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M. L. Parker: Seeing Another Los Angeles

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Maynard L. Parker took wonderful photographs of Los Angeles. After he settled down and married in 1929 (while building his own house and studio in Echo Park), he got a job with a commercial photo studio and later did advertising work for a big downtown jeweler.

Parker found he had a knack for photographing celebrity homes that burnished them with the glamour of Hollywood's Golden Age. Parker appeared unpretentious, but he had ambitions. His likeability helped. By the end of the 1930s, Parker knew all the right people in design and architecture in L.A.

There were no star architectural photographers then. All of them were making a living any way they could and hitching their careers to architects, designers, and magazine editors. Parker mixed print assignments with advertising work for department stores, furniture manufacturers, and suburban developers.

It was the sort of journeyman photography that Julius Shulman did. Shulman shot gas stations and grocery stores and illustrated a magazine feature about the lives of newly married couples. Both Shulman's and Parker's photographs sold their clients' products, whether it was bathroom fixtures or the architecture of Pierre Koenig or Cliff May.

Shulman became famous for his images of mid-century modernity and Parker did not in part because of the controversial editor Parker worked for and because most of the homes he photographed never made it into the approved canon of significant architecture.

Also Parker, unlike Shulman, never became the curator of his own reputation. He died too soon, after a too long decline.

Parker's photographs are almost forgotten now (archived by the Huntington here), but even a casual search among them shows another Los Angeles - a city of welcoming homes that warmly embrace both the new and the everyday.

Parker's legacy is the subject of a book in preparation from the Huntington Library, edited by Jenny Watts, the Huntington's curator of photographs. It will include over 200 of Parker's black-and-white and color photographs along with essays covering his life, his photographic practice, and his relation to the marketing of the "California Style" in the 1950s. I'll be talking about Parker and mid-century L.A. at LACMA on Saturday, October 16.

D. J. Waldie, author, historian, and as the New York Times said in 2007, "a gorgeous distiller of architectural and social history," writes about Los Angeles on KCET's SoCal Focus blog.

The image on this page is from the Maynard L. Parker Collection, part of the Huntington Library. It is used by permission.

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