aesthetic, the contemptible and the sublime.” But providing that mission requires cash flow. That’s where the photo sales and photographic services help. The services such as developing, framing, matting and photography seminars make up about half of his cash flow. The other half comes from selling pieces from the exhibitions. Photographs from the Dorothea Lange collection range in price from $160 to $850.
When it was located near the Wilshire Center in Koreatown, Arorizo held the gallery’s doors open to photographers, art buffs, artists, and curious passersby for 24 years. But last September he relocated his business to Alhambra.
In describing how he came to make the move to Alhambra, Arorizo says he found the new location by “pure luck.” The spike of development in Koreatown and other Los Angeles neighborhoods made him consider shutting down for good. But thanks to a Craigslist ad, he met the owner of Best Custom Frames, Manas Huongvan, and found out he would soon be retiring and moving back to Thailand. Arorizo was able to inherit his email list and listing on Yelp.
When asked to describe his current space, Arorizo looks past the baby grand piano at the center of his gallery and out to the zooming traffic on Valley Blvd. He says “this section reminds me of Old Alhambra,” a reference to a time when Alhambra was dominated by family-owned businesses.
He describes Alhambra today as clean, with plenty of parking, and having a focus on community he hasn’t seen in other parts of Los Angeles County. According to Arorizo, when he first moved into the space last September and began hosting exhibition receptions, nearby residents would come by and admire the art. Several soon offered to help clean and set up after events. “When a neighborhood does that…it just makes you feel like you’re doing something really good,” he said.
The clientele of the multi-functional space has always been ethnically and socio-economically diverse. With a 25-year track record of hosting photographic exhibitions, artists, students, recognized photographers and inclusive seminars, his customer base can be described as diverse and loyal. They visit from Echo Park, Highland Park, Santa Monica, Pacific Palisades, Long Beach and Orange County to attend exhibits or take advantage of his photographic services.
According to Arorizo, the opening receptions for the Perfect Exposure Gallery exhibitions attract an even more spread-out, eclectic group of patrons. They range from long-time customers to friends and family of the exhibiting artists, as well as hyperlocal clientele from the San Gabriel Valley.
Kaz Takeuchi is a San Gabriel resident and has been going to art galleries for the last 30 years. He stumbled upon the gallery while driving to his sister’s house in Alhambra. His curiosity drove him to take a look inside and, according to him, he had one of the most pleasant art exhibition experiences in a long time. “Usually in the art field there are a people who are snobbish,” he said when describing his experience at the business to Alhambra Source. “But not at The Perfect Exposure Gallery.”
Arorizo was born and raised in Mexico City in 1967. As a young adult he had always had a passion and admiration for photography as an art form and, later, as a technical skill. While a young student he studied chemical engineering for two years before dropping out to pursue his passion for photography. Though he took a few photography classes in Mexico City, he was largely self-taught. He was 19 in 1986 and decided to emigrate to Los Angeles to refine his craft and grow as a photographer.
His professional experience varies from editorial, entertainment and commercial work. He has photographed global events including May Day Celebrations in Cuba, and one of President Barack Obama’s inaugurations.
His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, EFE in Madrid, and a number of other publications. Since becoming a professional photographer, Arorizo has traveled to 40 countries to take photographs. Traveling for the art continues to be a staple in his life today.
Through his business, Arorizo hosts local photography seminars and a few that travel abroad. The classes outside the country, which have gone to Mexico and the Philippines, are described as a “cultural and street style photography workshop.” He and another instructor will lead his gallery’s upcoming workshop trip to Mexico in November. The average class size is 8-10 students.
He sees this kind of immersive experience as inspiring the attendees to expose themselves to new environments and new shots. This trip will include stops in Taxco, Tiaxcala and Teotihuacan.
One of his favorite parts of teaching the seminars abroad are the stories his students tell him at the end of the trip. They tell him all about the moments before the photographs are taken and their process.
“I like to [hear about] the experience that they had when they do the photo,” said Arorizo. Whether it be a photo taken in Alhambra or at an archaeological site in Mexico, Arorizo will always believe a picture is worth a thousand words.