Nobody Walks in LA by Sam
You only see ’em drivin’ cars out on the street – Missing Persons
Street photography in Los Angeles and the search for stories
I’ve described LA as a fractured empire and that’s what it is, a disharmonious collection of cities that bleed into each other through arteries and veins as freeways and streets, where no body walks in LA. While street photography isn’t all about the pedestrian it is about people and that can be difficult to capture in the city that created the car culture.
There are pockets, neighborhoods and where you can find opportunities to see people engaging each other outside of contrived setting of a mall or shopping center. The area I am most familiar with is Down Town Los Angeles and its eastern fringes the Toy and Garment Districts and Skid Row. In these areas there is mix returning. For years and until about ten years ago with the bravery of some forward thinking folks, down town la (DTLA) was a virtual ghost town with those employed in the area fleeing, heading back to their homes out in the suburbs. As the rich and well to do, have started to return and stay, the mix is back, for the time being, people, in various stations of life, from the homeless, working poor, hustlers, rich and hipsters.
This mixes is likely to go away with the pendulum swinging in the other direction with gentrification hitting its stride. Case in point the ending of a era with the purchasing of of self proclaimed “last dive bar in LA”, King Edwards Saloon in Skid Row, closing its doors, ending over a hundred year run. But like the new management and its handling of the once King Eddy, nothing is official, yet, and still the low down of the town’s future is yet to be written.
An exit from the freeway and a crossing of the 4th Street, bridge five dollars for parking are the bugles to me, the releasing of the hounds, the hunt is on. For me, it is not only about the picture, but about a story, about an interaction. My photography I often lead with my ears – that is i am looking for that story and the accompanying picture. One making the other more than the sum of their parts. What makes this person tick? What is life like for them on the other side of their eyes – how different is their world from mine?
In a place like LA with a lack of widespread public space it is important to learn the art of conversation and story telling. There is a beauty of connection if you have a willing ear – which is something you can learn but not fake. I’ve had the pleasure of learning from two master story tellers, which has helped me to document Los Angeles.
Shooting with Story Tellers
I’ve been able learn the art of the long story from Robert @visualwhiplash_ who I’ve seen disarm an angry drunk with a few well placed question and a quick personal connection. And from someone who feels relaxed and at ease a story most always follows. There have been times where some extremely personal stories of tragedy or success and some times with in the same story as in the case of John, Robert recounts his story,
“I stabbed the guy seven times. I didn’t handle it right…Seven years hence, things are looking up though: he’s off drugs and has two grandchildren whom he proudly pronounced were potty trained by him.”
This you won’t find or see with just a portrait or just a candid shot. There needs to be a connection longer than a focus and white balancing some semblance of trust. I am not naive to think that all of what I’m being told is gospel truth but I tend not to think its all a lie either. But even if it is a lie it is OK with me, as I account this to be a skill of survival and the story is based off their read of me and what they’ve assessed will be a working tale. Maybe it will be to get a burger, beer, or blunt. While I have my beliefs, which is a big part of why I’m here in the first place, I am not there to pass it on those who I photograph – but now this is starting to sound like my next article…
The art of the short story has been taught to me by @cachafaz on Instagram Pachi in life. The dignity of a just a first name, to not be counted as unseen, to have an identity, a past, an existence. While Pachi will sometimes engage in a longer story, to me, it’s his use of a name, a picture, repeated, that has given his work such power:
Dhurba, Curtiss, Alonso, Dave, Daniel, Taylor, Nelson, Samuel, Robert, Mike, Pablo Perez, Jamal, Anthony, John
Portraits with names taken with my brief time with Patch on his last visit to Los Angeles.
This has been my approach to street photography in a land, city and time where where folks are out and about mixing with each other are hard to come by in a space so large. I’m not an expert of LA and so my search continues to find people to hear stories, but I know that where ever I go LA has taught me well, that its isn’t always just about the snap but about the connection with the ear.
As I’m fond of saying, “A picture of a white whale doesn’t tell the story of Moby Dick.”