Storytelling with Light and Time

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Photographer Don Holtz uses light and time as his storytelling mediums. His portfolio encompasses everything from celebrity portraits to achingly beautiful images of foreign countries, but he has a special love for local landscapes.

Long exposures transform creeks and tide into flowing mist, human subjects into ghosts, and generate compelling portraits of stone and tree, but while some of his work leans toward surrealism, the effects he achieves are created in the camera, rather than with the aid of image processing software.

“I do as much as I can in the camera, simply because I love the art of photography,” Holtz told the Messenger. “I love the process. I like that photography freezes a moment in time. With a long exposure, I can freeze not just an instant but several instants, a chunk of time.”

Holtz has refined his approach to that process through years of study and commercial photography, including photo shoots for the auto industry.

“There’s a saying that if you can light a car, you can light anything,” he said.

Always interested in photography, Holtz took classes in high school. “I took photos for pleasure, I never saw it as a profession,” he said. “I loved photography but didn’t see myself as that one-in-a-million professional.

Holtz moved from California to Michigan with his future wife, who was beginning medical school, and found himself with an opportunity to study photography at a nearby community college, which happened to have one of the best rated photography programs in the county at the time.

“I signed up and never looked back,” Holtz said. “The first class rang a bell that harmonized with everything in my life. I wanted to soak up as much knowledge and experience as I could.”

A commercial shoot brought Holtz to Topanga, and when his wife suggested that they return to Southern California at the end of her residency, he knew the canyon was the place they needed to be.

“I never in all my life felt so much at home,” Holtz said.

Holtz’s evocative, dreamlike photographs of the local mountain range, including his much-loved Topanga, will be on display at an upcoming exhibit at the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area Visitor Center at King Gillette Ranch. The show, called “Mountain Light,” opens March 2 and runs through the March 30.

Holtz also regularly shows at the Topanga Art Gallery and is one of the participating artists in this year’s Topanga Studio Tour that begins the weekend of June 2-3.


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Suzanne Guldimann

Suzanne Guldimann is an author, artist, and musician who lives in Malibu and loves the Santa Monica Mountains. She has worked as a journalist reporting on local news and issues for more than a decade, and is the author of nine books of music for the harp. Suzanne's newest book, "Life in Malibu", explores local history and nature. She can be reached at

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