Israeli-born photographer Moshe Brakha has spent his long career shooting slews of celebrities, from Madonna during her earliest L.A. club appearances to, much more recently, millennial stars like Chris Colfer and Joe Jonas. The last time we wrote about him was in 2012, when he and his son/collaborator Eddie Brahka mounted “New Economy” at West Adams' Gallery 3209, an exhibit that featured images of 52 young creatives (they shot one person a week for a year). His work has always felt bracingly current, but for his most recent project Brakha — with the help of sons Eddie and Buddy — was compelled to look backward. The effect is still the same.
The new book L.A. Babe (Rizzoli, $35) features images of women Brakha photographed in and around L.A. between 1975 and 1988. It's a period of only 13 years, but culturally and aesthetically the images cover a lot of ground, from the tail end of the groovy Topanga Canyon years through the earliest years of the punk scene and then beyond the birth of new wave. None of the images in the book were previously published, which gives it the feel of a time capsule of fashion, femininity and L.A. lore.
Of the project's inception, son Buddy, who acts as Brahka's business manager, recalls, “We were moving Moshe’s archive and I was going through all the work I hadn't seen, and I was like, why the hell don’t we have a book?” In the '70s and '80s, Moshe shot portraits he would sell to local punk zines, the era's version of social media. During the same time period, Brakha — who moved to L.A. in 1969 — was also shooting big stars like David Lee Roth, Diana Ross, Kim Basinger, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Frank Zappa, Loggins & Messina and Devo. The original concept was to organize a collection of celebrity portraits called “Occupation Dreamer.” But when Rizzoli Publishing's Jessica Fuller came to L.A. to look through Brakha's archive, she saw a different project emerge. “I never saw the collection of the women, I never thought of it like that,” Brakha says. “She saw it as a [book about] women.”
Rendered in both black-and-white and color, Brakha's images capture a level of self-expression through clothing and makeup that feels specific to its time and place. He didn't style the women but sought out, largely through the music scene, women who styled themselves in outrageous ways. “Pretty much in the '70s and '80s in the scene, so much [was an] expression of music,” Brakha says. “The girls [in the book], they’re from all over: L.A., the Valley, Orange County; Orange County had amazing style in those days.” During our conversation, I suggest that photographing L.A. women today wouldn't have quite the same effect, but Brakha disagrees, pointing out that scenes and subcultures always have a look. “I shoot what's around me,” he says.
While fashion is a big part of the book, Eddie points out that the images also capture L.A. and its environs during a specific moment in time. “I think a really big point of this book is the locations. For people of L.A. to see L.A. in that time period is super intriguing and super fun: Sunset, Studio City, the Valley, Malibu. When we edited the book, especially me from a younger generation, it's not just about fashion but the landscape.”