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)