It’s approximately quarter after two in the afternoon on Father’s Day, and I’m sitting in a Starbucks just off the Strand and a stone’s throw from Pier Avenue in Hermosa Beach, California. It smells like a mix of coffee and sunscreen. I’m on my fourth coffee of the day, my eyes blinking from wearing my contact lenses for nine hours already and squinting at a computer screen for the last hour of that. The majority of skin on my face, neck, and shoulders isn’t a far cry from matching the hot pink tumblers across from me (which I have to admit, just look unreasonably tacky, even for Starbucks). I’m listening to 5 Seconds of Summer and trying, desperately, to ignore the fact that in just over ten hours, I’ll be touching down home at Calgary International Airport, good ol’ YYC.
This is a typical last day of travel.
Enough of this trip was strangely atypical, though. I’ve done this enough times to kinda know what to expect - land, get coffee/find wifi, figure out where I’m going, try and navigate transit, get to hostel, drop gear, go shoot. Stop, get more coffee, do some journaling and/or editing. Go shoot more. Get more coffee. Sleep. Repeat as necessary. True, all of this happened this week, but Los Angeles itself was completely not what I expected. It’s hard for me to put my finger on - how much of it is due to the place versus introspective factors - but L.A. knocked me down a bit. I’ve never been so overwhelmed by a city. Not London, not Paris, not Venice. I’m not even talking celeb-star-struck-wide-eyes, but just the whole atmosphere. Everything is so big and centre stage.
Calgary’s claim to fame is the Calgary Stampede. True, there’s definitely western roots and a good bit of history to it, but if we’re honest, it’s an excuse for a lot of us (who don’t run the opposite direction, at least) to dress up as cowboys, line dance, and gorge ourselves on deliciously overpriced deep-fried carnival foods. That’s our contribution to the world stage. By comparison, Los Angeles just is the world stage. I went to go pick up groceries on my second afternoon and in walking back to my hostel, I walked past the offices of the Los Angeles Times, one of the most circulated daily publications in the States. And then I walked by the Los Angeles Police Department, which instantly threw me back to junior high days where I’d beg my parents to let me stay up watching CSI. It just knocked me back a bit because... well, I've just walked past the L.A. Times to get groceries. You know what the most notable thing I walk past to get groceries in Calgary is? A Starbucks. Woo. *waves tiny flag made from a stir stick and sugar packet*
So all in all, I guess that was enough to throw me off my usual carefully-crafted-calm travel mindset. I just felt so completely out of place. So visible. It’s unnerving, not at all what I’m used to when travelling. It makes it considerably harder to photograph as well - particularly street work, where I want nothing more than to be invisible. And Los Angeles just has so many opportunities for good street photography, but it definitely presents a challenge when opportunity meets mental roadblock.
I digress. It really is an amazing city that seemingly never ends, with all sorts of subject matter to draw. I spent the first half of the week near downtown L.A., between the Arts District and Little Tokyo. Most of what I shot ended up being black and white because that's pretty much all I'm shooting these days. These are some of my favourite images from the first half of the trip.
The Last Bookstore is a two-level bookstore/record shop/artist's gallery located in downtown L.A. If you're in the area, GO. It has the most marvellous marble columns, plush chairs and on the second floor, winding shelves that aptly earn it the moniker "the Labyrinth." Not to mention books, books, records, and more books.
The other reason why I want to post it is because of the circumstances it was taken under. I'd wandered through the majority of the Labyrinth, shooting a bit but mainly just gently tracing the shelves and shelves of worn and wonderful book spines, when I happened upon this corner. This gentleman was sat here, the later afternoon sun illuminating him by the window in such a perfect manner as he read. It was one of those instances where you know the perfect shot is there. It might need a bit of work, but it's there, you just have to find it. Or, in this case, actually ask if I could take his picture, because there is no effective way to be a fly on the wall where this moment was concerned.
Keep in mind, this was about 36 hours after I wrote this (which is basically 500 words of me freaking out about street photography). Funnily enough, this time I actually had an answer for the question "why am I taking this photograph?" Unfortunately, I overthought it too much and ended up at "how am I going to explain that the light looks perfect and his face has such character and this moment just perfectly summarizes the atmosphere of this bookstore without sounding like a crazy person?" I'm not the most outgoing person and approaching a stranger like this scares the shit out of me, perfect moment or not. I literally spent twenty minutes thumbing through a book trying to get the courage to ask.
(Ironically, said book was by Reinhold Messner on his first solo ascent of Mount Everest. I was standing there reading about this man trying to climb the tallest mountain on Earth while I'm trying to climb this mountain of social anxiety. Thanks, universe.)
I should've asked. I missed the shot. I'll kick myself for the rest of the year, at least. The shot with my phone is alright, but it was taken offhand when I opened up snapchat. It's not what's seared on my mind.
Fast forward half an hour and my hands are still shaking and a semi-permanent crease in my forehead has developed because I'm just so grumpy with myself for not uttering a simple "excuse me sir, would you mind if I took your photo?" So I round the corner and happen upon this bright and colourful and alive studio with paintings and tags adorning the walls. I walked past it a couple times until I finally, shakily, turned around and asked if I might possibly take a photo. The artist, Andrea Bogdan, graciously consented. I snapped off probably about a dozen frames. After thanking her, I turned and walked down the corridor around another corner, and cracked a smile wide enough to split my face in two. I didn't even look at the shots, nor did I overly care how they turned out. I'd asked. That was enough.
(You can find Andrea and her work here.)
(Title of post is a lyric stolen from City of Angels by 30 Seconds To Mars. That song ran through my head at least once a day while I was in L.A. and I couldn't think of a better title. Plus, it's a good song by an awesome band.)