Photography by Stephen Hilger
May 23 - June 12
via Panisperna 83, 00184 Rome, Italy
Curated by Allen Frame
My first time in Los Angeles I rode into town in the back of my parents’ station wagon. It was 1958. Touring the West on a family vacation, we had left Las Vegas at dusk, driven through the desert, and arrived in Beverly Hills late at night with a movie star map, spotting the homes of Doris Day, James Stewart, Jack Benny, and then, Fred Astaire. There he was in person, in his garage, getting into his car with a date, then backing out into the street. He rolled down his window, and hailed my father, who had slowed down to gawk. “Are you lost?” he asked. My father grabbed me and pulled me to the window. “No, we’re not lost, but this is my son. He loves your movies!” Growing up in Missisippi, I was star-struck, enthralled with Hollywood, and much later, captivated by the literature of LA, the noirish novels of James Cain, Horace McCoy, Raymond Chandler, and Nathaniel West that depicted the seedy collapse of the American dream at the Pacific’s edge.
Stephen Hilger, a Brooklyn-based photographer, is a native of Los Angeles, for whom the typical myths of Hollywood glamour and film-noir intrigue have been peeled away to reveal a plain, nondescript place, sometimes lush, and a little run-down, its hints of commuter tedium and income disparity softened by radiant sunlight and bursts of color in unexpected places. Absent are any celebrities or tourists.
The few figures who appear are laborers, and a homeless man wrapped in something that looks like a body bag, sleeping on a bench that advertises a medical provider. In making this work, Hilger drives “the largest and longest streets from one part of the city to another, stopping along the way to observe the ever-unfolding spectacle that is daily life.” His aim, he says, is “to reveal elements of the complex character of the city of Los Angeles, at once magnificently beautiful and melancholic, anachronistic and mutable.”
Like William Eggleston, Hilger finds the gospel in the random everyday. Color is an integral part of his work, whether it’s the splotch of blue paint on the white sidewall of a cottage, remnants of confetti found in a gutter, the blue of an obsolete telephone booth, or the green of an old newspaper box rhyming with a coral stripe on the curb. With a sense of humor, he depicts vernacular handmade signs, such as the one in front of a mom and pop drug store that promotes “intestinal cleansers” and “cardiovascular support.” For Hilger, the overriding concern is to “illuminate the unseen and unknown moments that dent the Los Angeles metropolis in full.” This is street photography in a place with empty sidewalks and endless boulevards. With an eye for detail and demographics, he manages to make the desolate feel specific, even familiar. Hilger is a photographer whose work traces historical memory in the social landscape. His most recent work, Los Angeles Boulevards, constructs an archive of visual motifs at the intersection of public and private spaces throughout Los Angeles
By Allen Frame