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The people of Los Angeles, via Sunset

January 10, 2009 |  2:27 pm


Photographer Patrick Ecclesine's "Faces of Sunset Boulevard" travels along Sunset from downtown -- Mayor Villaraigosa is the book's first face -- all the way to the beach. But where Ed Ruscha famously, in "Every Building on the Sunset Strip" (1966), captured the visuals of the street itself, Ecclesine tries to tell a more human story. Sunset serves as an occasional visual backdrop and as a narrative path through the city's population.

The book is mostly staged portraits, with a few street snapshots. Every picture is accompanied by a brief statement by the subject. Almost all the photographs have the polished, almost plastic beauty  often associated with this city. Where but in Los Angeles could you find a Realtor who's happy to pose in a bikini -- and, when she does, looks both cheerful and stunning?

Well, actually, Beverly Hills. The book is organized by neighborhood, traveling through Echo Park, Silverlake, East Hollywood, Beverly Hills, the Pacific Palisades and more. There's something poetic about West Hollywood, with its fame seekers, being shot entirely, glamorously, at night. Along the route, Ecclesine captures people from many walks of life: a cook; a cowboy; construction workers; families; teenagers; a drug addict; and a philanthropist with, it appears, a pet tiger. He gets celebrities too: Larry King (the CNN building is on Sunset Boulevard), Arnold Schwarzenegger (who lives in Bel-Air, a gated community off Sunset), and Kathy Kohner-Zuckerman, whose dad wrote "Gidget" about her and her friends (at 60, she returned to surfing off Malibu, where Sunset ends).

The book, moving along its westward trajectory, begins its story with outsiders and people in desperate circumstances, moves on to those who aspire and those who have been left behind, then focuses on the successful, on the really, really big successes and, then, those too cool to care about success. This representation of the city may be somewhat two-dimensional, but that certainly doesn't make it untrue.

Within each neighborhood, the pictures jump back and forth along Sunset, which I found disorienting at first. And I was disappointed when Ecclesine left the road altogether to pose his subjects in rather elaborate, thematic setups, such as L.A. Lakers' owner Jerry Buss in a yard with his family and a gaggle of performing Laker Girls. But perhaps I'm too literal -- Ecclesine's emphasis is on the people, not the street. And he's got an eye for a magazine-like, flattering beauty: Everyone glows -- the monks at the Self-Realization Fellowship as well as the people waiting for the bus. And the bus driver too.

In addition to being found in the book, Ecclesine's photos are on display at ArcLight Hollywood through Feb. 4.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo credit: Patrick Ecclesine