Los Angeles (1865-2008) : This Side of Paradise
Los Angeles (1865-2008)
This Side of Paradise
Jennifer A. Watts, June 20, 2011
«Imagine Marilyn Monroe, fifty miles long, lying on her side, half-buried on a ridge of crumbling rock, the crest of the Santa Monica Mountains, with chaparral, flowers and snakes writhing over her body, and mists, smog, or dreams gathering in every curve. You’d need a certain height to recognize that intricate course as a body. But that’s Mulholland Drive… It’s about as long as on old movie, and as full of scents and half-grasped fears as Marilyn’s drowsy state. »

-David Thomson   

The body and the landscape, inextricably, sensuously intertwined - two themes which run through this multifaceted ‘portrait’ of Los Angeles.  Los Angeles: City of Angels... and Demons. For the lucky few, the beautiful, the well-born, a utopia – endless sunshine, beaches and swimming pools, peopled by vigorous, healthy bodies; for many others, a dystopia – endless, clogged freeways, smog, fearfulness, a city without a center, or (it is sometimes said), a soul. In the skies above, glittering Hollywood stars; on the hard pavements below, ever-present terror of earthquake and social unrest. Dream or nightmare? Fact or fiction? Perhaps the truth of this quixotic, haunting place lies somewhere between the perceived extremes.

Le Paradis, ou presque_Los Angeles (1865-2008)/199_SHULMAN
Le Paradis, ou presque_Los Angeles (1865-2008)/199_SHULMAN
This complex, sprawling city has long fascinated photographers of many stripes: studio professionals, industrial photographers, photojournalists, fashion and glamour photographers, amateurs, tourists and art photographers. The exhibition offers the widest possible range of these approaches. It features more than a hundred famous and unknown photographers who together have documented, imagined, celebrated, criticized and mythologized the city from the mid-nineteenth century to the present.

There are seven sections to the exhibition: Garden, Move, Work, Dwell, Play, Clash, and Dream. These sections are meant to help us think about key aspects of life in Los Angeles, aspects which touch everyone, rich or poor, in fundamental ways. However, the seven sections are only meant as a rough guide to the rich pictorial terrain, and viewers are encouraged to strike out on their own journey through the highways and the byways of this compelling city.

Le Paradis, ou presque_Los Angeles (1865-2008)/Move Light From Los Angeles
Le Paradis, ou presque_Los Angeles (1865-2008)/Move Light From Los Angeles

For well over a century, Los Angeles has captured the imagination with pictures of its stunning location, topography and buildings. “Fattest land I ever saw,” exclaimed Los Angeles Times publisher Harrison Gray Otis — a sentiment embraced by millions as they rushed west to claim their share of the American paradise.

From the mid-19th century forward, Southern California was hailed as a region of prodigious endowments and even bigger appetites — for the spoils of western expansion, for empire building, for power, wealth, and physical well-being. Early photographers emphatically affirmed such booster claims, depicting the city in a landscape of breathtaking vistas and lush, exotic beauty. They showed residents in harmonious union with nature ⎯ modern-day descendants of Adam and Eve basking in a land of perpetual sunshine.

Later photographers worked in less exalted veins, picturing Los Angeles not as a Garden of Eden, but as a concrete jungle baking under a blanket of smog and heat. Still others homed in on the city as a place of pretense, a huckster’s paradise fuelled by Hollywood’s seductive artificiality. Yet somewhere between these extremist visions flowers the real Los Angeles ⎯ a multifaceted place where millions steal moments of pleasure and delight from the tedium of ordinary life.

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