The thing about downtown LA is the diversity of old and new, opulent and poor. I ran into this guy fixing a new, to him, 1967 Dodge truck parked at the curb on 5th street near Los Angeles street. I was just walking along and I heard loud banging noises which were the result of him working on fixing the door so that it would open all the way. He was so proud of his new truck. I wonder where he will park it.
I’ve been shooting film for a little over a year now and it has proven a great medium for me to explore areas of photography outside my usual street shooting. This past fall, while visiting Portugal, I used a Rolleicord V twin lens reflex to explore the architecture of the Queluz National Palace in Portugal.
I must say, these images were very difficult to setup with a twin lens reflex camera and its waist level view finder, a large format view camera and step stool may have been easier. But with a little time, so soften the memory of their difficulty, I’m pleased with the result. Seeing these result, and the fact that I have done a lot of street shooting already this year, have motivate me to get out more with medium format and large format. It is raining again tonight and promises to be a beautiful spring in Southern California filled with wild flowers. In the meanwhile, enjoy these few views of the Queluz National Palace.
Taken with a Rolleicord V 3.5 TLR, Ilford FP4+, developed in Clayton F76+ for 8 minutes @ 68-degrees. With these large medium format negatives, I’ve taken the liberty of cropping a two to 4×5, the other maintain their 6×6 square format. Click on the image to see it large and marvel in the detail.
As part of the Downtown LA book project, John and Scott Free assigned each of us an isolation challenge. We were given a specific location (address or street corner) and challenged to spend an entire hour photographing just from that location. This challenge forced us to slow down and to wait for the stories to come to us.
I was assigned “501 S. Los Angeles Street”, just two blocks north of skid row at the corner of 5th Street and Los Angeles. When I arrived I found the Hotel Baltimore.
There is not much history for the Hotel Baltimore on the internet, but I did find out that this is the “new” Hotel Baltimore built in 1910 by Thomas Ashton Fry and designed by architect Arthur Rolland Kelly. Across 5th Street is the King Edward Hotel which is apparently famous for the King Eddy Saloon. There is a brief history on their website which reads:
Not many people remember a time before the King.
We’ve been open since 1933 and we were around before that too. Bootlegging empires were born below this place.
Today we keep it upstairs, “where nobody gives a shit about your name.” Cheap drinks, some food, and a dart room.
In the early 1900’s, 5th Street was lined with hotels leading from the Southern Pacific Railroad Central Station at 5th and Central to the downtown core of Main, Spring, Broadway, and Hill Streets. Even though Central Station was demolished in 1956, many of the 5th Street hotels still stand.
Now the Hotel Baltimore is but a shell of its former glory. No longer a hotel for traveling business men, it serves as low-rent apartments. The security guard indicated that there are two kinds of people at the Baltimore, the old timers and the new folks who rarely stay past their 6 month lease.
The Baltimore presents itself visually as a large open, and empty, foyer with nondescript windows and a couple of doors with signs reading “Do Not Knock”. At first I watched for people to come and go and looked for opportunities as people walked the street. Some ignored me others thought they were having a little fun.
A woman came down to mop the floor. She waived but then went about her business.
As I started to think about finding layers, I worked on shooting through two sides of the windows, to appear as if I was shooting from the inside out.
I looked for reflections to create depth and interest, to overlay the stories inside with the environment outside.
On Sunday afternoon, the door with the label “Do Not Knock”, was propped open with a tall and friendly security guard. We chatted some.
Then Ralph came out for a smoke. He had recently fallen on bad times and was “back at the Baltimore”.
He wondered if I would take a picture of him that he could send to his sister. I hope his sister likes it.
Last week I feel in love with photographing downtown LA. I’ve been downtown many times, but never felt quite at home there and it was always hit or miss to find the shots. I’m trying to identify what was different, so that I can capture it in a bottle and repeat. Here are three things that were different:
- I used my 50mm lens instead of the 35mm (I’m talking effective focal length after accounting for the crop factor). While in Cuba, Oaxaca, and Portugal, the 35mm hardly ever strayed from the camera. But these are towns with narrow streets and intimate cultures. I think the 50mm may be better for places like downtown LA with its big wide streets and protective sense of privacy.
- I spent the better part of 3-days just photographing. I was in a groove where all I had to think about was photography. I hadn’t spent the better part of the day solving business problems. Slowly my mind wandered into that creative mode that I just don’t (can’t) show that much of at work.
- I worked alone. For much of the time I was on my own rather than shooting with other people. Although the safety of shooting can be prudent, shooting alone allowed me to wander more, linger more, and just plain not worry about if I was in someone else’s shot.
As I hone my street photograph, I am thinking more and more about the relationships and layers. In this image, for example, I see this photogenic, active woman in a stripped shirt doing something fairly indicative of LA (these bacon wrapped hot-dog carts are everywhere). I immediately start to figure out what other elements I’m going to include in the scene. I’m looking to create some relationship between the elements of the image. Originally it was just the vendor woman and the woman on her phone on the right. Then the scene got messy, but I had the camera to my eye and was able to identify the moment when these four faces all aligned to a good composition. Nothing occluding, just the faces in proximity for a conversation, but not.
I’ve always had a difficult time photographing in Downtown LA. I don’t know whether I felt intimidated or just couldn’t find my footing with its big wide streets. This past weekend I spent much of three days photographing downtown with my, now common, two cameras / two prime lenses style. For the wider streets of LA, instead of primarily using the 35 mm, I found my stride with the 50mm. (Of course these are taken with my Olympus OM-Ds, so the focal lengths are 17mm and 25mm respectively)