When the late L.A. Weekly classical music critic Alan Rich gave his grumpy assessment of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in December of 2003, aside from calling out the scalding reflections of the building and positing that the parking garage has better acoustics than the Hall itself, he noted, semi-sarcastically, that “a guard on duty in the garden tells me that this has been a continued success, that crowds push into the lovely space practically all day.”
Architect Frank Gehry was probably not prepared for so many of those pushing people to be wearing wedding gowns and carrying thousands of dollars in photographic equipment. Shortly after opening, the Walt Disney Concert Hall — which marks its ten-year anniversary this week — became L.A.'s top backdrop for wedding and engagement photos.
Chances are if you have been to a wedding within five miles of downtown Los Angeles, the bridal party made a stop at the corner of First Street and Grand Avenue. On a recent weekend, a guard confirms that more than a dozen bridal parties make their way to the grounds every week, frequently waiting their turn on a busy Saturday afternoon while limos idle anywhere they can find enough red curb.
“I was there twice last week,” says wedding photographer Gavin Holt by phone. He and his wife Judy Tran have run Judy & Gavin wedding photography since 2006 and Holt can no longer count the number of times he has taken photos outside of the hall. “The very first place I shot professionally was at Disney Hall.”
Gehry's structure is probably one of the most photographed buildings in Los Angeles. Certainly more people take photos of the building than ever set foot inside. After ten years, some people still think the ice capades take place in there. But its wild shapes and sleek modernity are irresistible to the lens.
“Walt Disney Concert Hall is definitely unique for wedding photos,” says event photographer Amy Theilig. “You won't find another structure like it in LA. It's not a park and it's not a beach and from a photographer's perspective it is so beautiful. All those lines. You can't get a bad shot there whether you want to shoot low or high.”
Disney Concert Hall is located on public property and as long as you don't set up lighting or a tripod, you are free to snap photos. The space has become so popular with large groups that neighboring landmarks have made it quite clear that they have no interest in being a part of your bliss. Says Holt, “The Department of Water and Power and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion are starting to crack down on photography because of the flood of photographers. All it takes is for one rude photographer to bother the wrong people and we all lose.”
A dozen photo shoots a week for ten years puts the number conservatively above 6,000. That's a lot of frames. “People are starting to see too many pictures of their friends at the Hall,” says Holt. “For the last couple of years the feedback from some of my clients is that people want photos that look like the concert hall but not the concert hall. That's kind of hard to find.”
The only other legitimate competitor for the Hall has been LACMA's art installation Urban Light. Also accessible from a major boulevard, Burden's 2008 sculpture consists of 202 towering street lamps and appears to be a requirement for any Los Angeles tourist's Instagram feed. But the sculpture still falls behind Disney Hall.
“Every time we visit a location we try and take a picture we haven't taken before. Because we go to the Concert Hall so often it has become a trial to pull something new out,” says Holt. “Photographically, the building is just ridiculously easy to shoot.”
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