Anthony Hernandez is known for his lush images of urban landscapes such as the ?L.A. River. He began photographing in black-and-white in the early ’70s, mostly people downtown, and when he experimented with color in Beverly Hills in the ’80s, things did not go so well at first. “Finally, at the beginning of ’84,” he says, “I made my first picture that worked. I’d go to Rodeo Drive at least four or five days a week in the middle of the day and spend a few hours. I was working in a very particular way, photographing as I passed people on the street — very quickly, very intuitively making a picture just at that moment. I used what is called zone focus. Basically, you don’t have time to focus your camera so you pre-set focus to 6 or 8 feet, framing people the way you want to frame them, and quickly bringing the camera to your eye. Not until you get your film back do you know if the subjects were in the zone of focus. It’s like a dance, in the sense of passing through this very animated landscape of people and cars and buildings. Everything is very fluid, the way I’m moving and making the picture.
“I did the same thing with my black-and-white street pictures downtown, but with the color I got even closer to the subject. They’re more intimate. I think it’s also the time when I made those pictures, just the physical landscape of that street, and what the people were wearing. Looking at them now, they’re very immediate. There aren’t that many people making pictures in L.A. like that now, and there weren’t that many back then — except for Garry Winogrand. I would bump into Garry during that time because he’d be photographing in Beverly Hills, too, and we’d meet later for coffee and chat. It was a wonderful time.”
It was also the last time Hernandez shot people — until now. With a new long lens, he plans to focus on the details. “The challenge is to do something new with people,” he says. “These will be like a big blow-up of a detail of one of my earlier pictures — pictures within pictures.”
Several of Hernandez’s early black-and-white photographs, as well as this series, have recently been acquired by the Getty. “Beverly Hills, 1984” opens at the Christopher Grimes Gallery, 916 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica; reception, Sat., March 4, 6-8 p.m.; through April 8. (310) 587-3373 or www.cgrimes.com.