Seeing How Los Angeles Was Made Modern

Crooked City (Call Number: 06 - 72965; Photographer: Joseph Fadler; Date: 2/1/1958)
Crooked City (Call Number: 06 - 72965; Photographer: Joseph Fadler; Date: 2/1/1958) | Photo courtesy of the Huntington Digital Library: Southern California Edison Photographs and Negatives

The Getty's Pacific Standard Time Presents at the Huntington Library is now online. (Click here to open). The exhibition's organizers* -- Bill Deverelll (USC) and Greg Hise (UNLV) -- have this ambitious goal:

Form and Function: Exhibitions (page design by Kris Mun)
Form and Function: Exhibitions (page design by Kris Mun)

The exhibition is broadly about modernity and how Los Angeles became more modern in the middle third of the 20th century as earlier images of a romantic and exotic city retreated and dichotomies of light and dark, noir and sunshine took their place.

My contribution to the exhibition is a brief "film noir" (here) mashing up as many noir tropes as possible in 30 or so moody, black-and-white images. It's a parody of those conventions -- part "Double Indemnity," part "The Postman Always Rings Twice" -- and a demonstration of everydayness being rescripted as paranoia. It seems to me, that for some of us Los Angeles is haunted by our distrust of the familiar -- part of the hallucinatory qualities that some of us find in living here.

As Deverell and Hise note, looking at Los Angeles in the Edison collection can have a corrective effect:

"Form and Landscape: Southern California Edison and the Los Angeles Basin, 1940-1990" suggests more than a dozen different ways of seeing our place anew -- from street trees to highway signage -- with the help of beautiful and sometimes enigmatic images from more a hundred years of looking at Los Angeles.

* The curators of the exhibition are Eric Avila, Claudia Bohn-Spector, William Deverell, John Eder, Jared Farmer, Dianne Harris, Greg Hise, Hillary Jenks, Jessica Kim, Mark Klett, Martin H. Krieger, Alan Loomis, Catherine Opie, Marguerite S. Shaffer, Emily Thompson, D. J. Waldie, Jennifer A. Watts, and Peter Westwick.