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Malibu High alumna embarks on photographic journey, seeks donations to back it

Pictured is a 2013 image Malibu High alumna Cebe Loomis captured in Virginia City, Nevada — which is now the subject of her graduate project, entitled “Tailings.” Loomis’ more recent imagery of the city is not yet developed. Photos Submitted
Cebe Loomis
Lauren Coughlin, Editor
9:39 am PDT July 12, 2017

They say a photo is worth a thousand words. 

So, while all of Malibu High alumna Cebe Loomis’ classmates at the University of California, Santa Cruz elected to turn to film for their graduate projects, Loomis stuck to analogue photography — her favored form of art — when seeking to document the unique story of Virginia City, Nevada.

Loomis, a 2009 graduate of MHS and a 2013 graduate of Vassar College, expects to receive her master’s degree in social documentation in June 2018. But first, she has some work to do — and she’s looking for monetary support from the broader community to ensure her graduate project can be completed. 

The 25-year-old’s photography project, titled “Tailings,” can be supported at Loomis is seeking $8,500 by Aug. 1 to cover film cost and development, fieldwork transportation, fieldwork living costs, and publication and distribution costs for the finished product: a multi-media photography book. As of Sunday, July 9, the project had been backed by 42 individuals for a grand total of $5,905.  

Of the support Loomis has received thus far, she said “it feels great, it feels really wonderful.”

“I’ve never done this before,” she added. “I’m also a very humble person so asking for money straight out like this has definitely been a challenge.”

Loomis arrived in Nevada three weeks ago and has begun to shoot photos, record audio, write and piece together the project. 

“Having these ambitious goals of self-publishing a book and going off for the summer and not really being able to have a job ... it’s a bit scary definitely, but I think that many other creative individuals can identify with that,” Loomis shared.

What makes Loomis’ work stand out is her use of analogue photography, a format which she has been enthralled with since she was a teenager. 

Her camera, a medium format Hasselblad camera from the 1940s, originally belonged to her father, who is a fine arts photographer.

“He introduced me to film photographer when I was pretty young, around 14 or 15,” Loomis recalled.

Loomis’ passion for photography continued to blossom at Malibu High, where she took her first photography class as a sophomore. 

And while Loomis has also toyed with the more traditional Nikon digital cameras, the Hasselblad is more her cup of tea.

“If you really take care of these analogue cameras they run beautifully and they run for years and years,” Loomis said.

Plus, the work that goes into setting up a shot is quite different, Loomis notes.

“That really allows me more time to talk and relax and converse with my subject whereas a lot of time I think digital photography work can be very fast-pace or rapid fire,” she said.

And just as Loomis takes her time setting up each shot, she also wants to take the time to truly absorb the spirit and lesser-known side of Virginia City that remains when the tourists go home.

“I think it’s very seen, this town, but in a certain light,” Loomis said. “[Residents seem] excited to talk about it in maybe a slightly different way.” 

The project website further explains the focus of her project.

“‘Tailings’ unpacks how and why the 1850’s boomtown of Virginia City continues to live on today, as well as questions the colonial methods Virginia City has employed in order to survive,” the statement reads. “Executed in a self-published book, ‘Tailings’ explores the voices and histories present in Virginia City, as well as those that are continually absent from the dominant, colonial history.”

Loomis’ father hails from Reno, Nevada, about 20 miles from Virginia City. With much of Loomis’ childhood being spent in the area, she said she always knew she wanted to photograph it someday.

“I’ve always really been taken with the landscape in Nevada and I also think Nevada is kind of thought of as a lost state,” Loomis said. “ ... The architecture, the downtown historic district — it’s all very visually striking.”

While Loomis is not seeking to make her book political, she thinks most art leads its audience down that path in today’s climate.

“I think a lot of the political rhetoric that is happening right now centers around what America used to be,” she said.

“I think history affects today, affects tomorrow, I think history affects yesterday and I’ve definitely seen that in Virginia City,” she added. “I’m here and I think that what this project can say or might say to people is ‘let’s go back and see how history affects people today.’ It’s a natural unfolding.”

Loomis anticipates that the finished product will be a three-chapter 50- to 60-page book examining the “middle of nowhere” town’s history, forgotten history and why its current residents have stayed put. Loomis said the project’s sound component will likely be delivered via downloadable clips, though she’s also looking into the possibility of including old-school discs which could be played on a record player to keep with the analogue format she holds dear.

Loomis knows she has not chosen an easy career path, and though her broader future remains a bit unclear, she’s determined to make the most of her talents.

“I do know that I want to be doing this kind of work my whole life,” she said.

After graduation, Loomis hopes to exhibit her work and travel with the exhibition. And after that? Well, it’s just going to take some time to develop.