Jürgen Beck’s book is a glancing portrayal of this most-filmed of cities. Yet instead of resorting to the familiar, this series of photographs straddles time to capture the city through certain historical contradictions, illuminated and expounded by two essays from architect Wendy Gilmartin, and art historian David Misteli.
It considers how to evoke the myriad ironies of time passing that the cityscape embodies. Complex fabrics of old hope and new failure, old failure and new hope. Nothing ever turns out the way it was supposed to. We start in the light. That famous LA light that gave birth to an industry is there in the not-quite whiteness of the cover’s uncanny glow. Drawling through traffic, a word-dense landscape that preys on the car-bound with advertising slogans promising this deal or that one. Please do not disembark your vehicle here.
Interspersed with this street-view safari are eight images of the interior of the Bullocks Wilshire building. A cathedral of commerce that opened in 1929 and unwittingly morphed simultaneously into a golden calf. Designed to peddle high luxury to new money, with marble hallways built to flatter the acoustics of well-heeled feet. It opened its doors as the cash crashed. Capitalism’s first great falter exposed the failed promise of endless purchasing power and was a milestone on the way to better social security.
The building is present here only in exquisite swatches. We appreciate its extravagance better through small spoonfuls of rich creams and duck egg greens, geometric carpets and chevrons of rosewood veneer. Unlike the light-bleed of the exterior spreads, the interior photographs are framed by a display-case darkness, not black so much as the colour of shadows, the colour of a noir film, characterised by the same elegant nihilism. The silence and poise of this well-preserved interior is contrapuntal to the hazy uncurated din of present day Los Angeles where social security is again so clearly lacking.
New Deal then is both the new deal and a new deal. One was an earnest promise, in the wake of the Great Crash in 1929, the other is emblematic of the logic of late capitalism—which is no kind of logic really—where everything is new and everything is a deal until, like the Bullocks Wilshire, we realise there is nothing left to sell.
Wendy Gilmartin, David Misteli
245 × 320 mm