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A Humble View of L.A. : PORTFOLIO BY JOHN HUMBLE

November 19, 1989|Kristine McKenna

ARTIST John Humble claims that his photographs of Los Angeles are essentially homages to a city he loves, but there's nothing particularly lovely about his pictures. Humble's photographs focus on the elements of Los Angeles that those of us who live here learn not to see: nondescript traffic intersections, shabby '50s tract housing, front yards landscaped with chain-link fence and concrete and, everywhere, endless expanses of blacktop.

"I show the places that the Chamber of Commerce tries to sweep under the rug--which is most of L.A.," says the 45-year-old photographer. "And it's not just the Chamber of Commerce--none of us want to look at this stuff because it doesn't feed our illusions about where we live. I've been taking these pictures for 10 years, but my work has been largely ignored because the landscape I show is pretty horrifying. But for me, it's quite beautiful as well. This work has been heavily influenced by Edward Hopper, who showed that horror and beauty could exist in the same place and moment, and that idea is central to these pictures."

Born in Washington, D.C., Humble earned his MFA in photography at the San Francisco Art Institute, then moved to Los Angeles in 1975 to teach (he currently teaches at Santa Monica College and Fullerton College). In 1979 he received an National Endowment for the Arts grant for a photographic essay on Los Angeles, and this series has continued to grow since then.

"Over the past 10 years, my understanding of this landscape has deepened, and in a way the locations I shoot have come to remind me of archeological digs," Humble says. "Yes, these places are ugly, but there's a magnificence there as well. People wouldn't want to look at my pictures if they didn't contain an element of beauty, and for me, the beauty is in the way people have altered the landscape.

"Los Angeles is an absolutely extraordinary bundle of contradictions, and I love the insanity, the rawness and diversity that exist here. On one level it's quite disturbing, but I've learned to accept it as it is because it's not going to change--in fact, it's going to get worse.

"And," Humble concludes, "I see L.A. as a prototype of what's going to happen to the entire country."

Photographs courtesy Jan Kesner Gallery, Los Angeles

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