On their Instagram, the women of Isaiah House/Orange County Catholic Worker ask viewers to "see the world through our eyes." What could be more radical a notion in these times of severe entrenchment? By asking us simply to look, maybe we'll shut our mouths and open our minds to each other's point of view. "Saved By Beauty: Photography By the Ladies of Isaiah" is an exhibit culled from those thousands of posted images, which opens Sept. 2 at California Fine Arts Exhibition Gallery at the Santora Building in SanTana.
The dozen photographers whose work will be printed and framed for sale at the show spent the last year taking pics with disposables and cellphones. Under the mentorship of Weekly art critic Dave Barton, the women who found refuge at Isaiah House created their shared Instagram (@Ladiesofisaiah) and posted a prolific collection, using only first names to credit each photographer.
The exhibit not only celebrates this year of taking photos, but also the 30th anniversary of the Catholic Worker's SanTana location. Serving more than 3,000 meals a week and offering sanctuary to those at risk on the street, Isaiah House is the perfect blend of prayer and action. What began on May Day 1933 with the first printing of The Catholic Worker, has seen decades of resistance to war, injustice and violence of every kind. And houses of hospitality, such as Isaiah House, offering "formal meals for the homeless, shelter, bags of food and clothing, showers, emergency assistance, a relaxing backyard, and always a friendly ear and kind words of support."
"We've avoided the cliches of homelessness in the photos," says Barton, who curated the show's 150 images. "While much of the subject matter covers the natural world, there are also scenic photos of everyday life in Ghana and Indonesia, ... the odd and the ordinary in Orange County architecture, street photos and mundane items seen afresh."
On Instagram, photos capturing the colors and textures of handmade knitwear grab the eye and make the mind wonder what tales were told over all those stitches. Signage such as "Hippies Use Side Door" and "Skateboarders. Proudly Annoying Pedestrians Since 1972," and extreme closeups of tiny things evoke the humor of the photographers. The international images, taken by Stella B and Kate, are extraordinarily vivid in color, in subject matter, in composition.
Expect every possible angle on beauty. But also its loss, which is another kind of beauty altogether. Without prying into how an international student and tourist found themselves going from Ghana and Indonesia to being in need of Isaiah House's welcome, we're reminded how our lives can change overnight—by floods, by violence. Everything has beauty, Confucius said; not everyone sees it.
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The year-long project was sponsored by a grant from the Picerne Family Foundation via their Artist Outreach Project, as well as crowdfunding. "All photographs are affordably priced," says Barton, "with every penny from each sale going to women artists in need." In addition to the 5x7s and 8x10s and canvas prints for sale, will be "handmade scarves, blankets and hats; jewelry; paintings; and a sculpture or two."
Open your eyes to the beauty that the Ladies of Isaiah House see—better yet, open your wallets as well.
“Saved by Beauty: Photography by the Ladies of Isaiah,” at California Fine Arts Exhibition Gallery, Santora Arts Building, 207 N. Broadway, Ste. P, Santa Ana, (714) 598-7406. Opens Sept. 2. Fri., from 6 p.m.-9 p.m. & Sat. 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Through September 30. Free.