L.A. Vedute

by Thomas Locke Hobbs

L.A. Vedute is a series of photographs depicting apartment buildings in Los Angeles and adjacent municipalities. Taken with a 4×5-inch view camera during 2016 and 2017, each photograph in the series is centered exactly on the property line between two buildings. I was interested in the space created by the gap between two buildings. Particularly in cases where each of the two buildings’ driveways were next to each other, the space reminded me of old photographs of Paris by Eugene Atget or Charles Marville. I was surprised to find this kind of urban condition in Los Angeles, as is not the way the city is typically depicted, although scenes like this are actually quite common in the urban core. I deliberately photographed on cloudy days or mornings when the marine layer blanketed the city with fog so as to remove the shadows and bring more attention to tonal variations of the different surfaces; the stucco, the tow-away signs, the security bars, the succulents and the semi-deciduous trees imported from South America. I was also attracted to the strongly receding lines, which reminded me of Renaissance paintings using optical perspective, such as the Ideal City of Urbino and also later paintings from the 18th century, like those of Canaletto, which strove for depiction and clarity of subject.
I see these photos as exploring the tensions between public and private space in Los Angeles. The gaps between multi-family housing structures are literal in-between spaces, neither public nor private, and typically relegated to parking spaces. The neglect of public space in Los Angeles has its roots in the racist past of segregation and red-lining and persists today in the city’s lack of parks, its car-dependence and absence of other urban amenities. In a city where most neighborhoods are reserved for expensive single-family homes, apartment buildings constitute a kind of dissident architecture for those unable to buy into the so-called American Dream. They are housing for all who do not fit the mold of the affluent, nuclear family; immigrants, queer people and the working class. The chaotic juxtapositions of the buildings in these photographs may suggest the alienation of living in an anti-urban city but also, perhaps, more optimistically, the diversity made possible by their existence.