Here in the land of moving pictures, fine art photographer Gregory Bojorquez works to capture frozen moments of existence. His images of street life, neighborhood personalities and gritty landscapes are uncommon, unforgiving and, despite our beautiful weather, sometimes laden with wanton, icy sentimentality.
On Saturday, June 9, Bojorquez opened “.45 Point Blank,” his first solo show in L.A. since 2009, at Hardhitta Gallery on Wilshire, curated by Benedikt Taschen Jr. — son of the legendary luxury publisher. The show and the pop-up gallery both debuted in Berlin and Cologne, where they were great successes, leading even the estimable photographer Mario Testino to add a few of Bojorquez's images to his collection.
A feature of the exhibit will be a series of five photos taken during an incident in which a lone gunman went on a shooting spree at the intersection of Sunset and Vine just after the morning rush hour on Dec. 9, 2011. Walking to the bank, Bojorquez was the only photographer on the scene.
The average size of the prints in the new Los Angeles show is 30″ x 40″, looking like a plasma TV — high-definition in this case courtesy of 35-millimeter film shot on a manual setting.
While Bojorquez's images seem subconsciously influenced by director-photographer Larry Clark, photographer Garry Winogrand and director Sam Peckinpah, Bojorquez himself feels like a character in one of their works. In conversation, he is part Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver, part Sonny from Dog Day Afternoon, with quick-witted rants that cover everything from iPhone cameras to Facebook to the AP and everything in between. We met at the House of Pies to talk about the longtime L.A. Weekly contributor's reintroduction to the art world of L.A., sitting in the exact booth where Raging Bull was written, and not by coincidence.
You always shoot film?
I snap shoot film, yes.
Would you qualify your photography as street art?
I don't know. It is what it is; I don't ever want to be called a street artist. I'm not a street person. I'm not bad. I take pictures. I feel more like the Ferris Bueller of the Eastside. I like people and I like being around. I shoot a lot of pictures.
Also, there's a different respect for photography versus painting or writing. Nowadays someone becomes a celebrity and they're all over the place and people get tired of seeing them. Photography is the same way. It gets kind of common. Every phone takes a picture.
How did you go about choosing the images for “.45 Point Blank”
Bene [Taschen Jr.] looked through a lot of my stuff. Some of the stuff is pretty good, really new. There were times when I'd just developed the film and not really looked at it.
Do you trust Benedikt's eye because of his family background in books?
I've known Benedikt for a long time. We have a mutual trust that friends have. When I first met him, it seemed like he didn't have a lot of interest in art. He was always going places and seeing things, but he was a rebel kid. It's just like anything, you know, you rebel against your parents. So when he first came to me about doing the shows in Germany, I wasn't sure. He did a really good job. He looks at a lot of photos, with all the books his dad has done — he's been trained to look at photography!
Do you think your work is received differently in Europe than it is here?
I think maybe some of the L.A. Eastside images were things they don't see. In Germany, maybe it's received better [than it is here]. I don't know. We sold a lot of prints. A few of the editions sold out.
How do you qualify your work as fine art as opposed to commercial photography, since you do both?
A lot of my images are pieces of me — I try to photograph what I think is special. I try to train my self to see it — a lot of what I print is always full frame … nothing cropped. When I first started taking pictures, I shot with 4″ x 5″ film [a free-standing camera where a film back using an individual negative frame is exposed instead of the usual roll of film.]. And when you learn how to take a picture that way, you pay attention to everything. Even 35mm. I wouldn't just waste pictures. I still don't. I make sure everything is composed well, the light's right, otherwise I won't do it. When I come upon something worth photographing, I have a high percentage of stuff that could possibly be good. It carries over to digital. Respect that frame.
How do the images from the Hollywood shooting fit into something like that?
Well, there it is — talk about special and unique! I don't think a shooting like that is ever going to happen on Sunset and Vine again. You have photos of all these cops — there's a series of five, a secession of 30[-inch] by 40[-inch] prints, a lot of wall space. All these cops running up the street, and a guy on the road dying, and in the background, you know, there's, like, a Sherlock Holmes billboard. So surreal, weird. Looks like a Hollywood still, set in Hollywood. Something very unique that will never happen again.
How did you feel being there? Were you in the line of fire?
I was going to Amoeba [the record store], but they weren't open yet. So I went to the Bank of America. So I'm walking to the bank, and right when I get to the corner, all these people went running past me. Cars were screeching out of control, all crazy. What the hell's going on? One guy runs past me and yells there's someone shooting! And I kept walking. I see him come around the corner of the building, and he's shooting — I'm like, no way, those bullets are blanks. So weird — there's a guy in the middle of the intersection shooting at cars from point-blank range. I remember one of the bullets ricocheted off a car and broke a window.
I ran behind the bus bench and got my camera — that's when the cops came. Plainclothes cops and a squad car. I pointed out who the shooter was and [one] went after him. I followed the cop. And the guy was saying, “I want to die,” blah blah blah. He was holding a knife in his left hand, but he made a sudden movement and he got shot five times.
Do you think it may be exploitative to show those photos in the name of art? Two men are dead.
I think something like that needs to be seen. I snap photos of unique situations and people. … There are photos from war zones of horrible things. These photographers travel thousands of miles to get these war-zone photos. I happened to be running errands in my neighborhood that morning and I walked into somewhat of a war zone in one of the most legendary intersections in the country — maybe the world. I feel terrible that the record executive was killed. There are a lot of people that I've photographed that are dead. The way that the L.A. Times ran the Hollywood shooter photo, in cropped format, it's already been seen worldwide by millions of people.
Your Eastsider series, one of your first projects, which depicted your neighbors and friends in Boyle Heights — are you making celebrities of them by putting them on film?
No. That celebrity thing, yeah, that's great. But from an art perspective, something that's unique and special could be maybe more interesting.
How do you search for those special opportunities and decide to do a photo series like Eastsiders or punk rock kids? What influences you?
I just want to do what I think will work. You can't do these things just for vanity.
Sometimes things are happening and you have a camera. Sometimes you might miss it or think you have this great shot and then you get the film back and it wasn't that great after all. Sometimes you look at something with Bene years later and you never thought about it and now you see it's a really cool shot.
I like to have snapshot cameras. These days I think you've really got to look for what's special. People put all their best photos on the Internet right away and I think you need to keep a little mystery going. Social media is great and everything, but … you can't just put it all out there, because I think, again, people will just get bored of you.
How do you think your experience is different now that you live in Boyle Heights again? Has it changed your view of L.A.?
When I was growing up there, in my 20s, I never looked at it as that different. Then I lived in Hollywood for a long while and then you move back, it's really different out here. But maybe it was always like this? I think some parts have become even more Mexican. Not gentrified. Plus, I'm not hanging around 25-year-old kids anymore. I think about it now, someone like Larry Clark must feel like an asshole [hanging around kids all the time]. Photography can be tough, you know? But then again, kids are always interesting to photograph.
Hardhitta Gallery, Variety Bldg., 5900 Wilshire Blvd., East Annex, Miracle Mile. through July 12. Opening hours: Tuesday – Saturday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Opening reception, Saturday, June 9, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. hardhittagallery.com.