‘Troops + Tribes’ Exhibit at John Wayne Airport Gives Travelers a New Look at OC
Wednesday Aja brought a rekindled love of photography and circus life to Orange County from Paris. The historic Cirque d’Hiver served as her inspiration before chronicling a small family circus troupe as she traveled through France.
The graphic designer and photographer returned home and continued to take circus portraits. For the past five years, she has toured for the California-based Circus Vargas, which is billed as one of the largest traveling circuses in the world.
âMy real passion is photography,â said Aja. âIt’s a way to meet people and explore worlds I wouldn’t normally have access to. “
With âTroops + Tribes,â an exhibition of his work currently on display at John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, travelers also have the option of viewing his work outside of a private collection or conventional art gallery. .
This is the photographer’s first hometown exhibit from Dana Point to OC and is part of the airport’s Community Focus Space program, which aims to spotlight local artists and organizations with solo-style exhibits. .
Aja first learned of the tendency of airports to display artwork from a friend in Austin. She looked for similar opportunities closer to home and found a call for artists from John Wayne Airport in 2019. Aja submitted her work and was chosen for an exhibition originally slated for 2020 before being postponed by the pandemic.
Today, a dozen of his photographs have finally been installed in the Riley terminal of the airport, in areas open to the public and which do not require a plane ticket to be seen.
âIt’s been a two year journey to get to this point,â she said. âThe advantage is that the exhibition is aimed at a different group who might not normally go to a vernissage. I get a much larger sample of people who will hopefully enjoy seeing photography. It’s nice when you’re at the airport – and I’ve spent a lot of time at airports – to have something to look at.
âTroupes + Tribesâ is a round trip for Aja in more than one way.
Raised in east Los Angeles by a family of artists, she spent her formative years in San Clemente before earning a degree in art history from UCLA where she also took art classes. photographed and learned darkroom techniques. During a road trip across the country, Aja settles in Austin where she works mainly as a graphic designer.
When her father passed away, Aja returned to OC after Austin. He ran an architectural firm in Irvine, not far from the airport where âTroops + Tribesâ is exhibited. She helped shut down the business.
âAfter that, I just wanted to be home,â she said.
When stays in Paris renewed her passion for photography, Aja divided her time behind the lens between editorial work and documentation on circuses. For several years she was a contributing photographer at OC Weekly and her work has been featured in several other publications.
Before the pandemic, Aja enjoyed an artist residency at the historic Figueroa Hotel in downtown Los Angeles where she exhibited her circus-inspired photographs.
And now some of those same portraits have traveled to Santa Ana.
âTroupes + Tribesâ is described by Aja as a collection that explores themes of customs, costumes and community under the marquee. There are stunning black and white character portraits from the burlesque, drag and circus life subcultures.
The selections were organized with OC in Aja’s mind; several of the photos were taken by the Vargas Circus or other artists in town.
For travelers at the airport, the exhibit adds a bit of depth to the popular imagination on the OC as they are on their way to collect their luggage.
âIt gives a bit of a twist and a different take on Orange County,â Aja said. âSome people may think it’s just the beaches here. It shows that there are other forms of entertainment and nightlife – and a bit more diversity. “
What: “Exhibition of photographs “Troops + Tribes”
Or: John Wayne Airport, 18601 Airport Way, Santa Ana at Riley Terminal next to baggage carousels in Terminals A and B
When: From December 16 to January 20
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