Sunday, January 1, 2012

Nos Angels

5th broadway

9th st auto park set

9th st auto park

18th st


apple tree

assault v


broadway 98th




hurricane 2




olds 1


rosslyn 1




van 25

Born in 1966, raised in Scotland from a Czech mom and an American dad, I was given my first camera around 1982, a 35 mm Minolta.

I received a degree in photography and visual art from San Diego City College in 1999.  In 2001 I moved to LA and started a small studio in downtown. During 2002 and 2005 I was freelancing for American Apparel and spending a lot of time in the central library photo department. It was here I discovered Eugene Atget (1857-1927 Bordeaux, Paris).

The first book I read about Atget was by John Szarkowski.  It had nice print quality, a nice luster but Szarkowski's words were too poetic—his writing bothered me. Reading Bernice Abbott’s account of Atget while working in Paris as Man Ray's assistant in the 20's and after Atget's passing—her story of American snobbery in the "f64 club" in the 30's only fanned the flames of my interest, more so as I looked closer I realized Eugene Atget's work changed the course of photography. You can follow the lineage simply.

Of course, before Atget were a handful of large format documentary photographers—Edouard Baldus, Charles Marville, Bisson Freres and Chevejon Freres—whose work set the bar in the mid to late 19th century France, but where they left off Atget picked up to a whole new level. Atget to Evans and the rest is history: Ruscha, Eggleston, Bechers, Shore.

As downtown LA was undergoing gentrification in the early 2000's a lot of character was being lost. An opportunity arose for me to document LA and capture something like Atget did, before the old was lost.

I found myself wandering around LA with a calumet mono-rail 4x5 in a large Rubbermade tub strapped to a luggage cart on gloomy overcast days and Atget on my mind. I was searching out the remnants of artifacts that LA life had left its mark on. Buildings, streets, alleys, vehicles, found objects, and people.   I am fascinated by the buildup of humanity’s invention that occurs over time, and how this process interacts with and changes the surrounding environment. 

Ultimately regarding this particular body work I think the two books that played the leading roles in my influence are David Harris’s “Unknown Paris” and “Scene of the crime: Photographs from the LAPD archive.”

Harris's observation of Atget's multiple shots to describe, and the matter of fact style of the LAPD evidence photographs defined my method. The view camera has a tradition of being used for architecture going back to the beginning of photography. Before the camera architectural renderings were made by hand and pencil. The view camera with full technical movements is the ultimate tool for rendering architecture without distorting the image. The large format camera forces you to study with your eyes at what you are photographing, as the image on the ground glass is upside down and back to front. You have to see your shot and then frame it up with the camera. This works for me as I am selective in what I photograph.  As a result I find the shots are more deliberate, and undisguised.

As I continued on with the work, and read more on the development of modern large format photography, I thought if Andreas Gursky can take multiple shots and then stitch them together in Photoshop to make large scale views, then why can't I? You can see the images that have an unusual shape in this set, the "panoramics" were made in this way. A composite of two or three frames.

In summary this is an ongoing project that I can't say I will ever finish.  Unless I leave LA and then I would take up the same method somewhere else. This is the kind of photography I like. Slow and with a little dignity.

w robert angell

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