“Loap,” “Passafire,” “Red Head,” “Glitter Girl,” “Grimus,” “Bean,” “Panda,” “Little Bit” and “Zane,”

ravers who hang out on Baldwin Avenue, Sierra Madre

Photographed by Michael Powers

Winesburg, Ohio, we’re not. Or Spoon River. In L.A., the surprises that come when you meet your neighbors aren’t the surprises of Sherwood Anderson or Edgar Lee Masters — or even, anymore, of Nathanael West or Raymond Chandler. Los Angeles is not the city of the classic surprise, where the genial granny or the gruff banker everybody thought they knew turns out to be an ax murderer or a high colonic priest. We’re beyond that.
A city capable of the classic surprise is a city where a certain shared knowledge can be subverted: The folks next door, whom we all thought we knew, are really someone else entirely. Today, however, our one bit of shared knowledge is that we don’t really know the folks next door. The end of the block, or the next neighborhood over, may be some alternate universe. How would you define, for instance, the common Angeleno experience? All we have in common is our mutual ignorance.
For many Angelenos, that ignorance is, if not bliss, at least preferable to the risk of knowledge. There are those of us who hunker down inside gated developments, or find meaning in our own uncluttered ethnicity or in the dream of secession, or, more typically, just retire into a private life with as little interaction as possible with this incomprehensible city.
But for an increasing number of Angelenos, L.A. offers an unending stream of revelations. It provides all the material we need to imagine ourselves as latter-day, Left Coast Walt Whitmans, marveling at the city’s variety and energy, its unexpected commonalities and combinations, the whole stunning cacophony, much as Whitman did in mid-19th-century New York.
And so, for our year-end, give-the-writers-and-editors-a-week-off issue, we sent the Weekly’s photographers out into the city with the assignment, simply, of photographing their neighbors. Think of it as our modest attempt to illustrate some as yet unwritten Leaves of Grass for the metropolis that’s succeeded Whitman’s New York as America’s greatest experiment in diversity and democracy. In these portraits, there’s a common story waiting to be told.

Mike Gunard, night clerk at Roman’s Liquor, Hollywood

Photographed by Christopher-Wray McCann

Advertising disclosure: We may receive compensation for some of the links in our stories. Thank you for supporting LA Weekly and our advertisers.

LA Weekly