Mulholland Drive is one of the most iconic roads in the United States. Built in 1924 and named for a controversial water baron, its sinuous curves and dramatic vistas stretch from the Pacific Coast Highway, through the city of Los Angeles, and up the Santa Monica Mountains to the Hollywood Hills. Offering views of the famous Hollywood sign and downtown, the road has become a symbol of Southern California.
Most people experience the picturesque two-lane Mulholland Drive from a fast-moving car, or in the movies and music that it has inspired. But in Mulholland (MW Editions, 2021), photographer Karen Halverson captures the historic highway in slow, dense detail. Her lush, panoramic shots allow viewers to immerse themselves in this complex route where the landscape and the metropolis collide.
Before creating this series in the early 1990s, Halverson spent years photographing the American West. A chance encounter with David Hockney’s lively, large-scale painting “Mulholland: The Road to the Studio” (1980) at the Metropolitain Museum in New York sparked an interest which turned into a photographic project after Halverson moved to Los Angeles in 1991. “I came upon the real-life Mulholland and was dazzled by the views it offered, and even by the voluptuous curves of the road itself,” Halverson wrote in a recent email to Hyperallergic. “I loved discovering what was around the next bend in the road.”
Mulholland takes viewers along for the ride. Halverson’s sweeping photos encompass long distances and freeze details in time, permitting us to examine the evolving interplay between the road and the landscape that surrounds it. The book moves from wide shots of hillsides covered with chaparral and grasses to ever-increasing signs of human life, like telephone poles, chain link fences, and housing developments. As we get closer to the city, traffic lights, graffiti, and non-native plant species appear more frequently. Seen from today’s ongoing climate crises, the book offers a snapshot of a place in flux.
“Mulholland is at the juncture where human will and ingenuity meet the forces of nature,” Halverson said by email. “When I made these photographs in the early ’90s, most of us were less aware of climate change than we are now. But we knew Los Angeles had grown into a major city in an unlikely place — a semi-arid, earthquake-prone environment, to which water had to be piped for hundreds of miles.”
Still, after years of experiencing earthquakes, floods, drought, fires, and mudslides in Los Angeles, Halverson also enjoyed its “golden light and extraordinary beauty, both natural and manmade.” Mulholland is her tribute to the road that symbolizes both.
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