Gallery presents rare glimpses of cultural icons

Certain figures’ legacies have survived decades of new movies, new hit songs and new famous faces, remaining bona fide icons whose fame continues today despite the passage of time: Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Jimi Hendrix and Mick Jagger.

These names and others have managed to stay in the pop culture dialogue. For many Angelenos, the city serves as a glimpse into iconic artists’ pasts and hopefully famous faces from the present.

But just because Los Angeles is known for famous faces doesn’t mean that you have to hit the streets of Hollywood for celebrity history. This notion is particularly true at The Vault, a gallery locale that will serve as a trip down memory lane for some and a rare look into past eras for others. Either way, the average visitor can’t help but recognize the faces gracing the walls of the gallery, whether it be that of Monroe or Hendrix.

Located on Culver City’s gallery row, The Vault boasts unique 1950s and 1960s photographs of familiar figures. The gallery was originally located in Beverly Hills as The Celebrity Vault but was moved to Culver City last year under its changed name. The gallery acquires rare photographs from sources like art dealers and private collections.

The Vault distinguishes itself not only because it houses photographs featuring prominent figures, but because it also displays the work of important photographers, including sports photographer Frank Worth.

Though a sports photographer, Worth managed to snap photographs of people like Alfred Hitchcock at the premiere of Rear Window, Rita Hayworth taking in some sun and James Dean using the bathroom with his back turned to the camera. In fact, the gallery has quite a unique collection of Worth’s works.

“Frank Worth never published these photos for ethical reasons,” said gallery assistant Randell Baltazar as he held up a stunning black-and-white photograph of Elizabeth Taylor. “He passed away in 2001, and the company bought the right to the photographs. It found hundreds of undeveloped rolls of film. Some [of the subjects] are alive and some aren’t.”

The particular photograph Baltazar held came from the set of the 1956 movie Giant, which starred Taylor, Rock Hudson and Dean. Few photographers were allowed on set, which makes these photographs all the more prized. The shots display a behind-the-scenes look at the movie atmosphere of a by gone era and an intimate look at the glamorous yet candid characteristics that made these celebrities famous.

“There’s always continuing interest in this work. People adore Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe,” Baltazar said.

When the photographer catches an artist or actor outside of his environment, the portraits become even more endearing. Gered Mankowitz’s photographs, for example, cast iconic figures in a more human light.

Taken away from the stage and his guitar, Hendrix poses for the photographer in a series of close-up shots. One of them, aptly titled “Jimi Hendrix, Smoking,” shows Hendrix puffing out cigarette smoke with the hint of a smile across his face. The black-and-white picture manages to capture a unique moment; here Hendrix might only be exhaling cigarette smoke, but he’s also staring directly at the camera with a distinct look in his eye, stripped of flashy objects — save for his fashionable jacket and iconic face. Mankowitz’s work also includes captivating photos of the Rolling Stones.

Iconic photographs like these draw heavy interest from visitors at The Vault.

“People come in who are big fans and ask, ‘Can I see your Jimi Hendrix photos?’ And ‘Tell me how much they are,’” Baltazar said.

Douglas Kirkland’s photographs also highlight the individual personalities of iconic artists.“ Audrey Hepburn, Paris 1965” shows the actress in a white jacket and hat, playfully holding a pair of white sunglasses between her teeth. The photograph displays the right amount of candid and staged. Hepburn wears a little makeup, but the pose seems natural — a funny gesture that shows the artist’s personality. Viewers see the starlet and her familiar features but also traces of the girl that exists when the cameras aren’t on her.

The photographs eventually find homes in a variety of places since the gallery not only caters to photography connoisseurs, but also interior designers and hotels.

“We also have fine art works, so we do a lot of things. We’re pretty liberal,” Baltazar said.

Walking around The Vault, visitors will take in everything from glamorous photographs to simple snapshots. The collection proves an impressive homage to an era that produced many important stars and serves as a quieter, more insightful alternative to the streets of Hollywood.


The Vault is located on 6150 Washington Blvd.


Eva Recinos is a junior majoring in English. Her column “Nook & Cranny” runs Mondays.