Over the last several years, I have been photographically documenting some of everyday urban life in Los Angeles. I want to develop an archive of images and super-8 films useful for longer-term comparative work on the continuing transformations of a city. My goal is to be reasonably comprehensive, rather than accumulating a select and perhaps idiosyncratic set of images.
I am concerned with the infrastructure for life. The phenomena include commercial life (dry cleaners, nail parlors, trendy and not-so-trendy districts) and urban redevelopment (tear-downs in wealthy neighborhoods and the subsequent building of mansionettes). My idea is to cover a wide variety of similar types of phenomena-say, 100 or more mansionettes or 25 fabric stores in LA’s fashion district. I focus on the facade of each building, in effect how people advertise themselves to the world. What is remarkable is the variety of each type, as well as the shared features of all the various representatives. I am especially interested in the detailed way in which each representative makes up the urban fabric. Often many of one type are agglomerated in a small area or district; other times, they are sprinkled everywhere. My theme is that what is everyday and ubiquitous is also particular and distinctive and local.
In every case, whether it be mansionettes or fabric stores or storefront churches, these places are marked by ethnic, national, or linguistic signs, some readily discerned by all, others rather more esoterically coded.
Buildings, their signage, and their context are strikingly informative, even if they are not Gothic cathedrals with the Bible writ large in their statues and structure. Yet they are as well modular, each one almost replaceable by its kin.
I began my photodocumentation project in order to get hold of the rapidly changing urban fabric of Los Angeles, because of vigorous and pulse-like economic development, and because of substantial flows of new immigrant groups over short periods of time, and earthquake and social unrest.
Rather than studying a small number of mega-projects, with their long and precarious histories, I wanted to attend to the informal and the smaller scale, and to the multiplicity and frequency of these changes, in their ubiquity and their variety. Attending to the vernacular and everyday, one discovers how urban redevelopment often takes place in this more disaggregated uncoordinated fashion, again marked by particular ethnic, national, and linguistic signs.
Why photographs? Since I focus on facades, the images are literally superficial. Photographs can provide a very high level of information-the writing on the walls and the signs, the design, the color, the real estate. My goal here is clear documentation, not fine art, not photojournalism, not the documentary tradition in photography.
Martin H. Krieger is Professor of Planning in the Price School of Public Policy at USC. This exhibition is part of the Southern California and the World Exhibition (SC/W), and is supported by a grant from the Office of the Provost. The photographing was supported, in part, by the Dean, Price School of Public Policy.