Taking a Good Look Around

Los Feliz

I wander, as much as enforced pedestrianism and transit dependency permit, through the streets of the city. And for my own good. For a few seasons, about 30 years ago, I wandered more widely, thanks to Michael Ward - artist, photographer, and friend. He had a Chevrolet Nova (later a Ford Pinto) and a remarkable capacity for seeing. What he wanted to see were old houses and old industrial buildings, which he photographed and later rendered as meticulous line drawings. Today he paints photorealist cityscapes of some of the same houses and buildings. I tagged along on his early inquiries into the body of the city and learned to fall in love with it.

Taking a look around is, necessarily, anti-L.A. Here, we connect the dots of our displaced lives, but the spaces in between are a blur at 60-miles-an-hour or mutely accusatory when gridlocked in. Distracting L.A. isn't about paying attention.

There's nothing like slowly quartering a nondescript neighborhood, gawking with real enthusiasm, so that its successive layers of over-familiarity, domesticated weirdness, and occasional spectacle fall away. Until you actually see something revealed in the everyday. Taking a good look around is essential for reframing our relationship with Los Angeles.

It's not possible to achieve the same combination of boredom and hunger online that can come with aimless driving on the city's streets, but (with no attempt at all to rank them), here are some sites I go to:

Noirish Los Angeles
There is too much to see here. The discussion treads can be a slog to follow. And "noirish" isn't the half of it. But this eccentrically curated collection of historical photographs - many culled from the USC digital archives - is a close match to wandering around with an insistent friend who can't keep from pointing and saying "Just look at that!"

Curbed LA
On the cusp of being too smart, Curbed LA offers its opinionated take on the buying and selling of luxe L.A. Capsule house histories - both real and Realtor invented - are worked up with photographs of significant properties you'd never see otherwise - crowd-sourced architectural history with enough voyeurism to make it interesting.

John Crosse/Southern California Architectural History
This is real architectural history, largely focused on modernity and its evolution in Southern California. The site is dense and informative, full of illustrations from the author's collection of architectural monographs.

Maynard Parker Collection
Or you can be a researcher on your own in this expanding collection of mid-century photographs by Maynard Parker. As John Crosse points out, Parker's career in Southern California closely paralleled that of the better known Julius Shulman. I'm working with a team of writers under the leadership of Jennifer Watts, curator of Photographs at the Huntington, on a survey of Parker's photographs to be published later this year.

The image on this page was taken by flickr user Craig Conley. It is used under a Creative Commons License.

About the Author

D. J. Waldie is the author of "Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir" and "Where We Are Now: Notes from Los Angeles," among other books about the social history of Southern California. He is a contributing editor for the Los Angeles Times ...
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