One of the benefits of exhibiting in a nontraditional gallery space is that, aside from avoiding the crowds and annoying instructions about where to stand, it forces the spectator to hyper focus on the work. This is the case for the Atrium Gallery at the Ventura County Government Center. Over the years, the Ventura County Arts Council has consistently exhibited good, even great work in all genres on all four floors in the building. One almost has to put blinders on, however, to block out the surroundings. This is a good thing for “Shared Beauty Is Not Enough,” photography by graduates and students of Brooks Institute’s MFA program, the current show on the fourth floor.

Curated by Brooks’ alumna Barbara Pickles, “Shared Beauty” is an important exhibit for Brooks Institute as it slowly chips away at the notion that it’s mainly a technical school. Pickles demonstrates something that is both eye-opening and grounding about Brooks students and alumni alike: They produce current and relevant stuff. If this show is an example of the caliber of work at Brooks, then it speaks volumes about the imaginative and intellectual activity going on in the classrooms, which is far beyond mastering shutter speed and ISO. “Shared Beauty” is eons away from Photography 101.

The selected works explore the ability of photography to extend beyond technical tradition and require viewers to take the work deeper into their minds. The exhibit is strong because of the issues addressed. Among the show’s high points are the works by Breezy Winters about the social problems of environmental waste and Amanda Quintenz-Fiedler’s examination of personal demons as a crucial part of our development as individuals.

Pickles’ contribution to the exhibit is a series of large self-portraits of the artist haphazardly covered in a white sheet amid a dining room table and chairs, draped in luminous light (see photo.) Titled “Confessions,” it recounts her journey of unifying the different roles she plays — mother, wife, professional and artist — to bring about a sense of wholeness. Also displayed are the works of Amanda Quintenz-Fiedler, Hugo Martinez, Sol Hill, Charles Murphy, Andrew Repcik, Gregory Diamond and Jayme Burrows.

Especially impressive is the work of Charles Murphy. Concerned with gender roles becoming increasingly blurred, Murphy explores the destiny of the male identity in a series of burned chromogenic prints. The ashy edges and sienna-tinged photographs of subjects associated with male archetypes have the quality of movie stills. Regardless of whether you agree with his viewpoint or not, there is something very courageous and vulnerable about the British-born artist’s approach.

Artist Sol Hill texturizes her prints with digital noise into blurry and moody photographs. Gregory Diamond challenges our awareness of the blind with his sculptural prints of Braille characters. The work by Andrew Repcik borders on documentary, evidenced by his black and white photographs of cityscapes.

Of notable mention is Hugo Martinez’s exploration of culture through gritty still-life compositions of food. The Mexican-born artist explores his bicultural reality while paying tribute to the tradition of Mexican family recipes.

“Shared Beauty” is not an exhibit of grand gestures or radical attention shifters. Rather, it is remarkable for the level of consistency and depth of content it reveals. Considering that the focus is on the work and not the space it inhabits, perhaps curator Pickles was concerned about that when she consolidated this body of work. If that is the case, then we can hope it invites new dialogue about Brooks’ academic stature and its impact on aspiring photography students in the region.

“Shared Beauty” through May 26 at the County Government Center. For more information, visit or