Culture Monster

All the Arts, All the Time

« Previous Post | Culture Monster Home | Next Post »

'East of West L.A.': a photographic journey

January 2, 2010 | 11:31 am

Book It’s been a long-joked-about phenomenon that many Angelenos consider East Los Angeles any area east of La Brea Avenue and that some Westsiders seldom wander east of the 405.

Poet and photographer Kevin McCollister has journeyed through most of those streets and captured the images in his book "East of West L.A." A select few of the 55 photos include shots of Venice and the Santa Monica Pier, but "in my mind," said McCollister, "they qualify as East in spirit and are not the epitome of glam that is attached to the Westside."

His version is not the cliché L.A. story, feathered with fortune and celebrity. His photos are counterintuitive as to what many people think of when they think of Los Angeles: a news vendor, the 4th Street bridge, the Los Angeles River or a homeless woman wearing a Burberry scarf.

On his days off from the Writers Guild, McCollister would rise with the dawn and wander the streets, back alleys and vacant lots, absorbing the city in its raw, naked form with all its imperfections. "I wanted to show a counterbalance, another viewpoint of the city," he said. "It can be beautiful but not always in an upper-class way." And he conceived a new project: to walk all of the city’s streets. A regular stop was the area around Our Lady Queen of Angels. "It's always a hive of activity with street vendors and the homeless mixing with a lot of very devout churchgoers," said McCollister.

For "Christmas Eve Morning," he encountered an abandoned, neatly folded bundle of homeless paraphernalia, perfectly wrapped like a Christmas present. 

Christmas Eve Morning"Perhaps it’s because he wasn’t originally from L.A. that he has this innocent fascination with this city, where most of us are car-captive and self-contained to our own neighborhoods," said Brooks Roddan, founder of the independent press If Pub, which is releasing the book, and a native Angeleno. He was intrigued by McCollister’s commitment to walk all of L.A., an unfamiliar and bewildering notion to many residents. "Kevin was seeing the city with fresh eyes but with a dark sensibility," he added.

McCollister attended Ohio University and arrived in Los Angeles 20 years ago via Boston. The former deck hand on the Mississippi’s Delta Queen steamboat began taking photos as a modest enterprise for a photo blog in 2005 to show pictures of L.A. to his brother living in Taiwan, and the project grew from there.

He notes poets Walt Whitman and William Carlos Williams as the biggest influences on his craft
The project was originally conceived as a book of verse, but during the two-year period, Kevin, who lives on the east side of the Westside, began taking photos and stopped writing.

"Kevin’s poems are now his photographs," said Roddan. "People don’t know the real wonders of this city," he added, hoping that the photos will pique people’s curiosity to get out and explore other neighborhoods.

As for McCollister: "This is my lifetime project," he said. "I’m going to walk all of L.A."

-- Liesl Bradner

Images: Top, "East of West L.A." book cover. Right, "Christmas Eve Morning," credit Kevin McCollister