Sunday, September 30, 2007

Anthony Hernandez: L.A. Photographs of Waiting, Sitting...

“Street photographer” has been a term that gets tossed about in regard to any number of photographers. Garry Winogrand was regarded as the epitome of the “street photographer” but he actually thought the term didn’t mean anything, that it was dumb…not dumb like stupid, dumb like it doesn’t say anything. And in reality, it doesn’t mean anything but an assumption. Was Ansel Adams a “forest photographer”? Brassai a “hooker and thug photographer”? Lately Robert Adams has been a damn good “leaf photographer.”

Well…I have finally discovered someone who I am fairly comfortable in calling a “street photographer.” His name is Anthony Hernandez and his new book from Loosestrife Editions is called Los Angeles Photographs of: Waiting, Sitting, Fishing and Some Automobiles.

Why am I willing to call Anthony Hernandez a “street photographer” and not the other usual suspects commonly associated with that term? Simply because while looking at his photographs of Los Angeles pedestrians waiting at various bus stops, it is the street that takes center stage and carries most of the weight. With folks like Mr. Winogrand, it was mostly the human element and the seven deadly sins that make his photographs carry so much meaning and substance. With Mr. Hernandez, it is the street and its horrific endless hardness and uncomforting layers that cause us to be unsettled about the human condition. So finally…a “street photographer.” Maybe it’s just LA. The photographer Lewis Baltz said of the place, “I always believed that God would destroy L.A. for its sins. Finally, I realized that He had already destroyed it, and then left it around as a warning.”

Working with a 5 by 7 view camera, Hernandez spent his days making his way around L.A. and his choice of time of day seems to be high noon. Perhaps that is his homage to the great westerns spawned from Studio CityL.A. because escape from the sun may be a futile exercise. The city was created in the one of the more hostile areas for humans to set up shop. or perhaps that time of day is a fitting description of

Hernandez is a "street photographer" also because the people who appear in his photographs know the streets intimately. These are pictures that describe a working class who use public transportation as a car might be convenient but is ultimately unaffordable. In the book‘s third act, these same people take small pleasure in recreating in spots that are little more than areas where man’s desire for more asphalt constructions has waned partly due to the impediment of a small body of water. Here they fish…for what? Food? Pleasure? In these photos it seems as though the idea of fishing may be more pleasurable than the act.

His book is divided into four parts and the last is dedicated to that myth of status, the car. L.A. is constantly being described as a city where the car is a necessity. In Hernandez’s L.A. the car is present but it is of a make and model that is thoroughly weather beaten and just on the verge of an expensive repair. In fact, if we were to believe Hernandez’s vision of car culture, we would declare it a pointless endeavor and just take the bus. The last image in the book is of an empty car dealership lot on Glendale Avenue; another wasteland with remnants of car parts and litter left for the sun to beat up on.

The book is a wonderful piece of creative design by the photographer John Gossage. He handles the cover typography so well that Neville Brody would nod with approval (who else would give a bold “Printed in China” credit a prominent spot right on the cover?). The interior of the book is a series of gatefolds with the photographs hidden beneath pages of city street maps that identify the locations. And although this aspect makes it a book that takes some extra handling and effort to see the images, the quality and feel of the materials makes it a pleasure and not a burden. The paper choice and printing style lends a chalky bright high key quality to the images that has you searching for a bit of shadow to seek refuge under.

The pleasure of Loosestrife books is that every aspect of the book has been taken into consideration and although they may cost a bit more than other books, after you bite the bullet, you realize that there is a reason for the higher price. This book had to have cost a small fortune to produce with its design quirks. Thank you John and Michael for not sparing the expense.

Book Available Here (LA: Waiting, Sitting, Fishing, and Some Automobiles)


Anonymous said...

I got this book along with the Michael Abrams 'Strange and Singular' one. both are excellent. far better than 99% of the books out there. Nice to see Anthony H getting his early work revisited after all this time. congrats to all concerned.

on another note, the Hernandez book brings up the question of new books on old work - at what point does the benefit of hindsight and artistic development enable one to edit old work with knowledge and artistic wisdom that one perhaps would not have had at the time.

In general (not esp about Hernandez) -is it 'fair' for someone to go through their negatives and choose, 20, 25, 30+ years later, images that now seem prescient. Once someone breaks the traditional mold of image making, or book layout-sequencing-editing, we can often go back over past work and find something overlooked or similar in our archive. but would we have included it at the time, and in that way?

would Tod Papageorge's book have had that biblical subtext? maybe. would it have had the inverted sequence - doubtful. Would this LA book be the exact same if it had been published in 1982 - unlikely.

This is not intended as a critique - its an excellent book, as is the Papageorge, more of an open thought on the nature of discovering overlooked work that has been edited into book form for the first time.

Anonymous said...

Good topic Anonymous. I just looked at 'Subway Love' by Nobuyoshi Araki last night. It is a 2005 publication of pictures he made daily on his way to and from work from 1963-1972. He had planned to make a book of the pictures back then but he saw Walker Evans' book 'Many Are Called' published in 1966 (which consists of subway photos made 1938-1941) and he felt that it would seem like he copied Evans, even though he started before he knew that work.

In the interview at the end of the book Araki says: 'I was thinking about taking proper portraits and making a book out of them, when I came upon Evans' book. Now, I'm pleased I abandoned the idea. Instead of orderly portraits, you can see all the extraneous things I captured with a 35mm: the picture "noise", or the "noise" of the subway. I'm pleased I didn't publish these pictures decades ago.'

He makes an assessment of his own work that I agree with: 'This book is fantastic. I think it is my best collection ever! That's what I feel. There's still a restless hunger, a sort of desperation thowards photography, towards myself. There's something in these photos: I can sense my feelings were still churning. And you can really feel it can't you? Maybe it was my best time: I was in my late twenties when I was photographing women on Ginza. ... This subway time was my wild period, and my photos are bursting with life.'

I think that the best photo books happen when it is the right time. It would be interesting to see a version of the subway photos in book form in the 1940s when Evans first made the pictures as it would also be interesting to see a published version of 'The Passengers' a maquette made in 1958 of the subway pictures. One of Garry Winogrand's best books 'Women Are Beautiful' was not published until well after most of the pictures were made. Paul Fusco's 'RFK Funeral Train' (1999)is a brilliant book and I don't think ever would have been made in such a form in the late 1960s. I'm sure there are many more examples.

I look forward to seeing the Hernandez book because I don't think he has had a book yet that is worthy of the best of his work. Perhaps this is the one.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for the thoughts.

I think, like Stuart just mentioned, that the book happens when it happens. And it is interesting that if this book was done in the early eighties it probably would not have been in such a great form. It probably would have looked a bit like Chauncey Hare's Interior America down to the poor printing. So no doubt time and new mindsets that are much different from the those that were present at the time of making the photos have a strong influence but I imagine for the better. Fair game. I might add that perhaps books are published too quickly that and not enough time is allowed for the artist and publisher to find the right form and context for a work.

So if I haven't made my point by now,I think photographers should revisit work and consider publishing it as long as it is worthy. I do not want to see a Mary Ellen Mark "Twins..the early years" published anytime soon but you know what I mean.

BTW...I will be writing about Michael Abrams book as well.

Anonymous said...

Your comments and thoughts also leads me to this parallel thought.

The passage of time is such an interesting aspect with photography. I have found that I revisit contact sheets from 10 years back that I see them much differently than the way I saw them back then when a sense of the actual experience was still in my mind. In turn, it doesn't happen often, but I find new things that interest me. This is an aspect of photography that with our turn towards the digital realm that I fear people will not experience in the same ways.

What I mean is, when my students ask me how digital is changing photography I say that I think it is mostly in good ways. BUT one thing that is negative, vastly negative in my opinion, the way people edit is changing. People shoot photos and then delete them as they work. That is a very common practice. If there is one thing I learned about photography and film making is that you do not edit in the camera.

This practice of editing photos in the camera either to just "get rid of crap" or free space on flash cards limits the possibility for revisiting the work years from now and making new discoveries. People now-a-days are editing and only keeping what appeals to them AT THAT MOMENT. They do not take into consideration that we change and grow and will have different perceptions later. This bad practice of editing off tiny screens (that are much too small to adequately see the images anyway) will vastly change their relationship to the work.

I know what your saying...great Jeff...encourage everyone to keep even more shit around to take up physical and virtual space. Isn't that what Flicker is for?

Adam said...

Interestingly, Winogrand never developed his film right away and would just add them to his giant trash bins to be developed months or yrs later. Although perhaps difficult to delay the instant gratification, waiting gave him the necessary distance from the moment, and emotional attachment to the subject, to truly evaluate the images.

Looking forward to she the Hernandez book. I just got the new Gossage book which is great.

Anonymous said...

appreciate the extra comments, and yes, its great that it does get published, and its ready when its ready, b-u-t... we do need to be aware that some images that we have overlooked, can be subsequently included once we have benefited from the insight and innovation of others who picked up and ran with the idea.

we could all go back and find a treasure trove of overlooked images, print those up, edit and lay them out differently, and make our work look amazing for something done in 1979, or whenever. The point is we are editing with the knowledge that has come from 25 (or whatever) years of progress and innovation by others.

yes undoubtedly some overlooked masterpieces exist, work that should, but never was, be published. But... also there are some volumes of old work that have been shaped into interesting new books with the benefit of knowing and seeing what others did int he past 20 years.

as this is most definitely not about the Hernandez book, lets take Gilles Peres' Telex Iran, for example - that was radical in its form of photography and picture layout. it challenged and changed photojournalism in its imagery and design. Couldnt we now go back through someones Vietnam War archive and find similar out-takes? if it was never published, and we now made a book knowing what we know, using the stle of Telex Iran, could we claim that person 'did it first' ? or are we able to get an unfair advantage from what Gilles did, to now to re-edit their imagery, and make it look prescient, and ahead of his achievement. that would be false, but it makes my point.

Anonymous said...

I love to find images that I've overlooked or that I've grown into, but I can't get myself to wait more that a week to develop my film. Because of the vast quantity of film that Winogrand shot, perhaps he was desensitised to the wonder of each roll, which I find happens to me with digital!

Anonymous said...

This dicussion makes me think of 2 retrospective exhibitions I saw recently. One was by William Klein and the other by Belgian Magnum-photographer Carl De Keyser (who has made some great books as well, I see you own Homo Sovieticus, Jeff).

Now this isn't about books but about photo printing sizes. At the De Keyzer exhibit all photographs were printed much larger (at least 3 by 4 feet) and very different from when they were first shown (when he publishes a book there's always an exhibtion). I don't know the size of William Klein's original New York, Rome and Moscow-photos but again these were now all printed the size of film posters.

I believe that - years later - you can look at things in a different way but I'm not sure printing your photographs three times their original size is the most interesting way.

Anonymous said...

Hello Janv,

Back to Walker Evans for an example. When Walker Evans had an exhibition at MoMA in 1971, John Szarkowski had huge enlargements made of a few of the images as accents for the installation of the exhibition. I think the 8x10s were blown up to about 6x8 feet! They were shown again several years ago at Laurence Miller Gallery. I found them to be very interesting. You could see things in the images and experience them in a whole different way.

Last year, John Hill, the executor of the Walker Evans Estate organized a show at the UBS building on SIxth Ave. in New York with many huge enlargements of Evans' images and I learned something about each photograph that I would not have if I had not seen them enlarged. Of course, if the curator and/or photographer runs out of ideas and the only thing they can come up with is to make large prints, that is pretty lame. But I think that extra large prints can be very interesting, particularly of older images that we have seen a thousand times and feel like we know. Something new can be learned from it.

Anonymous said...

Hello Stuart

I think you're right about the Walker Evans photos. I would be curious to see those enlarged as well.

It probably depends on the subject matter. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't...

Unknown said...

First, heads up on the printed in china cover credit, that is the best thing I seen all day.

The retrospective edit happens to all artists that enjoy posthumous fame - so any artist we still know about, that is. It's one of the basic mechanisms of culture that we return with the benefit of hindsight to impose our own cultural framework on some innocent and inanimate artwork, whether it's lascaux or van Gogh.
Does it make Lartigue less of a boy-genius, that his genius went unnoticed until he was 70? And his retrospective edit was done not only with the benefit of hindsight but also the benefit of Mr Avedon's magic eye. But you know, you can't gild a turd and if the stuff's just not there no amount of retro editing is going to make you seem prescient.

Anonymous said...

Atget's first book was done after he died, and we are still looking his stuff.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous's comments have brought to light an interesting discussion I just had with a friend (who refuses to leave comments on my site). We were talking about how certain photographers produce a book at the time the photos were made that is so visionary and have an impact on the medium. We were discussing that versus the "twenty years after" point that Anonymous was making.

We were discussing Klein's New York is Good For You. Beyond the photos it had Klein's graphic design that was so much a part of that book. Klein, unlike many photographers was able to not only create images that ruffled certain feathers but instead of making a traditional book he published a book that was full of risk taking in the design. Obviously his background in design helped greatly.

Now would we think any differently if Klein made those photos in the 50's and then designed the same book today? Yes, it would be perceived as different because who was making books like that then? Now you have graphic designers from the Emigre school and folks like Chip Kidd testing the boundries of type and image. So people would be used to such a form today, or at least as accepting.

Klein is one example among only a handful that was pushing things to the extreme. The Americans, as great as it is, is a conservatively designed book. The content, sequencing, text, is anything but conservative but the layout follows the traditional forms.

One Way Street said...

A few years ago with a rather finicky group of students who I took to PS1 in Long Island City, to see the Stephen Shore show American Surfaces, I had assumed the students would love the work, find it of interest, or akin possibly to what they might be doing. Instead there were at least 7 students IRATE about the work, for whatever reason, the most articulate question/complaint being, "Why is work done a long time ago by an older photographer being shown in a contemporary art museum?" While I won't go further into the students' logic, I think such an itch about contemporaneity does make us wonder if work has to be new to be contemporary. & likewise looking at work done 27 years ago, but now seeing the light of day, at least in a new form - is it still old work?

One curiosity in museum display I've noticed is photographs on view having 2 dates - one for exposure, one for printing. This seem practical for work that has gone through various distinct printings i.e. Ansel Adams prints, or much older work which was reprinted years later. But I suspect that it's also a bit of a museum-effect in terms of establishing higher values for "vintage" as opposed to that which is not.

The design of the Hernandez book, the maps, the essay by Gerry Badger are all very admirable, but I am also struck that Hernandez' images are all in oddly public places in Los Angeles - which as a city is almost entirely bereft of such spaces, or at least is perceived to be without them. Albeit Hernandez photographed in truly abject locales, beginning with the bus stops, but also the woebegone architectural "spaces" & the fishing holes & car lots. I was struck at how populated the spaces were. I've always sensed that the way to be invisible in Los Angeles is to be on the street, obviously there's an "invisible" population out there as well.

Gelare Khoshgozaran said...

Do you remember the complete Lewis Baltz quote?