Drifting and striding, in Hollywood and elsewhere, with Geoff Nicholson - author of The Lost Art of Walking, and Walking in Ruins withcholson, author of Toff Nidrifting and stomping withcholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking, considers the narrower and wider shores of obsessive pedestrianism.
Showing posts with label Ed Ruscha. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ed Ruscha. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 14, 2017


I’m always a sucker for those “then and now” photographs, that show places as they are now, compared with how they used to be.  Of course it helps if they’re of a place you know, and have walked around.  The example below is of Sheffield, the city where I was born and grew up, and walked around a lot, although mostly without enough paying much attention, it seems to me now.

But maybe you don't have to really know the place.  I only know Paris as an occasional visitor, but I’m fascinated by the work of Christopher Rauschenberg who’s done small wonders photographing the same streets that Eugene Atget photographed at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century.  
          It’s worth noting that the current Wikipedia entry describes Atget as a flaneur.  Equally, it’s worth noting how very few walkers appear in Atget’s photographs, a consequence of his using antiquated equipment and long exposures times.  If people didn't hold still they became invisible.

 Rauschenberg’s photographs appear alongside Atget’s in a book titled Paris Changing: Revisiting Eugene Atget's Paris. Not least of the wonders is that some places seem to have changed so little.

Here in Los Angeles there’s quite an industry of exploring and excavating what is, after all, a comparatively short history.  The Rodney King Riots provide one rich source of material.  The photographs below show Washington Boulevard at Norton Avenue and are credited to Ted Soqui and Corbis.  I find myself powerfully drawn to an establishment called Fish 2Go

 This kind of project reaches an apotheosis with Ed Ruscha’s Then and Now.   It’s a book, yet simultaneously much more than a book, documenting two journeys along the complete length of Hollywood Boulevard, one in 1973 the other in 2003, photographing every building along the way.  Admittedly the photographs were taken from the back of pickup truck rather than while walking, but you can’t have everything.  As a book it looks like this:

As a gallery installation like this:

This kind of thing was on my mind because I’d been looking at a photograph of Ingrid Bergman, taken by Bill Ray for Life magazine in 1967.  Captions tell us she’s walking up Olive Street in downtown Los Angeles, between 3rd and 4th Street.  Now I’m guessing this is just a photo op. I’d be surprised if she’d walked very far in those sandals – and the shopping bag is a prop surely: where would she have shopped, where would she be taking her shopping?

Even so, I set off to walk in her footsteps.  And frankly I got to Olive Street and I was lost, or at least severely disoriented.  Chiefly this is because the Omni Hotel has been built on, and to some extent over  Olive Street, so that the section between 3rd and 4th Street has become a kind of tunnel.

As for that patch of waste land off to the left in the Ingrid picture – a razed bit of Bunker Hill - that’s still there, now greener and better looked-after but also behind a fence, and patrolled by a security guard who, at least when I was there, glared out at anybody who looked in.   The land slopes down, on the opposite corner, to an entrance of the Pershing Square metro station, which is actually some way from Pershing Square proper. 

In the 1970s Ingrid Bergman lived in London.  The online caption for the picture below says she’s here walking along New Cavendish Street, but I’m not quite convinced of that.

And here she is in Rupert Street Market – no shopping bag this time, when you’d have thought she might need one.

Monday, April 6, 2015


When I first moved to Los Angeles, I wasn’t sure what kind of life I was going to lead here.  It occurred to me that I might become a full-on motorhead.  I was encouraged, in the first couple of months, by meeting, separately, two very different artists and car enthusiasts: Robert Williams and Ed Ruscha.  This is Robert Williams:

In fact I mostly talked to them about each other.  Both had a taste for old cars, preferably 1930s Fords.  Ruscha kept his stock, Williams hot-rodded his.  And I seem to recall that Ruscha told he liked cars, but Williams really liked cars.  Williams knew the parts numbers for gaskets and so on, Ruscha didn’t.

Anyway, I still kind of like cars. but I’ve never turned into a motorhead.  I have decided (arguably in a sour grapes kind of way) that looking at exotic old car is way more fun that owning them.   So, since Robert Williams is currently having a one man exhibition at the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, titled Slang Aesthetics, I decided walk over there, see the show, and walk home again. 

The Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery is in Barnsdall Park, right next to Frank Lloyd Wright’s endlessly decaying, endlessly being restored, Hollyhock House, and if you ask me the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery could use a snappier name.  The Hollyhock Gallery perhaps. The current name sounds kind of “worthy” and Robert Williams’s art is never, ever “worthy.”

It’s a big gallery and a big show, and I always enjoy watching people in art galleries, especially the way they walk, in that measured, respectful, dutiful way. So I was there looking at Williams’ paintings and drawings and occasional sculpture and keeping half an eye on the people in the gallery and suddenly I saw the man himself, with his wife Suzanne, walking across the expanse of the gallery floor. 

We said hello.  He said he’d been trying to get a show in this gallery for 40 years, and we talked very briefly about cars: the man has just acquired a Model T Ford, which he tells me is very tricky to drive, which comes as no surprise.  After we’d talked for a little while, he excused himself and went off to talk to a couple of attractive young women he’d spotted.  He introduced himself and took them on a walk around the gallery.  You can do that when it’s your show.

I was tempted to take a few pics of Mr. Williams in situ but I thought that would have been a bit fan-ish so I didn’t, but I found this one taken at the beginning of the show – he’s there doing a “walk through.”

Now a man who owns hotrods and a model T is probably not going to be a great walker, and Robert Williams’s paintings tend to feature cars, women, curious bits of architecture but I did find this picture (not in the exhibition) from 1970 titled, Psychic Pedestrians On a Spiral Horizon (Barycenter).

       However, the open-minded pedestrian, psychic or not, always finds something on his travels.  To complete the expedition, on the walk home, I did find this nice bit of street art, which delivers a message some of us know isn’t strictly true.

As I took the picture I was hoping that somebody might walk by to give it some human interest.  Nobody did, but I was aware of the woman on the right of the picture who looks as though she’s walking, though in fact I think she works in that shop and had stepped outside for a cigarette and a coffee break. 

But it was only when I got home and downloaded the picture that I noticed that waist of her, and the fact that she’s wearing a corset.  Now I wouldn’t say that nobody walks in LA wearing a corset, but really, very, very few.

Monday, February 2, 2015


If you have some reputation as a walker, a lot of people assume you can’t or don’t or won’t drive.   In my own case this isn’t true.  As I often say (in fact I’ve said it so often I’m not absolutely sure I mean it anymore), “I love driving.  It’s parking that I hate.”

On the other hand I really do like walking in parking lots (that’s car parks to my English readers).  It feels vaguely transgressive to walk in a place that’s designed for cars not for walkers, although of course people have to walk at least a short distance once they’ve found their parking spot.

And of course most people want that parking spot to be as close as possible to the exit or to the store they’ve parked in front of.  I try to have the best of both worlds by parking in some distant, empty spot so that even though I’ve driven to a place I still get to do a certain amount of walking; a small thing, but my own.

I’ve discussed Ed Ruscha elsewhere on this blog, and I don’t know what his walking habits are, but since he published an artist’s book titled Thirtyfour Parking Lots I think we do know a little about his attitude to parking lots: detached, ironic, blank, subversive, romanticizing the mundane. 

And I did just read an interview with him that originally appeared in Ruscha and Photography.  Sylvia Wolf asks, “Was the idea of mapping a motivating factor in your work?  I see this in Every Building on the Sunset Strip (1966) and Thirtyfour Parking Lots in Los Angeles (1967) and Ruscha replies.  “The first pictures I made of the Sunset Strip were taken by walking along the street. Only when I could see that it didn’t produce works that I approved of … did I decide I should maybe try something with a motorized camera.  That’s how that idea was born: with Thirtyfour Parking Lots in Los Angeles when I realized that I wanted aerial photographs of downtown.  I thought, wouldn’t it be great of they were professional pictures.”  He went up in a helicopter with the photographer Art  Alanis.  He continues, “It was astounding that, for less than five hundred dollars, we went out in a helicopter one Sunday morning – Sunday being the proper day because all the parking lots are empty – and photographed all these works in a matter of maybe an hour and a half or something.  You can cover a lot of ground in an hour and a half in a helicopter.”

To be fair not every one of Ruscha’s lots is completely and utterly empty, a vehicle pops up here and there, but even so they’re some of the most denuded parking lots I’ve ever seen.  You definitely can’t see any people walking in them either but maybe we’d be too high to see them even if they were there.

Empty and abandoned parking lots are wonderfully attractive, and of course perfect for the perverse pedestrian.  It’s even better if the lot is attached to a business that’s no longer functioning.  The cars are gone and nature reasserts itself trough the tarmac.

 Thanks to Google earth the parking lot enthusiast can easily make any number of faux Ruscha images, although generally there are plenty of cars visible.  Here’s the parking structure at the Arclight Theater on Sunset Boulevard:

Here’s the parking lot at my local Vons supermarket:

And here’s lot at the LA Zoo:

I became unwillingly reacquainted with the parking lot at LA Zoo just last week.  I was driving up the 5 Freeway when my car started madly overheating and by the time I got to the exit and found the zoo lot (much emptier than in the pic above) the small quantity of coolant that remained in the reservoir was boiling fiercely.
        I coasted to a halt in an empty part of the lot, and called the AAA who said they’d send out a tow truck.  While I waited I paced up and down the lot, but it wasn’t exactly “real” walking, and then a cop in a truck pulled up to see what I was doing.  He could see that the car hood was up and he seemed pretty sympathetic (I guess cops who work the zoo beat don’t get too embittered) and he said he’d send the AAA man in my direction if he saw him.
         And then, in one of those “Only in L.A. moments” he said, “Wait a minute.  Don’t I know you?  Don’t I know your face?  Are you an actor?”
         I said I wasn’t.
         “Well in that case, did I ever arrest you for something?”
         How we laughed.

The tow truck came, my car ended up in a repair shop in Glendale where it would have to stay overnight, and I had to find a way of getting home, which was about ten miles away.  I knew the route pretty well and had walked every section of it at one time or another and so I set off walking.  And after I’d been going for a short while, in considerable heat, not dressed for it, in shoes that weren’t good for walking, I suddenly thought, “Are you insane?”  And then I saw a bus that said “Hollywood” on the front and I got on.  In fact the bus didn’t go all the way to my part of Hollywood so I still ended up walking a couple of miles, which somehow seemed appropriate, the end of a thoroughly imperfect day.  And of course my car remained, parked (as it were) since it wasn’t going anywhere, in a repair shop ten miles from home.  From above it would have looked much like this (not really impressive enough to be a Ruscha).