There is too much light in this city. It is a well known fact. So it is not surprising that there is a need to reduce the intensity of this light in most places. On this Ventura Bd coffee shop, you have a horizontal vision of things. Newspaper boxes at the corner of the street in the bottom stripe, the ever present palm trees on the top stripe… and the sun. The urban grid was designed for cars and it wouldn't be L.A. if there was not a flow of automobiles. If you have seen pictures of the town in the thirties, it is already large avenues, low houses and cars. As you can observe, there are only two people sitting in this whole large area, probably resting after walking their dog. What is more surprising for a contemporary picture is the quasi absence of SUVs, and only one truck ! The division in horizontal bands is quite an obvious visual choice in Los Angeles since, apart from downtown and Century City, there are very few tall buildings. And it makes you even more conscious of the hills, an essential element in this very strange environment.
Finally, that evening, I ended up in Hollywood. In a bar. Musso & Franck is the oldest restaurant in Hollywood. And it has kept its look. The place is busy most of the evenings. The bar has its "piliers de bars" as we say in French. They definitely come every day and it is easy to understand when you see the attitude of the bar tenders towards them. They don't ask them what they want. They prepare the cocktail right away. And they refill the customers naturally. I actually was sitting next to a writer and we started a conversation very quickly. He told me he came every night. He actually looked like one of those movie characters that appear so often. This town is indeed very confusing. You don't know if you are living what happens or if this is a game played by your memory.
This was gallery time downtown, something that happens regularly and I was taken there by a friend. All the art places are opened for a late evening and a lot of people come to see what is going on. Well, this was going on. I don't know whether this tree was just decorated for the night, if it was in itself an "installation", or if it was a permanent feature of the city, I liked it. And I liked the reflection in the car windows, plus a guy on the phone with a fashionable cap. It was very Californian to me. Leds are a good invention. You can do all sorts of things with these things.
Downtown L.A. I did not stay in this hotel. But I have seen it many times in all sorts of movies. The whole city is a living movie set. Wherever you go in Los Angeles, you have seen it already. You think you know the place. It seems to wear a different coat than what it actually is. I was lucky to get this conjunction of things in the shot : a bus going to Century City, a Fire Department Truck and the entrance of the Rosslyn Hotel. Nothing extraordinary, but almost the beginning of a film scene. A guy has set fire to his hotel room to erase the evidences of the murder he just committed, and was lucky enough to catch a bus that would take hime far away from the crime scene. What else ?
As I was wandering through the streets of North Hollywood, I was sizzled by this electric blue color. Had it been anything else, a car, a garbage can, a door, whatever, I think I would have pressed the button. Where can you find a manufactured object of this color nowadays ? This is typical late fifties, early sixties. And knowing not much about trucks, I would not know the type or the year of the model. But unless it was repainted by some collector nostalgic of this area, it did look vintage. Due to the pool of water I was not able to approach the truck and see what make it was. But it did fit the kind of desolation of the environment. This is of course a city fashioned by the sun more than the rain and a cloudy sky. And that is probably why this color jumped so much out.
I found one amazing tree, protected by a well worn fence. Difficult to know if it was shaped by the wind coming from the ocean, or by the owners of the garden, as are some trees in Japan, scientifically trimmed and pruned by the human hand. Had I been Ansel Adams, I would probably have gotten a much better photograph, but the idea that he may have seen this tree one day enticed me to try . And anyway, the contorsion of the wood was so special that I wanted to document it. As in a Japanese garden, there are some supports for the branches and it made me think that it belonged to a Japanese person or there was a Japanese gardener in charge of it. Who knows ?
On my way down to Los Angeles, I had to stop at Carmel. I heard a lot about it. I knew famous photographers had spent some time there, and I was eager to see the legendary sunset on the beach and the waves of the Pacific. If you come from Europe, there is an appeal for this far away dream place. As much as I eventually saw the sea, I got more interested in the intricacies of the housings and the light falling on the walls. The perfectly tailored tree squeezed in between these complicated houses caught me immediately. But finally, the geometric shapes of the many disrupts in the building are more interesting, specially when they are enhanced by the shadow of an unseen tree.
Back to Mr. Hitchcock. In his movie Vertigo, there is a scene happening precisely in this museum, The Legion of Honor. Madeleine (Kim Novak) sit in one of the galleries in front of a portrait. Well, here, America has changed, it definitely is less glamourous, but the woman is contemplating a painting the same way Madeleine did. There is a bleak harmony of colors in the brown hue that suits the souvenir of the film, although - as long as I can remember - the sequence is not in these colors. I went to the Legion of Honor specifically because of Vertigo. It is kind of a dream of a place, on the edge of a hill, with a spectacular view. But although I shot many pictures outdoors, and I was lucky enough with the light, it was shrouded with a thick layer of fog and the mood was amazing, I prefer this memory of the place, almost symmetrical and boring. I definitely have the images of the Hitchcok film engraved int my brain.
I cheat, we are not in San Francisco, but in Berkeley. The Claremont Hotel is an imposing block of still existing past. Difficult to photograph this huge building in the heights of Berkeley, dominating the whole Bay of San Francisco. Have a drink on the terrasse in the evening and you will see the sun set almost behind the Golden Gate Bridge… In fact, this place reminds me of the Kubrick movie Shining, because the hotel is in the same style. I would like to test the roof top room with a large window. But my problem was how to compose something out of this white massive construction. At least I have the shadow of a palm tree at the intersection of the two diagonals and a kind of alignment along those lines. The dark spots of tree shadows seem like dots and may be the only elements giving a rhythm in the surface of the picture. Well. It was a challenge and I did not really succeed in making a balanced photograph, but the ambiance is here and would not like to meet the twin sisters in the endless corridors of this place.
I think they are trying to protect their precious cars from the leaves of the trees. On the far right, there is a proof that I am not cheating. This street is really steep. But what amazes me is the trees are also bending. Normally, the grow straight and vertically. You can see it in the mountains. Here, they are not even perpendicular from the street, they are even more bending. I would like an explanation. Is it gravity ? Is it the wind ? Or is it a human intervention ? These white hoods also give me an uneasy feeling. They remind me of the sort of protection you put on your hair to avoid contamination… or worse hoods to hide the faces of people about to be hanged so that the public does not see what they have agreed to accept.
I like it here. It's old, traditional and solid. Solid I don't know, there is a wheel missing on the tube table on the left, the legs of the table next to it are not the same length, or worse, the floor is not flat. And the small ornate table on the right looks very fragile. But the machines seem sturdy. They are at least half a century old. What about the mess on the top of this row of turning cylinders ? Some plants, one light bulb, and a few frames. A whole private life… As for the fan on the left top, I wonder if it is efficient enough when all the machines are operating. What I like most is what is outside the frame : A very expensive neighborhood. And this is typical of the city and what makes its charm. Expensive living spaces where people still go to the laundry weekly with a bunch of underwear and T shirts. They might have a coffee in a close by shop waiting for their washed clothes discussing politics or literature.
Far from the famous Street Cars, here is a car in the street. Lonely, white colored, alone in front of a closed auto body shop, it is almost frightening. Is it about to explode ? Or is it just out of the paint shop, waiting for its owner just coming from the right ? A collision repair center that offers custom paint. Maybe this is a special pearl effect job ? The two video cameras may guarantee that nobody is going to touch this jewel of a car. The question here is, like many other times, why did I take this picture ? I should have been more careful to eliminate or to fully include the name of the shop on the top. But looking at it as it is, it seams at the same time mysterious but nevertheless readable. The fact that some parts of the doors have been recently repainted in a shiny black contrasting with the overall matt façade should induce to not trust this paint shop. After all, the car being parked here might have no relation to the collision repair center in the background. A tiny human being and a white car in front of a black background and a blue sign appeared to me harmonious with a potential story telling relationship. That's all.
The only reason why I framed the street corner, which is perfectly straight, is to emphasize that everything is not square in this picture. The one way street sign is definitely bent, the curb is lopsided and so are the crossing yellow stripes. Even the shadow piercing the man's head seems to make a 45 degree angle with the frame line. The texture of the wall does not follow a logical perspective and looks like the workers in charge of the coating were getting more and more tired as they went to the right. Probably only "one way" to go. And then there is the man in shorts wearing a cap. This seems almost the only normal element in the whole picture, and it is tiny. Was I using such an extreme wide angle lens that he appears so small an the perspective so weird ? At last there is the dog and the animal probably has no idea that he is the center of attention in such a distorted atmosphere.
Bay lighting is the right thing to say here. The shadows on the concrete wall could almost give you the hour. It is either early or late. There are two horizontal bars sticking out of the building for no apparent reason. There is a road sign in front of the small side door. Which means the other doors are indeed big. I am certainly standing under a tree, the shadow of which delineates the bottom of the frame. This is nothing but shadows, therefore, nothing but light. The word "bay" is the only evidence that we are probably in San Francisco, in the Bay Area. I was lucky to have such a strong, clear sun, since most of the time the city sky is clouded and grey. Maybe that is why I took my camera. And yes, since all these doors are closed, it was probably a Sunday, appropriate for such a great light.
I thought it was a taxi-cab but it was not. The "transparency" of this garage is amazing. All in the open. You actually see the tools, everything looks clean, and the mechanics are even wearing bow-ties. The spiraled hoses coming from the ceiling make the place look like an emergency room in a hospital, the blue painted wall enhances the yellow of the car and the floor is so perfect that it reflects everything. This scene looks as if it had been staged for the camera. Of course, once again, it doesn't characterize San Francisco. The yellow stain on the right reminds the car. Maybe it has just been repainted and given a new registration plate. But I doubt it, this set up does not look like a painting cabin. In fact, there is another identical place on the right, for another car. Everything is perfectly duplicated, sheet holder next to the computer screen, stack of forms under it. One wonders what color is the car in the next booth. Purple, maybe ?
After a long walk through more and more boring areas of the town, I took a bus to get back to my hotel. The reflection of the light on the plastic seats showing the curved shape of the back rests arrested my eye but it was only a moment later that I noticed what was behind the windows. Nature versus industrial man designed machine. And the look of machines in America is much cruder than in Europe where engineers most often try to conceal the machine by some decoration coatings. Here, nothing of the sort, just function. From the seats to the windows no effort is made to transform the machine into a visually pleasant space. And in fact, that is precisely what makes it pleasing. I like these aluminium framed windows designed to be strong and last long. The string running along the top of the windows to be pulled in order to signal the driver you want to stop is another practical feature. No need to move to where the stop button is. You can do it from anywhere along the cabin. The advice signs are also no frill, everything seems to have a purpose.
The North Beach area is where the famous City Lights Bookstore is situated. The banned books are certainly more interesting than the not yet illuminated "Roaring 20's" sign. "Gods without men" by Hari Kunzru, "Ulysses". Is Ulysses a banned book ? Poor James Joyce. I wonder what is so dangerous in these books. And could we find a banned books zone in a French bookshop ? Never saw one. And what are banned books anyway ? Here this row of forbidden literature seems to be just a frame for the view on the dreary "fun places" outside, on the other side of the road. In the day time, the sex clubs are more discreet. The pole dancers are still asleep and the future clients are not yet ready to go beyond decency. On the shop window, there is the back of a photograph showing by transparency the ghost of one of the many towered mansions typical of the city. The effect given by this white bordered grey rectangle with the tiny wheels of the parked cars is that of a truck so huge that its wheels are dwarfed by the charge. Strange world indeed.
It is bound to be crushed between the neighboring buildings. The weather is not too good, as it often changes quickly in this town. I wonder what the owners of this place did to manage to keep this tiny place in the heart of this very highly priced street. Realtors converted to a beauty salon ? You can have your nails polished here but be aware that they also mend your shoes, cut new keys and repair watches. All very profitable businesses. I wonder whether this building was constructed before the great fire of 1906. Perhaps at the time it first opened it was the biggest building in the street ? It has all the elements of a prestigious, grand shop… in a smaller town that may have been San Francisco at the times. It might be a historical landmark that no one dares to tear down, or maybe the surface is not large enough to construct some other more yielding office building. It does remind me of an obscure Ansel Adams picture of a very different style showing a very animated street taken from the entrance of a shop. The complete opposite, but it has this "small town main street " look that this lonely house conveys, I don't know why.
It could be anywhere in the U.S. but it is San Francisco… It doesn't make much difference except for me with my nine hours of jet lag still bothering me. I usually never get up so early. No traffic in the street. Not one car in the huge parking lot on the other side of the street. In the left building, a kind of empty class room. What could they teach in a department store building ? Salesmanship ? How to identify a shoplifter ? Basic security awareness ? Anyway, it has not started yet since it is about five in the morning. I wonder what the upper floor is hiding. The funny feeling is the Bloomingdale's sign. It is associated to New York, not California, so it is kind of destabilizing, especially when you just woke up. This is once again a perfect framing for a thriller movie. All sorts of things could happen in the parking floors. I can almost hear the creaking tires, the acceleration of a car going down a ramp that I can't even see in the picture. There could also be somebody pushing his opponent through the glass windows of the left building. Since the whole scenery is empty of human beings, you can imagine anything.
It was really getting late and I decided to get something to pick me up from the depressed state I was in. From far away I saw signs of a liquor store that was about to save me. By the time I arrived there, it had just closed. It looked like an unreachable temple of beer behind the grills that would keep believers from fetching the Graal. I could see the faint vision of the counter where a few minutes earlier customers had bought their cans and bottles wrapped up in a brown paper bag. The evocative power of the neon signs can lure anybody in the dark. Coors, Beck, Michelob, and even Heineken, the only foreign brand, could make people thirsty just by the vision of these colored fluorescent tubes. But the front grills become even stronger visually as you look closely to the sleeping refrigerated distributors lined up behind the window. A good lesson…