The term ‘Typology’ was first used to describe a style of photography when Bernd and Hilla Becher began documenting dilapidated German industrial architecture in 1959. The couple described their subjects as ‘buildings where anonymity is accepted to be the style’. Stoic and detached, each photograph was taken from the same angle, at approximately the same distance from the buildings. Their aim was to capture a record of a landscape they saw changing and disappearing before their eyes. Typologies not only recorded a moment in time, they prompted the viewer to consider the subject’s place in the world.
My “TypoLAgies” photo grids are about the repetition of symbols and touchstones that have a special Los Angeles flavor.
HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD: A bit of obscure Hollywood history from the LA Times Nov 7, 2002: "Only true night owls are around to watch when this group of movie stars drops in on Hollywood Boulevard for a little after-hours whimsy. The celebrities are wearing acrylic smiles as their likenesses are painted on the roll-down security doors of nearly 150 shops that line part of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It's part of a city-sponsored beautification project for the beleaguered street. Most of the security doors were installed after the 1992 riots. Dark and grubby-looking, they shut off the light and liveliness of the street when shopkeepers lower them, lock them and leave for the night. Even worse, they were targets for graffiti. When the roll-down doors began being spray-painted, a community-based cleanup group called the Hollywood Beautification Team experimented with placing celebrities on them to dissuade the vandals".
Hollywood has become a different place since 2002, but the rollup door celebrities are still there, along with the tourists, clubbers and street people. Maybe it hasn’t changed that much after all.
SHERMAN WAY: From a 2002 study by the Pepperdine University-School of Public Policy and the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley:
"Back in the 1970s, the region was perceived as a bastion of predominately Anglo, middle class residents living adjacent the most cosmopolitan society of Los Angeles. Today that reality has drastically changed. Since the 1970s, the Valley has itself become increasingly multi-racial largely as the result of migration of immigrants from such diverse places as Mexico, El Salvador, Iran, Israel, Armenia, Vietnam, Korea, India and China. By 1990, this pattern was already well-formed; a decade later, the evidence is incontrovertible."
This pattern is on full display along Sherman Way -- the main drag that literally bisects the Valley. It is for the most part pretty ugly by any standard. Almost uninterrupted strip malls without shade or architectural distinction. But there is a surprising suburban “density of diversity” literally advertised mile after mile on the towering signs made to be seen by the endless stream of cars passing by.
STORM DRAINS OF THE LA RIVER: TUJUNGA AVE>LAUREL CYN BLVD: The Los Angeles River is a unique environment and the hundreds of storm drains that line its banks are fascinating symbols of the river’s concrete origins, its engineering purposes and its very unnatural appearance. These encrusted “urban waterfalls” are each totally unique, like snowflakes, and worthy of study and comparison. How will the “new” LA River maintain this function but change the form? These unusual subjects remind us of the tenuous relationship our region has with water. The images in this grid are from a 1 mile section of the river in Studio City.
POWER PLANTS: There is of course nothing more natural than plants, but it is a jarring feeling to see them being grown on an industrial scale under crackling, humming power lines, a location we’ve been told causes everything from cancer to brain malfunctions. And to see this row after row, mile after mile, tower after tower, is a hidden-in-plain sight unique feature of the Los Angeles landscape. It seems like a win-win-win situation. The nurseries (many are wholesale) get cheap land and water from the city for land that would otherwise be unwanted, barren and unused. The city gets some rental income and taxes from these businesses and the adjacent homeowners get to live next to and look at something a lot more pleasant than the alternative.
THE MYSTERY OF YMI: I had never heard of YMI, but apparently it is a very successful brand of women's jeans featuring the "Colombian Cut." Out of a long held interest in the rather shabby older parts of LA’s industrial areas, I began a photo study of San Fernando Rd in the northeast part of the San Fernando Valley where immigration is high and architecture low. Then I noticed a YMI billboard completely out of place with its surroundings and not even easy to see. Then I noticed another. And another. And another. 18 in a 4.9 mile stretch of total industrial desolation. More women drive in Saudi Arabia than in this area. They seem like signposts in some science fiction movie that might upon seeing them cause some kind of mind control or groupthink action.
BIRDS ON A WIRE: These images represent 20 days of photographing birds (Starlings) on utility wires in my backyard in June 2015. The common perception is Los Angeles has no weather. Each day is uninterrupted sunshine, especially in the San Fernando Valley where I live. And especially in 2015 when we were in the middle of a 5-year drought. The differences in the color of the sky and the cloud formations over such a short period disprove the canard. But more fascinating was the way the birds landed themselves in almost musical arrangements as one day was compared to the next and especially when all the images were put in a grid. The mysterious way they maintain a scrupulous and consistent space between themselves is reminiscent of how humans do the same thing when they enter an elevator or how men try to keep an empty urinal between themselves in a public bathroom. This most mundane subject matter can be the essence of a typology.
SAN FERNANDO ROAD: Before the I-5, San Fernando Rd was the major thoroughfare heading north out of Los Angeles (US 99). As such it serviced all the needs of automobiles and the people travelling in them. Amongst the detritus of this now neglected landscape are these motels still standing on a 2 mile stretch north of Burbank Airport. The clientele has evolved.