BC Space

Written in 2012 by Liz Goldner


In downtown Laguna Beach, a Frisbee‘s throw from the ocean, there once was an innocuous steel door with a discreet sign that read “BC Space.” (That sign was there for decades, before the space was converted to “Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Center” in 2019).

Visitors to BC Space gallery opened that door, climbed the steep, narrow stairway to a large, bright entryway, lined with artworks. They walked into two well-lit galleries, the second with a skylight and black ceiling, continued into a large open area, the combined studio/entertainment/performance area. Facilities included a small stage — built by the Masonic Lodge of Laguna Beach, originally occupying the space — a first-rate sound system, a projection screen, and large glass doors facing a quiet lane.


Mark Chamberlain (1942-2018) and Jerry Burchfield (1948-2009) opened BC Photography and Custom Lab Services in Laguna Beach on April 1, 1973. “BC” combined the owners’ last initials, while placing the venue high up in the phone book’s yellow pages — its only advertising.

Mark and Jerry opened the original lab and gallery, later renamed “BC Space,” “to generate income and provide the tools needed to explore and print our own and others’ photographic art,” Mark explained. “With proceeds from this work, we were free to exhibit contemporary work based solely on merit, not salability.” At that time, there were no other photography labs in the area producing the quality color and black & white prints that Jerry and Mark desired for their own artwork.

“Artist friends told us we were crazy to start a business like this in Laguna,” Jerry said, “that we needed to be in Los Angeles where the action was. But we liked our cheap rent, working near the beach, and our upstairs studio space.”

“This was a time of great change,” Mark explained. “We were affected by the ongoing American War in Viet Nam and the undercurrent of protests. BC Space was forged in the cauldron of that contentious time period.”


Jerry and Mark built adjacent black & white and color darkrooms for photographic processing and printing. They often shouted through the wall between the darkrooms while working, until Mark cut a hole in the wall and hung a black curtain over it. They had many intense dialogues across that confessional black hole…about art, the environment and their own artwork.

In 1974, they added custom film processing, archival black and while printing, art reproduction (transparencies and negatives), restoration of old photographs, photography for museum and gallery brochures and catalogs, commercial specialty printing, and artist’s portfolio printing.

At that time, museums and universities were beginning to recognize the growing allure of photography as art. Yet few art galleries exhibited photography in the front gallery space. Mark and Jerry were helping to change this, prominently featuring photography.

Jerry explained, “We were a pioneering entity showing aggressively contemporary work by some of the most innovative photographers in the country. We ignored the tourist tradition of most Laguna galleries. As our audience was mainly artists and enthusiasts, not collectors, we often spent more money on exhibits than we took in.”

Their photography exhibitions also attracted clients needing sophisticated fine art and portfolio printing of the highest quality. Mark and Jerry photographed and printed for other galleries, museums, and artists, inspiring them to keep reproduction quality as high as possible. BC Space was evolving into a self-supporting and artistically nurturing biosphere.

In 1977, BC Space broke through its back wall, opening up a storage area behind the original space—expanding from 900 to 2,400 square feet; and hired two more people to meet demand for their services and exhibitions.

In 1981, BC Space held its Photography Auction Exhibition, published an extensive catalogue, and formally hung 245 works by little-known to famous photographers—among them Ansel Adams, John Divola and Brett Weston. The exhibit received extensive media attention, and took in $18,000, but Jerry and Mark had spent everything they had on the show—remodeling the space to accommodate the exhibition, mounting the exhibition, and publishing a major catalogue.

BC Space was to take another big financial plunge in 1983, purchasing a high-end Cibachrome print processor to create large color prints with visual vibrancy and archival qualities to meet museum standards. Photographic artists, many adding color to their own palette, began commissioning BC to print their work. Mark explains, “Unlike most custom labs, we had better understanding of their needs and goals and could speak their language.”

In 1984, the Orange County Register commissioned the gallery/studio/lab to print its photographs from the Los Angeles Olympics. Using Cibachrome, BC processed the prints and matted the images to museum standards, creating the visual presentation for which the Register won that year’s Pulitzer Prize.

As BC Space grew in vision, complexity of exhibitions, and size, several hundred people joined its evolution. These employees, volunteers, and artists helped construct the space, mount the shows, display their own work, and even perform there. The Space became a multidisciplinary venue, encompassing all visual arts including film and performance arts.

Agonizing Breakup

Jerry Burchfield passed away on September 11, 2009. A few months before his passing, he spoke about the painful 1987 breakup of his and Mark’s business partnership (even as he continued working on BC projects, particularly the ongoing Laguna Canyon Project and The Tell). “We tried to represent artists whose work we admired, but as artists ourselves, not sales people, we sold very little. Everything changed when I became a parent and financial reality hit home. We struggled over how to make BC Space more lucrative, but everything we came up with would have ruined it.

“I left the gallery to better support my family and child, turning to full-time teaching [Jerry earned a master of fine art degree while at BC]. It was the most agonizing decision I have ever dealt with.”

“In BC fashion, we exhibited The Art of the Matter about the breakup; it was an evolving, expanding dialogue on the role of the artist in American society. We have remained great friends and continue to collaborate on art projects…and Mark kept the B in BC Space.”

In time, teaching gave Jerry a new perspective, mentoring numerous photographers toward more creative expression.

Jerry also continued to develop as an artist, creating his photograms and later Lumen Prints.

After Mark Chamberlain assumed sole ownership of BC Space, he gradually expanded the gallery’s perspectives, exhibiting other visual and performance media on an equal footing with photography. “Ideas and issues expressed through art became more important to me than just one medium,” he explains. “Besides, photography had gained its place in the art world.”

The gallery continues to explore and present art issues as an expression of our deepest yearnings. Topics range from the shamelessness of healthy sexuality; societal evolution; politics and economics; the defamation of native peoples; the hell and hypocrisy of war; and environmental concerns. The most persistent theme has been and continues to be on environmental issues. The only work censored or considered obscene at BC Space is bad art.

Looking Forward

Within BC Space, Mark Chamberlain continues to explore his personal artwork, while mentoring (and curating) other artists in their quest for creative expression–all free of the need for commercial conformity. He has taught in several colleges, sharing and, through teaching, amplifying his extensive knowledge of photography and its history.

BC Space is not a foundation and does not solicit donations to support its rent and the cost of exhibitions. Located in a commercial area on Forest Avenue, Mark Chamberlain continues to support the gallery through his Photographic Art Services.

Today, BC Space remains firmly ensconced in the building in which it was launched. It has kept pace with the dramatic changes from film to digital image making, while also presenting exhibitions of painting, sculpture, installations, and video, as well as film, music, theatre, and dance events.

For Mark Chamberlain, BC Space Gallery—presenting innovative and courageous work that often challenges the status quo—is his passion, his bliss and his mistress.