Traveling Through an Analog World

By Lynell George

via The Frame/KPCC and LAist

LOS ANGELES-BASED musician Anthony Wilson‘s latest release, Songs and Photographs, reminds us what we’ve lost in our departure from the analog life — both in music and in snapshots, rich repositories of emotion and memory.

The guitarist, arranger, and composer is the son of the late great jazz trumpeter, composer, and bandleader Gerald Wilson. While jazz is his homebase, Anthony often deftly finds his way into different settings, sitting in with a mix of artists — among them Paul McCartney, Aaron Neville, Kenny Burrell, and Willie Nelson. He’s also been a member of Diana Krall’s ensemble since 2001.

His latest release combines his own music and photography. This new work is an “album” in a broad sense: an unfolding collection of images, both audio and visual. It’s meant to be taken as a whole, intended for reflection.

To read more click over to LAist and you can hear the review along with sound samples here at KPCC/The Frame.


Remembering Carolyn Kozo Cole

By Lynell George LA Times

Carolyn Kozo Cole gave Los Angeles one of of its richest gifts — a deeper, broader and more complex visual record of itself.


From the Shades of L.A. Project

A photograph featured in Carolyn Kozo Cole’s project “Shades of L.A” of Verna Deckard and Arthur Lewis at Santa Monica Beach in the segregated section, Aug 2, 1924. They married later that month. (Shades of L.A. Collection/Los Angeles Public Library)

As head of Los Angeles Public Library photo collection for almost 20 years, Cole, who died Dec. 6 because of complications of Alzheimer’s disease, is best known for her landmark project, “Shades of L.A.” The initiative collected thousands of photos from across the region — including a Japanese American family in their Sunday best posed before Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle to African American couples relaxing at the Last Word club on Central Avenue — to create more reflective vision of our city in the world’s imagination.

Read More Here

“Envisioning California”

MY BOOM piece “State of Being” is getting some WordPress love!

Thanks WP!

Lynell George “I could remember everything about California, but I couldn’t feel it. I tried to get my mind to remember something I could feel about it, but it was no use. It was gone. All of it.” —Richard Hallas from You Play the Black and the Red Comes Up1 Gold Underneath the Street For […]

via State of Being: Envisioning California — Boom California

State of Being: Envisioning California




via Boom Magazine

by Lynell George

“I could remember everything about California, but I couldn’t feel it. I tried to get my mind to remember something I could feel about it, but it was no use. It was gone. All of it.”
—Richard Hallas from You Play the Black and the Red Comes Up1

Gold Underneath the Street 

For months now, I’ve been at the time-bending task of emptying out my family home, breaking down history as if it were a set.

It’s my childhood home, not the first, but the one we inhabited the longest. Moving through rooms, closets, and overstuffed drawers, I’ve unearthed all manner of lost treasures: pocket watches, maps, deeds to homes long razed. This house, I realize, became a nest—not just ours—but one made up of artifacts of generations of family members: Bibles and Sunday hats, old wallets still filled with gasoline “Charg-a-Plates” and oxidized pocket change, a cache of antique cameras still spooled with film, and a river of photographs documenting their journey west.

A few weeks back, making my way through the old kitchen, I put my hand in the dark recesses of a cabinet stacked with crystal water goblets, luncheon plates, and not one but two ornate turkey platters to find the most fragile porcelain teacup and saucer—once white with scalloped edges, a hand-painted small cluster of oranges at center. Beneath the fruit, in plainspoken yet fine-brushstrokes, unscroll the letters “C-A-L-I-F-O-R-N-I-A.” Whose tiny cup was this? My grandmother’s? My great aunt? My mother’s? Who purchased this souvenir? Who thought to save it? To protect it? I wondered. How had it survived so long, so dusty and delicate?


To read more at Boom, click here

Letting Go of Green Lawns …

All this past summer, I kept hearing Joni Mitchell’s voice in a loop way in the back of my brain,  murmuring about the “hissing of” summer lawns. That tell-tale sprinkler spray haunted me.  By the end of October, I’d swapped in “browning” for “hissing” as the lyric cycled through.  But my long morning walks told me something else about how important that green grass was to some.

Here’s my brief reflection — in words and images — that went up in November at Zócalo Public Square

by Lynell George | Zócalo Public Square

“Here, it was two stories and a lawn, two stories and a lawn, two stories and a lawn”
– Carolyn See from The Handyman

Sometime during the last-blast furnace heat of September, as I made my turns on foot around my San Gabriel Valley neighborhood, I began to take careful note that the term “conservation” was widely open to interpretation.

Evidence was everywhere. Street to street, lot to lot. Each week, I’d push a little farther outside my core neighborhood, comparing and contrasting.

Many residents let their square of lawn “go”—in a come-what-may fashion that seems optimistically to believe that brown will one day be green again.

Others chose to take matters into their own hands. I watched early-adopters embark on elaborate, months-long transformations, removing turf, transporting earth, tarping lawns, designing intricate new ground cover—not wanting to gamble on the vagaries of Mother Nature. As weeks passed, I’ve been taken by the range of improvisation among these remade yards: blasts of color and texture, hay-yellow patches, haphazard rock gardens, dirt and dandelion weeds.


to read more click here

Improvisational L.A.



In a City That Constantly Builds Over Itself, You Can Still Find the Last Century in Certain Light and Certain Pockets by Lynell George


For some time now, I’ve been thinking and talking about Los Angeles in the past tense. Not in a nostalgic way—rather, my memory of place had become an overlay, filtering the way I see and move through the here-and-now city.

Vanished landmarks are still active points on my personal map of the city where I was born and raised—touchstones I remember from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. That old Westside bookstore with the sleeping cats and sagging shelves? It’s still there in my imagination, waiting for me to show up and find my place in the conversation. And those palm trees near the corner of Citrus and Wilshire, the ones I saw craning their long, slim necks toward the sunlight? I still see them out of the corner of my eye, as I drive by, on my way to my next superimposed somewhere.

Click here to read more via Zócalo Public Square

Visions and Revisions: The Spirits of Los Angeles

Issue 8 | Los Angeles

Essay and Photographs by Lynell George

An excerpt via Boat Magazine

Los Angeles is full of phantoms. I don’t mean apparitions as in bump-in-the-night specters, but the elusive traces of the many cities beneath the city — barely discernable, vanishing rapidly.
I’m not sure when or why I felt I needed to, but somewhere in the last few years I began, what I can only describe as, chasing ghosts First it was the faint, stylized lettering sketched along the side of last century’s brick and stucco buildings making up downtown Los Angeles’ historic core. Yet, before I knew it, I found myself returning again and again to the long stretches of gray boulevards, just beyond it, lined with low high-rises (heights here were once restricted due to earthquake anxieties). Standing among them, I’d eavesdrop: so many edifices etched with snippets of past stories — the tailors and jewelers, the busy emporiums that once carried “notions”; penny diversions and entertainments; and of course, what so many came west for to begin with, the advertisements for space for let: “Private Rooms. Nice Place”
Elaborate antique family trees bloomed along stone walls, faded but still apparent. Businesses built on the shoulders of fathers and sons and brothers — cabinet makers and apothecaries, legacies embroidered in the memory of brick facades — if you can pause long enough to see it. . . .

To order your copy of Boat, click here.

William Reagh’s Sidewalk Stories

By Lynell George
via KCET’s Artbound

WHEN PHOTOGRAPHER William Reagh first landed in Los Angeles in the 1930s, the city still seemed a string of unconnected thoughts: an expansive outpost — both wild and urban; idyllic and rough-hewn — still discovering itself as it stretched out across the basin, rambling and loosely punctuated.

Los Angeles’s juxtapositions — and the contradictions that lived side-by-side them — gave the former Kansan rich fodder for visual exploration — high/low; have/have-not. Just what was Los Angeles bent toward being? At face value, it was difficult to discern.

While history and memory tell us one piece, images of the city in its boom years — a place that moment to moment, reinvents and shape-shifts — deepen that narrative. They underscore if not gird those memories. They make real and contextualize moments and memories we question, the details we thought were gone forever, altered “in a blink.”

If not for Reagh and his meticulousness, so much of not just L.A.’s evolving brick-and- mortar profile, but even more important, its more intimate, episodic sidewalk stories, would be lost. Reagh intuited that it wasn’t simply the city’s shifting skyline or the at-a-glance atlas-view depicting the necklace of bedroom communities fanning outward that told Los Angeles’ story — but rather the incremental evolution, close-up, block by block day-by-day: the street view.

Last Fall, the Book Club of California published an evocative, time-trip: a limited-edition of Reagh’s photographic work — “A Long Walk Downtown: Photographs of Los Angeles and Southern California, 1936-1991.” With an introduction written by historian, archivist and antiquarian book dealer, Michael Dawson and an essay by Reagh’s son Patrick (who is responsible for the book’s elegant design and letterpress printing), the volume provides an intimate tour of day-in day-out Los Angeles as seen from the ground up. “My earliest memory of him is with a camera,” remembers Patrick Reagh, “It was always with him. He was very consistent.”

Reagh was on the streets: Looking. Lingering. Documenting. He walked Los Angeles and consequently saw Los Angeles — offering a different perspective than the mere suggestion of place so often gleaned in motion or generalized shorthand. He circled neighborhoods, returned to some locations year after year, charting their evolution. And though, until his death in 1992, he became one of Los Angeles’ most prolific visual documentarians, he didn’t set out to be a photographer, nor was his trove of L.A. images meant to be a formal paean to Los Angeles. A painter and philosopher, by training and inclination, photography was something that he “picked up,” while in the service, a proficiency, that overtime became, at turns, poetic — though he, says his son, would never see it as such.

Through his eyes, frame-by-frame, his photos open a window in on the city’s former self: the vast, now-gone Victorian kingdom of Bunker Hill shooting up from its perch in slate grays and inky blacks, the vivid street-life cacophony of Pershing Square, the almost audible sigh of stacked up, retired streetcars at Terminal Island. But Patrick’s remembrances of his father’s fortitude and focus shed light on not just the man who made the images but on the city he was attempting to wrap his mind around. “There were thousands of images that I wasn’t able to use,” admits Patrick, “Enough, really, to do several other books.”

His father’s arrival in Los Angeles, coincided with the city’s most vigorous years of growth, as well as its many phases of urban renewal. For years, his day job was work as a commercial photographer — shooting products, catalogues, art collections “whatever the clients called for,” his son recalls. But the weekends were dedicated to solely to prowling Los Angeles, uncovering and documenting its very disparate parts, assembling a sense of the whole.

To say there was a goal, a plan or even an organizing thesis to his images, would be to overstate his process, Patrick suggests. His father, he says, was a wanderer who would lose himself within the intricate folds of the city, “wherever his muse led him.” Patrick remembers the meanderings of his father. “He just loved to wander downtown and walk around the streets and shoot. Sometimes it might be a streetscape, sometimes it might be people. He’d often shoot from the hip, hold the camera low. He was very good at taking pictures of people without them knowing. But really, he was so non-threatening, such a friendly guy — even in the seediest of neighborhoods — he would make everyone feel at ease.”

The Cyclone Racer, The Pike, Long Beach, 1967 | Photo: William Reagh.

While Saturdays often meant a solo trek — perhaps crisscrossing the freeways by car, touring surface streets on foot for inspiration — on Sundays, Reagh might take Patrick and his sister along. It was an opportunity to see the city through his eyes — the places he felt were important to document, even if he couldn’t articulate why in words. “Train yards, he loved. Shipyards. Amusement parks, the Pike and Pacific Ocean Park,” Reagh recalls. These were places at the edge of things — of the city or the coastline — and, metaphorically, our imaginations. The transit hubs in particular provided an interesting opportunity to see behind the scenes — an end on one story, beginning of another.

Each setting called for a different set up. “If he was downtown shooting people, he’d have his reflex, or another smaller camera, maybe his Leica. At the train yard or shipyard, he’d bring his tripod and set up his big Speed-Graphic. Back then there were no security guards asking questions: who you were and what you were doing. I would climb on stuff, those piled up streetcars. There was broken glass all over. He’d be off shooting. I’d climb. Back when you could do that sort of thing.”

Often they would stumble upon magic, places like Pershing Square, before it was paved over and reimagined as concrete, antiseptic. “Then it was the most exotic place in the world. This is where people would meet — outcasts, homeless, elderly people. It was a place you would go and you could speak your mind. Hear new ideas.” But it wasn’t just the words, it was the visual expression, and impressions. “One man named Hook because his fingernails were two feet long,” Patrick remembers. “He never cut them. He could drag them along the sidewalk. My father never took a picture of him for some reason. He was so vivid. There were transvestites and hobos — just guys living outside of the norm. But those were the kinds of people who were yelling out at the world,” remembers Patrick. “He was always interested in the underdog.”

By the 1960s, a windfall in the form of a family inheritance, opened up both time, space and opportunity. Reagh was able to quit his day job and pursue his own photography ventures full-time. The family moved from their Echo Park home to Los Feliz, where Reagh was able to set up a full darkroom at home. As he worked, he’d turn up the stereo — listening to West Coast jazz, classical music — or baseball. “Never the Dodgers. He didn’t like Walter O’Malley, the whole Dodger Stadium deal,” Patrick says. “He was a dedicated Angels fan.”

Clay Street, Bunker Hill, 1960 | Photo: William Reagh.

The timing also happened to coincide, Patrick Reagh recalls, with the height of urban renewal, when the physical changes in Los Angeles were fast and often complete. If you study the span of photographs, the L.A. he arrived in versus the concrete-and-steel dream of the future he later documented, they come across as two wholly disparate planets. Those elegant Victorians gave way to the open crater of Bunker Hill; the modest skyline became a chessboard of dwarfing concrete and glass towers that re-oriented the focus — no longer human-scale, but served as metaphors for ambition — the city stretching, reaching further.

If his father had any feelings about all of this, Reagh says, they remained elusive. “You’d think he would have been upset,” he says, “but he had a detached attitude. He wasn’t an ideologue. He loved Cartier-Bresson and the concept of photographer as stroller. But, I think he thought of himself as a preservationist; someone who just needed to be doing this. He seemed to feel somebody had to.”

Decades later, the work reveals his heart. And what the images, taken as a whole, most eloquently preserve is not just sense of place, but a sense of the city’s humanity, its particular vernacular — its feel, pace, space; its leisureliness, and idiosyncratic visual language. “He was just interested in the passing parade.” says Reagh, “He let the camera do the talking.”

Adventures in Silver & Light

The Alchemist: Ian Ruhter’s Adventures in Silver and Light
By Lynell George

November 26, 2012

IF IMAGE is any real measure, Los Angeles might seem an unlikely launch for the pursuit of truth: It’s a place better known for the evocation of the hyper-real — with its impatiently re-imagined landscape, its denizens, nipped and tucked into subjective perfection.

But photographer, Ian Ruhter, who also calls himself an alchemist, knows enough about chemistry to understand that stumbling upon new ways of seeing — is about reactions — a collision of forces — that create something new.

Ruhter’s all-consuming preoccupation in the last two years has been creating a series of dreamlike, elusively temporal images — people, places, hints of moments — that reach back to something not just deep inside our past but within our subconscious.

This is the alchemy: Both the actual chemistry of his photographic process as well as the interaction between people and place, perception and reality. Truth and lie.

Against the backdrop of stepped-up gentrification, Ruhter, holed up in a downtown L.A. loft at 6th and Main, two years ago, had begun tweaking and bending the possibilities of an antique photographic process — wet-plate collodion — a technique that dates back to the 1850s. Instead of “film,” a photographic surface is coated with sensitized material — the exposures, protracted, the development, too a sensitive affair.

The results dismantle our concept of time. The effect of the chemistry — the dappled surfaces, the blurs and bubbles, the shock of the perception of texture on a two-dimensional plane, an iridescence that sometimes mimics the luminescence of a half-shell or a surface shimmer that replicates motion — demands a second look at something or someone you might look past or through.

from KCET Artbound — image by Ian Ruhter — click here to read more.

Walking East of West L.A.

It’s the other point of entry, this eastern spine of downtown Los Angeles, along the Alameda corridor where Union Station thrums with passengers departing, arriving, connecting. And drifters, who hover somewhere in between coming and going. This is the juncture, the elusive middle space, that writer/photographer Kevin McCollister loses himself in. He has become eloquent in visually evoking the poetic hang-time of the destinationless.

Late on a Sunday afternoon, amid the flow of flip-flopped and sun-hatted weekend travelers, McCollister looks like he, too, could be coming or going. With quick, hard-to-read eyes and a taut, reserved energy, he blends into the ambience of anticipation, looking for something that’s not a train or taxi or a “score”—but something. He has arranged himself at one of the concourse’s small tables at the edge of the flow with an iced coffee and his two cameras, a Panasonic Lumix and his Canon D40, still zipped away in their soft black cases. His face relaxes in a greeting, not quite a smile, but welcoming and forthright.

He’s already working, scanning possibilities: the resigned mother with the hysterical six-year-old; the bent woman on a walker fed up with panhandler sob stories; the timid security guard she’s buttonholed who nods between his “yes ma’am”s. McCollister’s eyes finally pause on a man with a dramatic flounce of dyed blue-black hair and a wool scarf flung not-so-nonchalantly about his neck despite the eighty-degree heat. He’s holding court at a table with three other men—all of whom look like they’ve walked out of another era or circumstance. McCollister risks another surreptitious glance, but doesn’t make a move for either camera. Something’s missing, not quite right—the moment. “That one has a story,” he says. “If I wait long enough I’ll find him again.”

What is a train station if not a point of departure? A gateway into stories. But you can’t buy a ticket to the places McCollister takes you. His Los Angeles is not the high-gloss of turquoise pools, movie stars, and mile-high, listing palm trees. Rather, it’s the city’s broken seekers, its mix-and-match architecture, its abandoned asphalt roads—the beauty in its lonelier, hidden contours.

While he is certainty documenting LA, his images evoke something chambered and contemplative, startling in their quietude.

His book and the blog that inspired it, East of West LA, elicit a Los Angeles that feels personal, like memory and fantasy fused, a Los Angeles that is private but not at all exclusive. “Kevin is seeing what’s not seen about LA,” says Brooks Roddan, who found the images compelling enough to publish in book form. “He’s seeing, I think, the differences between the perceptions of LA and the realities. The story is: there’s more here than you imagined, and what you imagined is not here at all.”

he blog, which McCollister launched five years ago, has built a small but loyal following (well over 100,000 visitors, and a steady hundred views a day). It wasn’t conceived as one of those photo-a-day exercises. And he has some rules: “No Rolls Royce convertibles. No swimming pools. They seem to be covered adequately. But,” he elaborates, “I don’t want to get too lofty about what I understand or don’t understand about LA. It’s much more of a model or muse to me than an object I’ve studied to enlighten anyone. If you’re an artist and you’re able to sketch somebody’s thumb, that doesn’t mean you understand their childhood.”

That thumb, in McCollister’s work, is an apt metaphor, full of clues. The fine particulars—an empty farmácia bathed in aqua fluorescence, a Hollywood Boulevard James Brown impersonator, wig slightly askew, flashing a set of ruined teeth—sketch a far more complex LA story of struggle, blind faith, and persistence. By isolating an object—a single, soft-lit doorway, late-night street musicians serenading empty sidewalks, a transient’s forlorn tent—McCollister “finds” LA by holding onto something we might gun past in a rage on the 110, or something we linger beside every day but see past. We observe Los Angeles through his prism, an LA edited down to an oblique gesture, to a wry, visual non sequitur. It’s an LA only seen in stop-motion, an LA that uncharacteristically can only be navigated, McCollister knows, with patience and by foot.

A case in point: This stretch of the Alameda corridor just outside the station doors is a complex nexus. In the amber light, compositionally, it’s loose, messy, and full of possibilities. Downtown’s chessboard of skyscrapers gather to the west; the central jail looms northeast; and the old Pueblo de los Angeles, from whence this all sprang, is only a crosswalk away. This is one of those locations where the city’s standard operating definitions, east of the world’s imagination of Los Angeles, don’t quite work. “From here,” McCollister says, “I can walk to Boyle Heights or Lincoln Heights. Or maybe I’ll just walk up to Broadway, it just depends.”

When you step off into one of his images, you realize it isn’t that Los Angeles is mysterious; it’s been misread, its elegance and edginess elided from our imagination. The images, particularly those emptied out of humans, force a new reading. He knows he’s channeling ghosts—Fitzgerald, Chandler, even Bukowksi—a certain sort of discontent which writers have for so long attempted to express.

He cordons off Saturdays and Sundays for shooting, mornings before 10 a.m., evenings after 4 p.m., the off time from his full-time job as an administrative coordinator at the Writer’s Guild. “LA is tricky for photography because it’s so much sunlight, so much glare,” he says. He rarely photographs late at night, yet his images of an emptied-out LA convey a sort of nighthawk quality. What makes McCollister pause is not just the image, but what’s tethered to it: “Definitely a mood. Not adulterated too much. It’s just whatever emotional content [is there].” He admits that what speaks to him is often “pretty melancholy, pretty singular.”

We reach Olvera Street, usually an explosion of tourist-geared sound and color. Today it’s overrun by television vans, heavy cables, and sun canopies—all quite contrary to what he’s after.

The quiet, unembellished city he seeks doesn’t always make itself known. “I may come back with nothing,” he warns me. “I can spend hours and hours and think I have something . . .” he says, letting the thought trail off. He makes a quick survey and the camera comes out, the small Lumix, bumping against his chest, ready.

He crosses another narrow street and into the busy courtyard at the old church—Nuestra Señora de Reina de Los Angeles—la Placita. People trade pleasantries with him, the regulars he’s come to know: men and women selling bottled water, wooden bracelets decorated with religious figures, simple rosaries. Still others, crouched on the sidewalk, ask for change. He pauses near a fountain at an altar crowded with votive candles, scattered prayers, and mementoes—a child’s shoe, a hazy sonogram, silver milagros. A woman, her black hair slated with gray, stands near the fountain. He sees a possibility, something in her face, the incline of her head. He raises the camera, then stops. “There’s this feeling,” he explains later, “that photographing someone praying might be just a little too distracting or intrusive.”

He presses on.

If you’d asked him twenty years ago, McCollister would have defined himself as a writer—a poet, primarily. He had come from elsewhere, winding from Cleveland to New Orleans, where he worked on a river boat, Delta Queen, then Boston, where he studied film and screenwriting at Harvard Extension. Photography hadn’t been on his radar. Neither was Los Angeles, which upon an early visit in the ’80s he had dismissed as crowded and unlivable.

Just six years ago, when he set out on this endeavor, this little side project (“call it creative practicality”) was pure hobby, not vocation. His brother had married a woman from Taiwan and relocated. “She had a blog and I didn’t know what a blog was,” McCollister recalls. “I just wanted to have a dialogue with her and perhaps a half-dozen other people—just pictures of LA.” It was a simple plan. “I thought it was going to be [a] ‘This American Life’ thing where I would . . . talk with people, but it’s not that way at all. It just sort of mushroomed.”

He bought himself a hundred-dollar camera and set up his blog, christening it, with a wink, The Jimson Weed Gazette. He started posting, sometimes just text—lists, observations; or a combination of image and reflection. Over time, as he learned more about his camera and its potential, McCollister says, “[It] took on a life of its own without me even making a conscious decision.” He was writing less and less, he says. “The photos were just doing all the work.”

The poetry is still evident. The power of a single object, the oblique framing, the ratio of dark to light, and the elliptical situations in his photographs reveal his emotional awareness. Los Angeles isn’t just sunshine and excess. He has put his stamp on the place. The name-shift—East of West LA—was part of the project’s evolution, as was the blog’s initial brazen claim, now its tagline: I’m photographing LA—All of it.

That vow caught Brooks Roddan’s eye. Roddan was already familiar with McCollister’s writing through a mutual friend, the poet Micahel Lally, and had asked for some poems for a possible book. “The poems I’d responded to, the best poems, were all walking poems; a man walking through neighborhoods as if he was seeing LA for the first time,” Roddan says, “seeing things only a poet both aware and innocent could see.”

Time passed, and Roddan learned that McCollister had stopped writing poems and had refocused his energies. He began visiting the blog, stowing away the images in his head. Once they reconnected, Roddan had a different plan. “‘Kevin,’ I said, ‘I think your poems are now photographs and your photographs are now poems. Let’s do a book of your photographs.’”

Precisely what Roddan saw in the poems filtered directly into the images: an open-ended seeking. McCollister says, “I don’t usually have a plan, I just walk with the traffic lights—whichever one is green.” We wind over the hard, hot concrete through Mei Ling Way, past crowded souvenir shops, restaurants smelling of hot oil and scallions, gentrified art galleries side by side with retro furniture stores, and finally onto an empty courtyard on Chung King Road, canopied by hanging cherry-red paper lanterns.

The only business open at this in-between hour is a shop with a pulsing red neon sign announcing FONG’S ORIENTAL WORK OF ART. But what has enraptured McCollister isn’t the retro neon, or the curiously tangled name, or the gathered men playing cards near its front doors, or anything at all telegraphing Chinatown. Instead, he has installed himself before the shuttered doors of what looks to be a recently vacated business. Its cloudy window reveals nothing but scattered newspaper, trampled cardboard flats, and a chair and table shoved against a blank wall. The sight stops him cold.

He raises the Lumix, snaps once and then again. He keeps going. Finally, he shows me the image on the camera’s screen, and I see what he sees: not simply an abandoned table and chair, but something painterly, something out of the realm of Edward Hopper or Andrew Wyeth—a silvery hint of sunlight, a ghost trailing on the wall. There’s sadness there. The frame is full of questions. What do all these remnants mean? Was this the end of someone’s story?

It feels like something in that frame, and he’s relieved. “There are some nights where the sky is the limit, where I’ve taken four hundred or as little as ten. But of those four hundred there can be zero,” he says. In other words, he knows to be cautiously optimistic. It’s the waiting that’s nerve-racking—that drive home hovering between anticipation and result—the hope that he has captured what was conveyed. There’s a piece of mood that has to go with the image, some essence of LA escaping.

What the work seems to most skillfully convey about LA is that it can’t be both destination and dream—though we all struggle to make it so. These images, procured through patience, through slowing the city down, reveal that conundrum.

“LA has this real end-of-the-road feel to it,” McCollister reflects. “It’s such an undeniable destination point for so many types of people—rich, poor, talented, untalented. You come because you need something. And sometimes you have to wait a very long time. And sometimes the waiting can drive you crazy.”

by Lynell George
From Boom Summer 2011, Vol. 1, No. 2

The photography of Kevin McCollister

— photos by kevin mccollister via boom: a journal of california