'Our Ojai' captures beauty, uniqueness of valley

web provided John Broesamle and Carolyn Vondriska
Image provided
John Broesamle and daughter Carolyn Vondriska hold “Our Ojai,” with cover photo by Ojai photographer Fred Rothenberg. 


Perry Van Houten, Ojai Valley News senior reporter

Creators of a new book of photographs depicting the Ojai Valley hope it will be a message to the future.
“Our Ojai,” published by Ojai Valley Defense Fund and released in September, contains the work of 15 leading photographers and commentaries from two dozen local luminaries.
In creating it, John Broesamle and daughter Carolyn Vondriska of the Defense Fund teamed with Lisa Casoni and Heather Stobo, owners of Porch Gallery in Ojai, who served as artistic editors.
The idea started when Vondriska went looking for an Ojai photography book to give to graduating students at The Thacher School. All but one, a book by Michael McFadden, were out of print or unavailable, she said.
Then she remembered the many photographers who had shared their images with the organization for various needs, and the Ojai photography book Realtors had given the family when they moved to Ojai, “and an idea started percolating.”
It has been 20 years since a book of photographs of the valley has been done.
“Our Ojai” would fill the void and be a way to honor the work and philanthropy of photographers, thought Vondriska. “I mentioned it to my dad, who then took it all the way to the next level, because he brought in the historian’s eye,” she said.


Broesamle, a retired professor of history at California State University-Northridge, founded the Defense Fund in 2009 and thought the time was right for a new book of Ojai photographs that would capture the extraordinary scenery and sociology of the valley. “We felt that it’s time now to take a look, a snapshot, if you will, at the valley two decades on, into the 21st century,” he said.
The photos are paired with the words of 25 Ojai Valley luminaries, including Jiddu Krishnamurti, Charles Nordhoff, Beatrice Wood and Yvon Chouinard. “Voices past, voices present, with the implicit message that these voices also convey to the future,” Broesamle said. “We wanted these to be special words that would bear on the images the book presented.”
“Our Ojai” is organized in sections: Community, Landscape, Water, Flora, Fauna, and The Unexpected. A few photos depict the valley’s struggle to avoid the “paving over” that has occurred elsewhere in Southern California.
The 95-page book captures the valley as it is today, in places contrasted with historic images from yesterday, “to remind everyone who lives here, particularly in the wake of the Thomas Fire, what a lovely and magical place it is,” Broesamle said. “You just can’t erase the beauty and the uniqueness of this place, even if you try to burn it over.”
The book also suggests to newcomers that a responsibility accompanies living here. “That responsibility is to carry forward the long tradition of keeping Ojai unique, that passes from generation to generation,” Broesamle said.
“I really saw this book as a way to speak to those next generations,” said Vondriska, “as a reminder of what we hold dear about this valley and the people who comprise the community. Hopefully, it’s a motivation to work hard for the valley and its benefit.”
Legendary screenwriter Mark Frost wrote the introduction, “which captured the heart and soul of the book,” Vondriska said.
Perhaps the most telling exchange came from two of the valley’s brilliant environmental voices, in a 1972 interview in the Ojai Valley News. “We called on Krishnamurti to inform this book heavily, and most of those quotes draw on an extraordinary interview he did with (former OVN owner, publisher and editor) Fred Volz,” Broesamle said.
Volz was a clarion voice for the environment of the valley, Broesamle said, and the newspaper carried that voice through the years. “That exchange between him and Krishnamurti really struck a chord with me, and so it’s a pivot point in the book.”
The creators of “Our Ojai” had planned on a spring release, a gala at Porch Gallery and book signings, but the pandemic derailed those plans. Editorial sessions were done on Zoom. “So much has stopped dead in its tracks as a result of the virus, but this is one thing we were able to carry forward. It was a bright spot in an otherwise tough time for our country,” said Vondriska.
As Broesamle suggested, perhaps the timing of the book’s release was a good thing, after several months of bleakness. “It reminds us of where we live and to be thankful for it,” he said. “It’s a peek at what Ojai actually means to us.”

“Our Ojai” sells for $95 hardcover and $40 softcover, and is available at Porch Gallery, 310 E. Matilija St., Ojai, or online at


Not a subscriber?  choose your subscription plan.