Take a Digital Drive Along Ed Ruscha’s Sunset Boulevard, the Famous Strip That the Artist Photographed from 1965 to 2007

Ed Ruscha has lived nearly 65 years in Los Angeles, but he insists that he has no particular fascination with the place. Not everyone believes him: is disinterest among the many possible feelings that could motivate a painting like The Los Angeles County Museum on Fire? Nevertheless, the plainspoken Oklahoma-born artist has long stuck to his story, perhaps in order to let his often cryptic work speak for itself. Originally trained in commercial art, Ruscha has painted, printed, drawn, and taken photographs, the most celebrated fruit of that last pursuit being 1966’s Every Building on the Sunset Strip, a book that stitches his countless photographs of that famous boulevard — both sides of it — onto one long, continuous page.

Whatever you think of such a project, you can’t accuse it of a mismatch between form and substance. Nor can you call it a cynical one-off: between 1967 and 2007, Ruscha drove Sunset Boulevard with his camera no fewer than twelve times in order to photograph most or all of its buildings.




These include gas stations (an architectural form to which Ruscha has made the subject of its own photo book as well as one of his most famous paintings), drugstores, appliance dealers, Central American restaurants, karate schools, travel agencies, car washes, Modernist office towers, and two of the most characteristic structures of Los Angeles: low-rise, kitschily named “dingbat” apartment blocks and L-shaped “La Mancha” strip malls.

The mix of the built environment varies greatly, of course, depending on where you choose to go on this 22-mile-long boulevard, only a short stretch of which constitutes the “Sunset Strip.” It also depends on when you choose to go: not which time of day, but which era, a choice put at your fingertips by the Getty Research Institute’s Ed Ruscha Streets of Los Angeles Project, and specifically its interactive feature 12 Sunsets. In it you can use your left and right arrow keys to “drive” east or west (in your choice between a van, a VW Beetle, or Ruscha’s own trusty Datsun pickup), and your up and down button to flip between the year of the photo shoots that make up the boulevard around you.

Many longtime Angelenos (or enthusiasts of Los Angeles culture) will motor straight to the intersection with Horn Avenue, location of the much-mythologized Sunset Strip Tower Records from which the very American musical zeitgeist once seemed to emanate. The Sacramento-founded store was actually a latecomer to Los Angeles compared to Ruscha himself, and the building first appears in his third photo shoot, of 1973. The next year the ever-changing posters on its exterior walls includes Billy Joel’s Piano Man. About a decade later appear the one-hit likes of Loverboy, and in the twilight of the 1990s the street elevation touts the Beastie Boys and Rob Zombie. In 2007, Tower’s signature red and yellow are all that remain, the chain itself having gone under (at least outside Japan) the year before.

12 Sunsets’ interface provides two different methods to get straight from one point to another: you can either type a specific place name into the “location search” box on the upper right, or click the map icon on the middle left to open up the line of the whole street clickable anywhere from downtown Los Angeles to the Pacific Ocean. This is a much easier way of making your way along Sunset Boulevard than actually driving it, even in the comparatively nonexistent traffic of 1965. Nevertheless, Ruscha continues to photographically document it and other Los Angeles streets, using the very same method he did 55 years ago. The buildings keep changing, but the city has never stopped exuding its characteristic normality so intensely as to become eccentricity (and vice versa). What artist worthy of the title wouldn’t be fascinated?

Explore the Getty Research Institute’s Ed Ruscha Streets of Los Angeles Project here.

via Austin Kleon

Related Content:

Artist Ed Ruscha Reads From Jack Kerouac’s On the Road in a Short Film Celebrating His 1966 Photos of the Sunset Strip

Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol Demystify Their Pop Art in Vintage 1966 Film

A Brief History of John Baldessari, Narrated by Tom Waits

Take a Drive Through 1940s, 50s & 60s Los Angeles with Vintage Through-the-Car-Window Films

Watch Randy Newman’s Tour of Los Angeles’ Sunset Boulevard, and You’ll Love L.A. Too

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

The Dorothea Lange Digital Archive: Explore 600+ Photographs by the Influential Photographer (Plus Negatives, Contact Sheets & More)

Shortly before her death in 1965, one of the New Deal’s most famous photographers, Dorothea Lange, spoke at UC Berkeley. “Someone showed me photos of migrant farmworkers they had just taken,” she said. “They look just like what I made in the ‘30s.” We can see the same conditions Lange documented almost 60 years later, from the poverty of the Depression to the internment and demonization of immigrants. Only the clothing and the architecture has changed. “Her work could not be more relevant to what’s happening today,” says Lange biographer Linda Gordon.

As an American, it can feel as if the country is stuck in arrested development, unable to imagine a future that isn’t a retread of the past. Yet activists, historians, and therapists seem to agree: in order to move forward, we have to go back—to an honest accounting of how Americans have suffered and suffered unequally from economic hardship and oppression. These were Lange’s great themes: poverty and inequality, and she “believed in the power of photography to make change,” says Erin O’Toole, associate curator of photography at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art




Among famous Bay Area colleagues like Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, Lange is unique in that “her archive and all that material,” says O’Toole, “stayed in the Bay Area,” held in the possession of the Oakland Museum of California. Now, more than 600 high-resolution scans are available online at the OMCA’s new Dorothea Lange Digital Archive, which also “contains contact sheets, film negatives and links related to materials as additional resources for the many curators, scholars and general audiences accessing Lange’s body of work,” Emily Mendel writes at The Oaklandside

The digital archive will likely expand in coming years as the digitization process—funded by a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation—continues. The physical archive is vast, including some “40,000 negatives and 6,000 prints, plus other memorabilia.” These were inaccessible to anyone who couldn’t make the “huge trek to OMCA,” Lange’s goddaughter Elizabeth Partridge—author of Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning (2013)—remarks. The project is “the most important thing,” says Partridge, “that has happened to her work since it was given to the museum decades ago” by her second husband Paul Taylor. 

The online archive-slash-exhibit divides Lange’s work in four sections: “The Depression,” “World War II at Home,” “Post-War Projects,” and “Early Work/Personal Work.” The first of these contains some of her most famous photographs, including versions and adaptations of Migrant Mother, the posed portrait of Florence Thompson that “became a famous symbol of white motherhood” (though Thompson was Native American) and “moved many Americans to support relief efforts.” We can see how the iconic photo was taken up and used by the Cuban journal Bohemia, the Black Panther Party newspaper, and The Nation, who imagined Thompson in 2005 as a Walmart employee.

In the second category are Lange’s photographs of Japanese internment camps, unseen until relatively recently. “When she finally gave these photos to the Army who hired her,” Gordon notes, “they fired her and impounded the photos.” Lange’s skilled portraiture, her uncanny ability to humanize and universalize her subjects, could not suit the purposes of the U.S. military. “She used photography,” O’Toole says, “as a tool to uncover injustices, discrimination, to call attention to poverty, the destruction of the environment, immigration…. The protests that are happening today would be something she’d be photographing in the streets.”

Maybe in a digital age, when we are overwhelmed by visual stimuli, photography has lost much of the influence it once had. But Lange’s images still inspire equal amounts of compassion and curiosity. As Americans contend with the very same issues, we could do with a lot more of both. Enter the Dorothea Lange Digital Archive here

via Austin Kleon

Related Content: 

How Dorothea Lange Shot, Migrant Mother, Perhaps the Most Iconic Photo in American History

478 Dorothea Lange Photographs Poignantly Document the Internment of the Japanese During WWII

Yale Presents an Archive of 170,000 Photographs Documenting the Great Depression

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The 100 Most Influential Photographs: Watch TIME’s Video Essays on Photos That Changed the World

We live in a culture oversaturated with images. Videos of violence and death circulate with disturbing regularity, only rarely rising to the level of mass public outrage. Social media and news feeds bombard us not only with distressing headlines but with photograph after photograph–doctored, memed, repeated, then discarded and forgotten. It’s impossible to do otherwise than to forget: the sheer volume of visual information most of us take in daily overwhelms the brain’s ability to sort and process.

As if insisting that we look and really see, the judges of the Pulitzer Prize have given the award for feature photography almost exclusively to images of tragedy in recent years. In most cases, the conflicts and disasters they depict have not gone away, they have only disappeared from headline news. Whether we can say that photography is losing its power to move and shock us in the overwhelming sea of visual noise is a subject for a much longer meditation. But I can think of few recent images comparable to those in the TIME 100 Photographs series.

Of course the saying “time will tell” isn’t just a pun here: we can only know if a photo will have historic impact in hindsight, but in nearly all of the 100 photos featured—which have been given their own mini-documentaries—the impact was immediate and galvanizing, inspiring action, activism, widespread, sorrow, anger, appreciation, or awe. The emotional resonance, in many cases, has only deepened over the decades.




The image of Emmett Till’s face, battered into unrecognizability, has not lost its power to shock and appall one bit. Although the specific context may now elude us, its details still mysterious, we can still be moved by Jeff Widener’s photograph of a defiant Chinese citizen facing down the tanks in Tiananmen Square. Alberto Korda’s 1960 portrait of Che Guevarra became not only iconic but a literal icon.

What will we see fifty, or 100, years from now, on the other hand, in “Oscars Selfie” (2014), by Bradley Cooper? The photo seems to me an eerily cheerful portent from the point-of-view of 2020, just a handful of years later, with its well-groomed, smiling, mask-less faces and lack of social distancing. It is an image of a genuinely simpler, or at least a profoundly more oblivious, time. And it was also just yesterday in the scale of TIME’s list, whose earliest photo dates to almost 200 years ago and happens to be the “first known permanent photograph.”

TIME itself, once a standard bearer for photojournalism, shows us how much our interaction with photography has changed. The so-called “turn to video” may have been mostly hype—we continue to read, listen to podcasts, and yes, pour over striking photographs obsessively. But hardly anything these days, it seems, can pass by without a mini-YouTube documentary. We may not need them to be emotionally moved by these photographs, yet taken altogether, these short videos offer “an unprecedented exploration,” writes TIME, of how “each spectacular image… changed the course of history.”

Watch all of the 21 short documentary videos currently available at TIME‘s YouTube channel, with more, it seems, likely to come.

Related Content: 

The Story Behind the Iconic Photograph of 11 Construction Workers Lunching 840 Feet Above New York City (1932)

The First Photograph Ever Taken (1826)

The First Faked Photograph (1840)

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

How Vividly Colorized Photos Helped Introduce Japan to the World in the 19th Century

Since the mid-20th century heyday of Sony transistor radios, the world has associated Japan with high technology. But between the mid-17th and mid-19th century, the world could barely associate Japan with anything at all. The isolationist policy of sakoku, or “closed country,” kept the Land of the Rising Sun virtually free of outside influence — especially Western religious and colonial influence — until, in 1853, the American Navy commodore Matthew Perry rolled up in his “Black Ships” and demanded an opening of its ports. Thereafter, according to the Vox Darkroom video above, “foreigners coming to Japan brought their clothes, their culture, and their cameras.”

The cameras in particular made it possible for everyone around the world to finally get a glimpse of this mysterious island nation they’d previously known only in their imagination. Photography, itself an excitingly new technology at the time, rapidly boomed in the newly opened Japan as an industry.




“Photographers — mostly European, but some Japanese — documented Japan’s landscape and people, creating collectible and highly prized images of Japanese culture,” first in black-and-white and subsequently with early colorization methods. Then, as would happen over and over again in subsequent decades, Western technology and Japanese craftsmanship united to take it to the next level.

An Italian-British photographer named Felice Beato “made expert-quality hand-coloring the defining characteristic of this era of Japanese photography,” drawing on a “large body of highly trained artisans from the ukiyo-e woodblock print industry.” By the time foreigners began using cameras to capture images of Japanese life, the Japanese had already been capturing Japanese life with ukiyo-e, or “pictures of the floating world,” for centuries. Photographers soon discovered they could tap into the “expertise of patient precision in the application of color on to flat images that had been in place in Japan for generations.”

This new wave of Japanese “color” photography studios set themselves apart with masterful watercoloring that “added to the sense of realism in these images, which made them even more collectible.” Some photographers, such as Kusakabe Kimbei, got even more artistic, “staging elaborate, sometimes mythic scenes of Japanese culture” in the studio, then adding not just watercolors but other visual effects: in Girl in Heavy Storm, the photograph above, “the ‘rain’ is simulated by scratches into the glass plate negative.” Her kimono is also pinned in places to the background, all in the name of capturing another of the industry’s “supposedly typical scenes of Japanese life.” Even when it’s right before your eyes, Japan is in the imagination.

Related Content:

1850s Japan Comes to Life in 3D, Color Photos: See the Stereoscopic Photography of T. Enami

Hand-Colored 1860s Photographs Reveal the Last Days of Samurai Japan

Hand-Colored Photographs from 19th Century Japan: 110 Images Capture the Waning Days of Traditional Japanese Society

Download Hundreds of 19th-Century Japanese Woodblock Prints by Masters of the Tradition

Watch Vintage Footage of Tokyo, Circa 1910, Get Brought to Life with Artificial Intelligence

Watch Chilling Footage of the Hiroshima & Nagasaki Bombings in Restored Color

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

The Story Behind the Iconic Photograph of 11 Construction Workers Lunching 840 Feet Above New York City (1932)

Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother“…

Nick Ut’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Terror of War“…

Richard Drew’s “The Falling Man“…

Throughout the years, a number of iconic photographs have tapped into the collective unconscious, shaping our view of historic events, sometimes to a degree that leads to social change.

These images are not dependent on knowing the subjects’ identities, though it’s always interesting when more context leaks out, often as the result of some serious sleuthing by reporters, archivists, or other interested parties.




1932’s “Lunch atop a Skyscraper (New York Construction Workers Lunching on a Crossbeam)” is one of the lighter-hearted photos to create such a lasting public impression.

Eleven workers are depicted enjoying their break, relaxing on a girder a dizzying 840-feet above New York City, unburdened by safety harnesses or other protective gear.

In the words of Rockefeller Center archivist Christina Roussel, who narrates the TIME Magazine 100 Photos episode above, they are the “unsung heroes of construction.”

The unusual designation may lead you to rack your brains for a sung hero of construction.

Grandpa’s cog-in-the-wheel contribution to the erection of an iconic landmark can be a source of anecdotal pride for families, but it rarely leads to greater renown.

Looming over this image is John D. Rockefeller, Jr, who masterminded a 22 acre complex of 14 commercial buildings in the Art Deco style. The project was a boost to the economy during the Great Depression, employing over 250,000 people—from truckers and quarrymen to glaziers and steelworkers and hundreds of other jobs in between. It created an enormous amount of goodwill and patriotic pride.

The Rockefeller organization capitalized on this positive reception, with a steady stream of staged publicity photos, including the daring eleven sharing a nosebleed seat on what was to become the 69th floor of the RCA Building (now known as 30 Rock.)

As film critic John Anderson, reviewing the documentary Men at Lunch in The New York Times, wrote:

The popularity of the picture, which has been colorized, satirized, burlesqued with the Muppets and turned into a life-size sculpture by Sergio Furnari, is partly about the casual recklessness of its subjects: The beam on which they sit seems suspended over an urban abyss, with the vastness of Central Park spread out behind them and nothing, seemingly below. But in fact a finished floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza was probably just a few feet away.

The documentary helped confirm the identities of several of the men.

Irish immigrants Maddy O’Shaughnessy and Sonny Glynn hold down either end, as verified by their sons.

William Eckner, third from left, and Joe Curtis, third from right, were named in a similarly spirited annotated photo taken around the same time.

The man seated to Curtis’ right may or may not be John Charles Cook of the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation.

The photographer’s identity is also debatable. It’s most often credited to Charles C. Ebbets but Tom Kelley and William Leftwich were also on hand that day, leather satchels of glass plates slung across their backs, as they, too, defied gravity, documenting the completion of architect Raymond Hood’s master plan.

Related Content:

How Dorothea Lange Shot, Migrant Mother, Perhaps the Most Iconic Photo in American History

Yale Presents an Archive of 170,000 Photographs Documenting the Great Depression

Yale Presents an Archive of 170,000 Photographs Documenting the Great Depression

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Philosophy of Photography with Amir Zaki on Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #61

Amir Zaki teaches at UC-Riverside and has had his work displayed in numerous galleries, in his recent book California Concrete: A Landscape of Skateparks, and profiled via a short film.

Amir joins your hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt to consider this common act that can stretch from the mundane to the sublime. How have our various purposes for photography changed with the advent of digital technology, the introduction of social media, and the ready access to video? What determines what we choose to take pictures of, and how does taking photography more seriously change the way we experience? We touch on iconic and idealized images, capturing the specific vs. the universal, witnessing vs. intervening via photography, and more.

See more of Amir’s work at amirzaki.net.

A few of the articles we looked at to prepare included:

Learn more at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Follow Amir on Instagram @amir_zaki_.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts

Behold the First Underwater Portrait in the History of Photography (Circa 1899)

The image above may at first look like a plate from a Jules Verne novel, or perhaps a still from one of Georges Méliès’ more fantastical moving pictures. It does indeed come from fin de siècle France, a time and place in which Verne, Méliès, and many other imaginative creators lived and worked, but it is in fact a genuine underwater photograph — or rather, a genuine underwater portrait, and the first example of such a thing in photographic history. Taken in the 1890s (most likely 1899) by biologist and photography pioneer Louis Boutan, it depicts Boutan’s Romanian colleague Emil Racovitza holding up a sign that reads “Photographie Sous Marine,” or “Underwater Photography.”

Such an outlandish concept could hardly have crossed many minds back then, and fewer still would have dreamt up practical ways to realize it. To start with the most basic of challenges, there is, as David Byrne sung, water at the bottom of the ocean — but not a whole lot of light, especially compared to the burdensome requirements of late 19th-century cameras. This necessitated the development of what Petapixel’s Laurence Bartone calls a “crazy underwater flash photography rig,” one powerful enough that it “could easily double as a bomb. The creation involved an alcohol lamp on an oxygen-filled barrel. A rubber bulb would then blow a puff of magnesium powder over the flame, creating a flash.”

Photography enthusiasts will understand the magnitude of Boutan’s achievement (made with the help of his brother Auguste and a laboratory technician named Joseph David). Some have gone so far as to recreate it, an effort you can see in the Barcelona Underwater Festival video just above. Not only are there fish and other sea creatures swimming everywhere, a feature of the environment not visible in Boutan’s original shot, but the re-enactors face the pressure of curious passersby, young and old, who walk through a nearby transparent underwater tunnel, not a consideration for Boutan and his collaborators. That groundbreaking success in underwater portraiture came 54 years after a Philadelphia chemist named Robert Cornelius first turned his camera on himself. Has photographic history recorded how long it took humanity after Boutan’s famous picture to snap the first underwater selfie?

via Diane Doniol-Valcroze on Twitter

Related Content:

Underwater Volcanic Eruption Witnessed for the First Time

Reef View: Google Gives Us Stunning Underwater Shots of Great Coral Reefs

Sunken Films: Watch a Cinematic Meditation on Films Found on the Ocean’s Floor

See the First “Selfie” In History Taken by Robert Cornelius, a Philadelphia Chemist, in 1839

The History of Photography in Five Animated Minutes: From Camera Obscura to Camera Phone

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

More in this category... »
Quantcast