Exhibitions and Installations, J. Paul Getty Museum, Photographs, Film, and Video

Looking at Los Angeles through the Lens

Los Angeles / Garry Winogrand

Los Angeles, Garry Winogrand, 1964. Gelatin silver print, 9 x 13 7/16 in. The J. Paul Getty Museum, 99.XM.35.1. © 1984 The Estate of Garry Winogrand

Much of what the world sees of L.A. is in movies or on TV. But a new exhibition opening today at the Getty Center offers an enticing glimpse of the city’s past through the lenses of photographers—some well known, some nearly unknown. The carefully selected group of images makes you look twice.

In Focus: Los Angeles, 1945–1980, the last of the four exhibitions to open at the Getty as part of Pacific Standard Time, features photographs from the Getty Museum’s permanent collection made by artists whose time in Los Angeles inspired them to create memorable images. The exhibition is a mix of work by artists whose careers are defined by their association with L.A., who lived in the city for a few influential years, or who visited only briefly.

Many of the works invite you to complete the story. The photo above, taken by Garry Winogrand in 1964, is open to numerous interpretations: Did the driver get into a fight? Did he have a nose job? He looks like he may even be considering punching the photographer as Winogrand snaps him and his companion driving on an L.A. evening. I can’t help myself—I so want to know this guy’s story.

Though a quintessential New Yorker, Winogrand made some of his most memorable photographs in Los Angeles, where he chose to settle in the final years of his life. He has two memorable images in this exhibition. 

Clockwork Malibu / Anthony Friedkin

Clockwork Malibu, Anthony Friedkin, 1978. Gelatin silver print, 1 15/16 x 18 5/16 in. The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2002.44.3. © Anthony Friedkin

Anthony Friedkin, who combines his passions for surfing and Southland beaches in his photographs, contributes this image of surfer Rick Dano on the highway near Malibu in the late 1970s. The image captures a moment in time that speaks to me.  I think about the end of the ‘70s and the beginning of the ‘80s, of being on the brink of something unknown; the California coastline dropping off in the background. What do you see?

Diane Arbus’s dreamily lit photograph of Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland is another unforgettable image in the exhibition. Although technically not located in the city or the county of Los Angeles, Disneyland—and Arbus’s photograph—captured the notion of entertainment and fantasy that has come to be so intrinsically associated with L.A.

There are many more intriguing views of L.A. in the show, from William Garnett’s aerial views of newly built suburbs to William Wegman’s and Jo Ann Callis’s more experimental visions. (You can download a checklist of the exhibition here.) All show a different aspect of Los Angeles during the postwar era, one that invites you into the picture.

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      A Chat with Photographer Tomoko Sawada

      A conversation about Japanese matchmaking traditions, self-portraiture, clothes, and identity.

      When did you start photographing yourself?
      I began making self-portraits when I was 19. It was an assignment for a photography class. I can’t even explain in Japanese why I liked them so much. It was instinctual. It’s as if I knew that this was going to be my style, that this is what I wanted to do. And I’m still doing it because I love the self-portrait, but I don’t know why. 

      What themes are you exploring in your work?
      I’m interested in the relationship between inside and outside. If you wear a sexy dress or if you wear kids clothes or casual clothes, people treat you differently. Even though you are you no matter what you wear. It’s that relationship that makes me think. 

      My new work is from when I was living in New York. When I was in New York, people didn’t think I was Japanese. Sometimes they thought I was Korean or Chines or Mongolian. Even Singaporean. It was funny, when I would go to the Japanese market, they would speak to me in English. When I went to the Korean market, they would speak to me in English again. I don’t seem to look Japanese outside of Japan. I was surprised because I think I look totally Japanese. It’s funny that people’s points of view are totally different.

      Could you talk a little about OMIAI, the series that represents a traditional Japanese matchmaking technique.
      OMIAI is a tradition that is somehow still working today. Usually, there is a matchmaker and photographs are exchanged before meeting. If both sides are interested, they can meet for lunch or dinner accompanied by their parents and steps for marriage proceed from there. In the old days, some people chose their marriage partner just through photographs, without even meeting each other. 

      When OMIAI was exhibited in Japan I saw people making various comments in from of the work. People would say things like, “she looks like a good cook; surely she would prepare delicious meals every day,” or “ this girl could be a perfect bride for my son,” or “I can tell she would not be a good housewife,” or “she’s such a graceful girl; she must be the daughter of a decent family.” Comments like that. 

      What was the process of making that work?
      I gained 10 pounds before I started taking the pictures, and in six months I lost forty pounds, because I wanted to look different in each photo. I wanted to change the way my legs looked. 

      Every weekend I went to the hair salon and put on a kimono. Then I went to the photo studio on the street in Japan. I would take a picture and then change my clothes to western dress. Then I would go to the studio again the next weekend. 

      Did you tell the photographer how you wanted it done?
      I told him I was an artist and wanted to make photographs with him. I told him to think that each weekend new girls would show up to make the OMIAI. I didn’t want him to think of me as the same girl who came every weekend. He understood the concept. 

      We had fun. While he was taking pictures, his wife would tell me how to lose weight. She gave me many tips.

      Tomoko Sawada’s work is on view at the Getty until February 21, 2016 in “The Younger Generation: Contemporary Japanese Photography”


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