It’s been said that the craft beer industry is 99% asshole free, a sentiment I’m inclined to agree with. But even after meeting fiercely passionate brewers, bartenders, and the like, someone like Bernie Wire comes along whose kindness and generosity almost defy reason. And even if you don’t know him by name, you’ve likely seen him around at many of the local beer events, snapping pictures and chronicling the rise of LA’s burgeoning craft beer scene.
Since 2011, he’s photographed over 250 shindigs, collecting thousands upon thousands of images featuring everyday people enjoying each other’s company over drinks. And now, he’s selected some of his favorites for an exhibit called “I Shoot Beer People” that’s going up at Mohawk Bend in Echo Park starting on September 17, running through LA Beer Week, and continuing on until October 31.
Bernie has become a mainstay, his happy face capturing other happy faces and uploading the resulting snapshots to his Friends of Local Beer Facebook page at no charge. “I’ve always liked taking pictures,” explains Bernie. “And when you go to these beer events, it’s amazing what you find. You come across folks who truly celebrate craft beer… and they love the people who brew it, sell it, serve it, write about it, or just simply enjoy drinking it. It’s a community unlike any other I’ve ever experienced.”
The 56-year-old Oklahoma native’s photo fascination began when he was a child: “I took pictures of a rock climbing trip I took during summer break one year, and I loved the fact that when I got home, I’d be able to get that memory… that stimulus… all over again through pictures.” Sharing these memories with others further fueled his excitement, even early on. “I turned my pictures into a slide show and played it at show and tell when I got back to school, and the class was really into it,” he recounts.
A single photography class in high school was the only formal study he ever gave the subject, though even when he attended the University of Oklahoma to study microbiology and chemical engineering, he felt most passionate when he nurtured his creative side in art classes, and he ultimately pursued his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with a focus on metalsmithing. “I played with ceramics, but found early on that I really enjoyed the immediacy of metals. While clay had to go off to a kiln to cure and dry, I could weld metals into sculptures and they never had to leave my hands.” It was then that one of his professors, Lane Coulter, asked if Bernie knew anything about titanium. “He told me it could be colored, and this little light went on in my head… I had to see this. I had to do this.”
Titanium was a little hard to come by—Bernie needed to sift through aerospace scrap yards to find what he needed—and not much literature existed at the time that explained how it could be colored, but he persisted and tracked down a paper that gave him the basics. “There are no actual pigments on the metal,” he explains. “You create color through oxidation.” Bernie dips the titanium—a whiter shade of silver in its untreated form—into an electrified chemical bath that creates a layer of titanium dioxide, the thickness of which can be altered by the amount of voltage pumped through the anodizing liquid. It’s the thickness of the oxide film that determines the colors, but Bernie is quick to explain, it’s no pigment. “Think of it like a soap bubble; those colors you see are a result of light waves interacting and interfering with one another as they travel through the film and reflect off the surface.”
He soon discovered a rarely used micro spot-welding machine at the university, and found that it was perfect for joining titanium pieces. He began creating jewelry and working on larger sculptures that would eventually earn him an award at the 1987 International Platinum Design Competition in Tokyo. The photography became even more important through all of this as Bernie would always want to take pictures of his stunning work.
But as many artists will attest, it’s tough to make a living through art. And though Bernie continued creating (and shooting) his pieces, the same microwelding equipment he used for his artwork would lead him to his “real” work that paid the bills. He’d moved to pursue a Master of Fine Arts degree at Arizona State University, but bowed out after just one semester. “Three weeks into a two-month research position I proposed on titanium welding, I was doing stuff they said wasn’t possible,” he says proudly. He ended up staying on with the company for five years before moving to Monrovia in 1983 and starting his own consulting business.
By day, he developed processes for welding components—some thinner than a human hair—under a microscope, improving design and functionality for many items such as pacemakers, airbag initiators, ultrasound transducers, microcoaxial cable, and stadium lights. But by night, he continued with his art. “I had no social network at all,” Bernie admits. “It was just work, work, work. But I made discoveries in art that became solutions for productions and vice versa.”
His interest in beer came a little later, with his first visit to the late Greg Noonan’s famed Vermont Pub & Brewery in 1989. “The beer laws in Oklahoma were archaic and there wasn’t a lot of good beer there,” Bernie laments. “Thankfully, that’s changed some since then, but porters and IPAs weren’t even on my radar until heading up to that brewpub in Burlington.”
Bernie loved to take trips with childhood friends whenever possible, and he always brought his trusty camera along with him. After their epiphany in Vermont, many more beer outings were planned, including one to the Great American Beer Festival, which really opened his eyes to the wide world of craft beer. As technology advanced, he created a private website where he could share pictures of his travel, an early precursor to what he does now with pictures of the SoCal craft beer community on Facebook.
As much as he loves taking pictures at these events, he admits he doesn’t know if he can carry on like he has been. “I can’t afford to do it full-time, since I’m usually not getting paid,” he chuckles. He is quick to thank those who have offered to pay him for his photos—places like El Segundo Brewing Co., Monkish Brewing Co., 38 Degrees Alehouse & Grill, Tin Roof Bistro, and Phantom Carriage—but has no plans to stop with his consulting. “Whether I’m welding or making art or taking pictures, I’m just glad I’ve been able to earn my living while having fun,” he beams.
Bernie lives near Culver City with his wife, Anne Marie Gillen, who, in addition to being a most delightful person, does some notable work herself. She’s a consultant, a published author, and served as the executive producer of Fried Green Tomatoes. To see more of Bernie’s photos, head to his “Friends of Local Beer” Facebook page, and to see more of his metal artwork, check out TitaniumArt.com.
“I Shoot Beer People” | a craft beer photo exhibit at Mohawk Bend
Sponsored by West Coaster SoCal
Runs from September 17 through October 31st
Mohawk Bend, 2141 W Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles
Opening Reception with photographer Bernie Wire
Tuesday, September 17, 5:30pm-7:30pm