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.
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.