Photographer Patrick Ecclesine sits barefoot under an umbrella in the courtyard of the Hollywood Boulevard apartment complex where he lives. It’s a hot July afternoon. The pool here looks like a working-class take on a David Hockney painting, and the 32-year-old photographer’s eyes are as blue as the well-chlorinated water before us. Drinking beer from a bottle, Ecclesine is talking about his “Faces of Sunset Boulevard” exhibit, which until recently was on view in the lobby of the ArcLight Cinema.
“Sunset Boulevard passes through some of the poorest neighborhoods in the city and some of the richest neighborhoods in the world,” he says without irony. “It’s the ‘Boulevard of Dreams.’ On one end you can say they’re broken and on the other you can say they’re realized, because people are living the good life. But who is to say that the people living the good life are any better or happier?”
For the past three years, Ecclesine has been shooting portraits of Angelenos who live and work along Sunset Boulevard: plastic surgeons, crack addicts, illegal immigrants, movie producers and city officials, including Police Chief William Bratton and the recently separated Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
The project is a work in progress. He estimates he has shot more than 170 portraits so far and has 100 more to go. He’s financed the ambitious project himself, working as an on-set still photographer for shows like The West Wing, Gilmore Girls and E.R.
Though he says 50 percent of his images are spontaneous moments, many of his cinematic photos are heavily influenced by the industry in which he earns a living and require storyboards, crews and a massive amount of supplemented light. He stages scenes to capture the drama of a subject’s life or job.
For his portrait of L.A. County’s chief coroner investigator, Craig R. Harvey, and the department’s Special Operations Response Team (including weapons of mass destruction specialist Renee Grand Pre), he used a fake corpse and a German shepherd. The result was an image worthy of a CSI billboard.
“I had to make a choice with the city officials,” Ecclesine explains. “Am I gonna go for some simple shot or something big and dynamic? I’ll take big and dynamic anytime.”
The photographer estimates he has already spent “a little over six figures” to shoot the portraits. He figures he could have bought himself a house by now with the money he’s put into the project. But he doesn’t care. This is the first creative idea he’s had that he’s ever really believed in.
“You have to hold true to your vision. What is that bumper sticker? ‘He who dies with the most toys wins’? That’s not my philosophy. What’s the point if you aren’t having fun?”
Last month Ecclesine got a book deal with Santa Monica Press, and the exhibit, which originally opened at Los Angeles City Hall, will move from the ArcLight to Berlin’s City Hall.
The idea for the series, he explains, came to him one day in traffic. If he shot portraits of people along Sunset Boulevard, he thought, he could tell the story of the city. Surprisingly, the former actor was not influenced by Ed Ruscha’s Sunset Boulevard images. In fact, he hadn’t seen them until after he began shooting his own project. A fan of film and literature, he was instead inspired by Kill Bill cinematographer Bob Richardson, the X-Men franchise, Budd Schulberg’s What Makes Sammy Run? and Kem Nunn’s surfing novel The Dogs of Winter.
He has also made a series of fast-paced, behind-the-scenes videos, which are posted on YouTube and his flashy Web site, www.facesofsunset.com. They’re cut to tracks like Rod Stewart’s classic “Stay With Me” and feature his well-styled crew as much as they do his gritty subjects.
“I am willing to be a part of the brand,” he explains, finishing off his beer. “I don’t feel like I need to hide. I want people to know who I am so I can continue to work .?.?. and do other streets. Commercialization is a necessary evil.”
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With the book deal in place, he says the best shots are yet to come. He’s scheduled to shoot Larry Flynt next week at the Hustler store, and he can’t wait to shoot the Strip at night.
“That’s where I really want to go crazy,” he says, adjusting his feet on the hot cement. “Light up the whole street! Play with toys. That is the part of [me] that’s a boy. Like, get a bike and some super tires and jump it! I want 12 pro photo packs, and I want a crane. That is the kind of thing that gets me excited.”
Have you used a crane yet?
“Not yet, but that doesn’t mean I won’t.”?