La Jolla photographer to be shown at the Lyceum Theatre

A self-taught La Jolla photographer has found his way into a prestigious juried exhibition.

Ater three years of working on his art, John Purlia will have his photos selected to be displayed in one of San Diego’s top photography exhibits, “The Art of Photography.” The exhibit is taking place at the Lyceum Theatre downtown through May 28.

The first “Art of Photography” show took place in 2004 and this year, it received 9,867 entries. The photos were selected by juror Tim Wride, head of the Department of Photography for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Purlia’s work will be on display alongside world-renowned professional photographers from over 37 countries who have been featured in fashion and celebrity magazines.

Although Purlia never formally studied art, he has been taking on creative projects for the past few years. He said he’s had a successful career writing software for a major technology company, but he was inspired to create art after he received a gift from a friend.

“A friend gave me this magnet and the magnet had a quote on it, saying it is never too late to be what you might have been,” Purlia said.

The quote from is from George Eliot and it inspired Purlia to be more creative. For his first creative project, he wrote a short story. He has since self-published the story into a novella, but Purlia also began experimenting with photography.

“I started taking boring photos of things like birds of paradise and my own shadow, but it didn’t do a whole lot for me,” Purlia said.

Purlia soon began drawing inspiration from toy figures that were on his desk at work.

He said he took photos of the figures and he began contrasting the toys with other objects he found, like records.

“I found out I could tell a narrative story,” Purlia said. “It looked like the toys were interacting with the scene in the background, it sort of worked and it was visually kind of striking.”

Purlia said that although he doesn’t consider himself to be a professional photographer, he is extremely proud to have his work shown in “The Art of Photography” exhibit.

He is especially pleased because his work was selected by Wride, an esteemed juror who has been critiquing photography for a number of years.

The piece that Purlia is having in the show is titled, “Final Frame at the Cuius Deo Optimo Open.” The photo depicts a toy figure bowling, but the bowling pins are nun figurines.

Purlia said the photo is one of his best works because it incorporates humor and religious imagery.

He said that he is not trying to make a political statement with the photo, but like much of his work, “Final Frame at the Cuius Deo Optimo Open” is humorous and celebrates the innocence of youth.

“I have these little nuns and I’ll set them up in such a way that is unexpected,” Purlia said. “I get some sense of surprise and delight from the images and it makes you smile. ... I force people to revisit their childhood, I have them look at these things that are interesting.”

Purlia’s photographs depict images from pop culture juxtaposed with different found objects. He said his work is influenced by a new movement in the art world called pop surrealism.

Purlia grew up in Alpine, but he has lived in La Jolla for the past couple of years. He says La Jolla influences his writing, but he credits the La Jolla Artists Association for giving him the first opportunity to show his photographs to the public.

Purlia has had his photographs on display in a few local galleries, but the “The Art of Photography” exhibit will be the first time it will be shown in an international forum.

He said he keeps the quote from the magnet in his mind constantly, and he recommends that others pursue their creative passions as well.

“Essentially, don’t talk about doing something... do it,” Purlia said. “Take a chance. Have confidence in your passions and see them through. You never know when you might surprise yourself.”