Probably very expensive, this house borders the Venice canals. This is a strange area where most of the houses seem bigger than the space they are built on. But you can still find small wooden cabins dating from the creation of this grid of canals. At the time it probably was not such a sign of wealth to live in these dwellings. Needless to say that they are disappearing fast, replaced by the kind of construction that you can see here. What I find most symbolic in this picture is probably the barbecue right in the middle. I cannot avoid thinking of the fire hazard such a device presents surrounded by a very dry assortment of plants. The porch of course is another classic. The architects here have to develop a lot of imagination to bloat the buildings according to the tastes of the people who are determined to live in this once "bohemian" area. Their choice… We will soon be moving to another part of the world.
In the previous entry I was mentioning the space in which people live in Southern California. Here is only a small view of the spread out town. This is why the Automotive Museum is such an obvious place, a necessity in Los Angeles. I've gone back to the Griffith Observatory at dusk to a welcome hike, since I have been sitting in a car most of the time to try to explore and understand the spirit of this gigantic urban assembly. From this sight, you can appreciate the distances and realize you cannot walk around like you do in most big cities of Europe. For miles, you will see rows of houses looking quite similar. It is of course inspiring from above, as shown here, but down in these avenues, it can be discouraging to start a walk. I don't think the mayor of the city could decide that cars are not welcome, as it has been the case in Paris. Here the rules are indeed very different from those in a very old town where winding streets are narrow and space precious.
Sometimes what you see is deceiving. This is an empty room of the Petersen Automotive Museum. I obviously missed some Italian Design hidden behind a greenish lit fence. This desolate part of an exhibition room had a mysterious appeal. At one point there was or there will be a lot of people here. The queuing ropes and their glistening metallic poles have probably witnessed a large amount of kids and their parents waiting in line to discover some weird car, some beautiful Italian work of art, or may be one of those amazing French Art Deco automobiles. I can see on the far left the silhouette of a Cisitalia, or is it a Ferrari, and even further back the blue lines of a 50's American convertible. This place is a must for car buffs and it does fit this city designed around automobile transportation. It could be the symbol of a certain way of life that is impossible to imagine in Europe. It reflects the immense space available in this part of the world.
There is a lot of interesting architecture in L.A. but I liked the Getty Foundation for its unique situation. At last the sea ! I didn't show the sea before but here, far away, lined up with the shape of the building I thought it was an excellent introduction. The architect Richard Meier seems to have enjoyed the location. This elaborate construction was for me very difficult to photograph. Maybe too spectacular. Or maybe too comfortable visually to find enough energy for the camera. I felt very relaxed walking around the diverse building and to discover spectacular sceneries all around. On this picture I had the impression to be under a piano and as much as waited for some music, I could only hear a light wind. At that point precisely someone approached me to ask me what I thought of my digital Leica. I didn't know what to answer… I am so used to the machine that I don't even think about it.
"Para toda la familia". And the family is there, waiting to get in. Downtown L.A. can be strange for a European visitor. Everything is in Spanish. This is supposed to be the center of this very spread out place, and nothing seems to be happening. In fact, it looks like nothing is happening anywhere for miles. Everything happens "inside" and if you want coffee in another place than the restaurant you have been eating, it may take an hour to get to the place you want. The distorsion might come once again from the movies. Since you think you know where you are after memorizing so many scenes of famous films, the city is like compressed in your mind. But unlike movie scripts, there is no editing and time is real, so the adjustment between memory and reality can be disturbing. I do not recall anything happening in a film in this picture. But I might be wrong…
If you don't have a car in Los Angeles, you can still move around. In fact, many people use the public transport in this enormous rectangular grid of streets. I don't remember if this was Fairfax, all I know is that it was perpendicular to Wilshire. I took this bus to go back to Hollywood and Western. No freeways, just the normal streets, with many traffic lights, and quite a long ride. When I boarded the bus, it was still full daylight, and when I arrived, it was totally dark. This sort of ride is fascinating as you come to better understand how such a city functions. The people on board seem the same as any urban cluster. No movie stars, no glamour, just a working crowd.
The first thing I saw was the backlit palm trees lined up with the window horizontal frame. Then these stripes of sunlight passing through the tiny space between the window frames and the curtains. At this point I remembered I was in a museum. The LACMA - the Los Angeles County Museum of Art - is a huge assembly of buildings each different in style, There are many things to see there, but not many people to visit. Which in fact is much more comfortable. Going through museums packed with hordes of uninterested tourist is almost a torture. Yes I am selfish, I prefer empty museum galleries where you can stop and contemplate in silence, stay as long as you want in front of a piece appealing to you. This room was big and sparsely filled with 19th century sculptures. But as I said I was more attracted by the large window and what was behind. It was for me like a work of art in itself.
Yet another vintage truck in the streets of Hollywood. I don't know if the texture of the wall is more attracting than this vehicle on the way down. Or is it the red stripe on the curb ? Or the shadow lines ? I think it is probably the contrast between the grainy looking wall and the matt metal of undefined green of the flat bed that seemed mysterious to me. In fact the wheel is the most mysterious element in the picture, with its chrome piece that should reflect everything but doesn't. I wish I could have seen myself and the whole landscape from the top of this hill in the center wheel dome. I like the atmosphere of this late afternoon light in the Hollywood hills. For once, it does not remind me of a movie set.
Since we are on Venice Beach, let's have a look at the food situation there. And in this picture, the exact opposite of the previous photograph seems to be happening. I am the one looking for some food, and I stopped anywhere, looking for garbage food, just like the bird. But here everything looks flat in the image, contrary to the weird effect of the bird photograph. And the colors are warm contrary to the cold bluish atmosphere of the other picture. It looks to me almost like an abstract patch of different patterns.No perpective, weird couple on the right, and the inside of the place also seems like a dark "trompe l'œil" albeit n illuminated bar counter. Needless to say that I don't remember the taste of the food.
This looks like a typical fake picture. But the bird was really that close to me. And I was using a slightly wide angle lens. So in fact it was almost frightening. These gulls are agressive ! The amount of light in Venice Beach allows this freezing of the animal arriving to pick up some garbage. Fast shutter. But everything is on focus also. Small aperture. This does not happen very often. And since I was using a Leica range finder camera, I had no indication that it was going to be so sharp everywhere, except in my technical photographer's mind. This gives the impression that the bird has been detoured from another picture and pasted there. Well if such had been the case, I would probably have put the bird somewhere else in the frame. Anyway, although the situation does not look as dramatic as the Hitchcock movie and is happening fifty years later and three hundred miles south, I was not so much at ease, thinking of broken glasses, savagely pierced eyes and general panic. But nothing happened…
The iconic Hollywood sign… you can't escape it. During a late afternoon walk up in Griffith Park with a good friend I reached the Observatory. It is a long and steep track, full of people dressed in sport outfits walking their dogs. The view at the top is breathless. All these straight illuminated avenues and streets making a yellow grid on a pinkish ground. If the sun is declining. From this place, there is a strange distorsion of perspective. You actually can't evaluate distances properly. The sign looks quite near, you could think it is only a few minutes walk. But like everything in this city, distances are huge, so for a European person like me it is easy to lose the sense of proportions. The people seen on the terrasse cannot even give you a proper scale. The famous observatory is also enormous. It is, as many locations in Los Angeles, yet another landmark of the movies history. Where could I find a spot not reminiscent of a classic film ?
Since we were in early spring, it was not yet too hot in the streets, so I could have decided to sit and rest on one of those appealing sofas. But I was on the other side of this narrow back street and I took a picture instead of lounging there. In fact, what I immediately noticed was the complementary colors proposition. A dark red set of seats opposed to a light green metal box behind the grilled fence ornated by barbed wires on top. The green thing was probably precious enough to justify such protection. At first, from where I was, I took it for a safe deposit box. Then I read the yellow panel : high voltage. So that was it ! But when you make some weird association, it could give you the idea of an execution place, a comfortable one, maybe, sofas instead of a crude wooden chair, gridded wall, barbed wire, electric high voltage transformer, everything for a proper death penalty location. Well, there are these orange pillars and the trees, maybe it can be something else.
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.