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Encyclopedia Dubuque


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Chamberlain, Mark. (Dubuque, IA, July 16, 1942--Laguna, CA, April 23, 2018). Mark Chamberlain was an artistic photographer, as well as an environmental, assemblage and performance artist. In 1967 he received a bachelor's degree in political science and a master's in business administration from the University of Iowa. After two years in the U.S. Army during the VIETNAM WAR. Stationed in Korea, he studied with a local photographer for a year before he returned to the United States. (1)

His first major body of work was the Dubuque Passages collected between 1972 and 1976. In the mid-1970s, he began to concentrate on the California urban landscape and began a new series entitled "Future Fossils." Both recorded the "fossils"--images of the present or future. (2) He taught photography in several colleges and won several awards including an Art in Public Places Award from the Architecture Foundation of Orange County and the AIA. He claimed to be "offended" by the way Dubuque "simply sits on its old structures" in comparison to California where there were efforts to restore and reclaim old buildings. "Dubuque Passages" was shot in black-and-white while "Future Fossils" based in California was done in color. (3)

On April 1, 1973, Chamberlain and photographer Jerry Burchfield (now deceased) opened BC Space. In the initial 1,000-square-foot space, they shot and processed film for commercial clients, but soon focused on shooting and printing for other galleries, museums, and artists. They also presented photography exhibitions displaying a wide range of work. Many carried political, social and environmental messages. As word of their innovative shows spread, BC exhibitions became standing-room-only events. In 2011, BC Space Gallery of Laguna Beach, California covered 2,400 square feet. The exhibits of Chamberlain's artworks and those of hundreds of other artists influenced the perception of photography as art, locally, nationwide and worldwide. To keep BC Space free to exhibit artwork unrestrained by commercial concerns, the gallery has been supported primarily by the photographic art services it provided.

In 1980 Chamberlain returned to Dubuque when his work was displayed at the UNIVERSITY OF DUBUQUE. He also led workshops on "Interpretative Still Photography" at the university. (4)

In 1989 Chamberlain and Burchfield created "The Tell, " a photomural/small mountain, 636 feet long and 36 feet high composed of an estimated 60,000 thousand family and personal photographs, donated by people from across the country and the world. (5) "The Tell," placed near a proposed housing and commercial development, became the site of many demonstrations, as well as receiving coverage from CNN, Life magazine, and other national and local media. (5) On November 11, 1989, in cooperation with environmental groups, a walk and demonstration to the mural was attended by an estimated 11,000 people. Although mostly destroyed by the Laguna fires of 1993, "The Tell" was created by environmentalists for having the land was released for public acquisition and is now a key part of the Laguna Wilderness Park. (7)

Chamberlain assumed sole ownership of BC Space in the late 1980s and expanded the gallery's perspectives, adding visual and performance media. Exhibitions included Just War (1991), about the first Gulf War; Cities of Chance, LA/NY (1998), contrasting coastal life styles; Pretty Lies, Dirty Truths (2002), opening two months before the second Gulf War; For Shame (2004), a reaction to a politician's prohibition of nudity in art; Come Hell and High Water (2007), a scathing photographic essay on Hurricane Katrina; and My Father's Party is Busted, mounted in advance of the 2008 Presidential Election. (8)

In 2002, Chamberlain and Burchfield renewed their "activism," a combination of art and activism, with their desire that the proposed Orange County Great Park would connect with the Laguna Wilderness Park. In 2005, park proponents prevailed. Shortly afterward, they, along with four other photographers, created 'The Legacy Project' to document the evolution of the Great Park over the next decade. (9)

In July 2006, The Legacy Project created The Great Picture, the world's largest photograph, 3,375 feet square, 3 stories high by 11 stories wide. In 2007, The Guinness Book of Records certified the Project's Camera Obscura as the largest ever recorded. The Great Picture has been exhibited in two venues, featured in several hundred publications, and was scheduled to travel to China in 2011. (10)

Chamberlain's own photographic artwork has been displayed in many public and private collections, including Laguna Art Museum, the former Newport Harbor Art Museum, University of Dubuque, Polaroid Collection and the Cincinnati Museum of Art. (11)



1. Johnson, Elaine, "Photographer Returns to His Dubuque Roots," Telegraph Herald, July 3, 1980, p. 13

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. Zint, Bradley (Los Angeles Times) . "Dubuque Native, Photographer, Dies at 75," Telegraph Herald, May 10, 2018, p. 14a

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid.