The Ecstasy and the Agony

When I was a child growing up in New York, Los Angeles was always a special destination. Coming here meant Disneyland, sunshine, the Skipper Alan Hale Jr.’s Lobster Barrel on La Cienega Boulevard, Dudley Do-Right’s Cartoon Emporium on Sunset, the Universal Studios tour, my Uncle Charlie and Aunt Joanie’s cool turreted little Tudor in what I would later learn was Whitley Heights. The Magic Castle, miniature golf, and a long skateboard run on a new Fibreflex with Road Runner wheels down Sunset to where it fed out to the PCH. It smelled different, it felt different — it was fantasyland. And I loved it. I guess that might be why I moved here eventually. And of course, I grew up, and my impression of L.A. changed. It became real. I discovered that life happened here like everywhere else. The special places of my youth were still special in my mind. But as time went by, it became just the place where I lived. Disneyland was just another exit on the freeway.

But there is something about that reality, that inevitable deflation of the dream, that everyone who has ever lived here or moved here has felt. Los Angeles is a dichotomy — beautiful and ugly, full of hope and promise and also full of despair. I have often felt it to be as lonely and sad a place as I have ever been, and I wake up most mornings thankful to be living here.

I think that is conveyed in these pictures. From the iconic to the mundane and forgettable, there is a certain unique and singular feeling that is Los Angeles. What that is, I can’t articulate. The images, like the city, are filled with what you bring to them.

Excerpted from Looking at Los Angeles, Marla Hamburg Kennedy and Ben Stiller, editors, published this week by Metropolis Books.

Bill Owens, Attorney at Work (1977)

Mitch Epstein, Santa Monica l (1974)

Kevin Cooley, “CSI” in MacArthur Park (2001)

Grant Mudford, Los Angeles (1977)

Garry Winogrand, Los Angeles (1964)

Diane Arbus, A Castle in Disneyland (1962)

An exhibition of the work opens June 3 at the Gallery at Hermes, 3 N. Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills. Also, a panel discussion and slide presentation will take place at ArcLight cinemas, 6360 W. Sunset Blvd., on Saturday, June 18 at 10:30 a.m.;


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