"Faces of Sunset" - From the Barrios to the Beach

It courses more than 20 miles from downtown to the beach. Every block seems to memorialize some indelible moment in the saga of Los Angeles. It's been the setting and the focus of movies and songs for decades, from Billy Wilder's "Sunset Boulevard," to Jan and Dean's "Dead Man's Curve," to Motley Crue's "Girls, Girls, Girls."

L.A.-based photographer Patrick Ecclesine turned his camera on the "Boulevard of Dreams" for his 2008 book, "Faces of Sunset: A Portrait of Los Angeles," which pairs gorgeous images of people along Sunset with their own reflections and meditations. The book received the SCIBA Art and Design Book Award for 2009 (alongside Annie Leibowitz's "On Work").

Born on Sunset, and now living a block north of it in a spacious apartment overlooking Hollywood, Ecclesine has a particular fondness and respect for the role Sunset plays in L.A. "It's the main artery of the city," he says. "In a city that doesn't have much cohesiveness, Sunset is the only street that ties it all together."

Sunset, Ecclesine says, was effectively L.A.'s Main Street, growing with the city as it expanded toward the ocean. In fact, what we now know as César E. Chavez Boulevard downtown, where the oldest building in Los Angeles still stands, was once Sunset. Which is why Ecclesine felt justified including a portrait of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in his book. The mayor's office, at LA's iconic city hall, lies just a stone's throw away from where the boulevard once originated.

The boulevard's route traces ancient native American pathways that later became wagon trails. That's why each segment of Sunset feels so, well, segmented. (The discrepancies are particularly noticeable between Beverly Hills and the Palisades, where a fast-moving thoroughfare suddenly becomes marked with a "25 MPH" dangerous curve sign at every corner.)

In addition to the historical and geographical importance of Sunset, Ecclesine was also motivated by the emotional and cultural role of the street: "It's the symbolic representation of the dream for a better life, which is why people come to Los Angeles," he said. (And, no, "Dream Interrupted" did not ask him to say that.)

"Faces" finds people in the many stages of their pursuit of that dream. On opposite pages, you will find Angelenos who have entirely different perspectives of LA, even while living in the same neighborhood. "It's how you see it," Ecclesine explains. "It doesn't matter if you're rich or poor, black or white."

Ecclesine is not naive. He sees the huge discrepancy of lifestyles along the boulevard, and he knows life is harder for some than for others. But, he sees the Boulevard proving the old adage: money doesn't buy happiness.

When he talks about the people of Beverly Hills ("the people come and go, Beverly Hills remains the same"), Ecclesine poses a rhetorical question: With all that success, are they better off? Are they happier? "Not really," he concludes.

Ecclesine wanted the image of Mauricio Saravia on the cover, rather than the blonde hipster the publishers selected. The picture of Saravia is, of course, striking. But it was what he said that struck Ecclesine. Saravia, an artist, suffered from the debilitating and disfiguring McCune-Albright syndrome, but he remained thankful every day for his life and his art. He was joyful. Salavia passed away in 2008, just weeks after "Faces of Sunset" was published.

"Faces of Sunset," of course, reflects the variety of lives on the boulevard, "from the barrios to the beach." It's filled with both the hopeful and the beaten-down, the rich and the poor.

The appellation "the street of dreams" contains both optimism and risk.

"It's easy to have dreams," Ecclesine says. "At a certain point, you either come to the realization that it's out of reach and you acquiesce and bend, or you run the risk of being broken."

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I extremely enjoyed this book and how he captures a wide array of people that I myself have seen over the years in my travels up and down Sunset Blvd. Can't wait to see his next project, which I believe is a cinematic book. Check out more of his work at www.ecclesine.com.

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Sunset is definitely the essence of the walk of dreams. Ecclesine may not believe that those in Beverly Hills are happier, but that won't stop those in the barrios to wish they could trade places.

Big Mike
Creator of the Inmate Search