LOS ANGELES — On a recent chilly Saturday evening, a parking lot in Los Angeles’s Chinatown was transformed into a makeshift screening room as photographs documenting street life across the vast city were projected onto the rear of a four-story building. With helicopters circling overhead and a light rain falling, the assembled crowd of photographers and photo enthusiasts watched a 45-minute slideshow that jumped from surfers in Venice and the bustle of Union Station to lowrider and motorcycle clubs, the 1992 LA Uprising and the protests of 2020, street vendors, a horse ranch, wildfires, and the unhoused.
Titled Projecting L.A., the program featured the work of 35 street, documentary, news, and student photographers, forming a composite portrait of the city’s dynamic and dense urban fabric.
“This is LA,” Vic Brown, one of the participating photographers, told Hyperallergic. “LA has the rap of being glitz and glamor, but this is an innovative attempt at revolutionizing how we see art. What better way to do it than in a parking lot in downtown Los Angeles, the heart of the city?”
Projecting L.A., held on October 22, was the first public event hosted by the LA Project, an organization that brings together emerging and established photographers to capture Los Angeles at a pivotal time in its development. It was founded in 2021 by Julia Dean, a photographer, educator, and the former executive director of the Los Angeles Center for Photography, who has been documenting life in downtown LA with her camera for over a decade. The screening was accompanied by a five-day street photography workshop led by Dean at the Leica Akademie of America, and a selection of prints from Projecting L.A. will be donated to the collection of the Los Angeles Central Library, becoming part of the public record of the life of the city.
The photographers of Projecting L.A. showcase the city’s various communities, landscapes, and individuals, zooming from picturesque subjects like Frank Gehry’s gleaming Disney Concert Hall and the historic theaters along Broadway to deep dives on specific scenes, people, and events.
Julia Dean’s own contribution, a series titled Jose Hernandez: The Guardian of the Alley, is an intimate portrait of homelessness focused on the daily life of one person. Acclaimed photographer Estevan Oriol’s work spans the underground to celebrity, reflecting Latinx lowrider and tattoo scenes as well as well-known figures like Snoop Dogg. Ted Soqui juxtaposes his photos of the 1992 LA Uprising that followed the acquittal of police officers in the Rodney King Trial with photographs taken 30 years later in the exact same spots, using the same cameras, lenses, and film. Fires, smoke, and rubble are replaced by mundane strip malls, houses, and construction sites, a ubiquitous feature in rapidly developing LA.
Contemporary developments of the past few years are chronicled in more in-depth series, such as Capturing Covid by Los Angeles Times photographer Francine Orr, which focuses on the fear, loss, and hope experienced at hospitals during the early pandemic. Ringo Chiu looks at the pivotal events of 2020, turning his camera on the emergence of COVID, record-setting wildfires, and the protests after the murder of George Floyd.
Los Angeles may not be the first city that comes to mind when one hears the term “street photography” — cities teeming with pedestrian life like New York, Chicago, Paris, and London, are more commonly associated with the genre. With its seemingly endless patchwork of residential neighborhoods interlaced in a serpentine network of highways, Los Angeles has the reputation of a city where streets are vectors of mobility, not places where life is lived. While it’s true that it lacks a cohesive “center,” unlike those older East Coast and European examples, this is a view grasped from the isolation and blur of the freeway. If one decides to take an off-ramp and slow down, the diversity and richness of the myriad communities that make up greater LA come into focus.
“When I discovered street photography as an artform, everything was very much East Coast,” photographer Louis White told Hyperallergic at the event. He says encountering the work of Dorothea Lange helped broaden his perspective. “That was opposite of shooting in a big city, but still very similar, because at the end of the day, street photography is just about human connection.”
At Projecting L.A., student and professional photographers shared glimpses of various pockets of the city, from the stalls of Santee Alley to skateboarders at the beach. The Hollywood sign is thankfully nowhere to be seen.
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