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The Skin Walker

In His New Calling as a Fine Art Photographer, Former District Attorney Gil Garcetti Studies the Sensuous Shapes of the Walt Disney Concert Hall. You Can Feel the Steel.

August 03, 2003|ANN HEROLD

Gil Garcetti can't get enough of the new Walt Disney Concert Hall. Or the 14,000 pieces of iron, no two alike, that make up the frame for its stainless-steel skin. And like the spectators who watched it emerge and the ironworkers who toiled on it over a period of more than three years, he never ceases to be surprised. That the building, with its gravity-defying shapes and angles, is still standing, for one thing, which he chalks up to the genius of architect Frank Gehry. But there's also the mystery, as one circles the building, of never quite knowing just what it is you're looking at. "Once you're inside you understand what that part of the building is," Garcetti says. "But when you're outside it's a mystery.

"I heard the complaints and fears of the ironworkers as they worked on it. No one had ever done anything like this before . . . now they feel the pride of having made it."

The former district attorney is also very happy. Lately when strangers greet him on the street, it's not to talk about O.J. Instead they're likely to congratulate him on "Iron: Erecting the Walt Disney Concert Hall," a book of photographs documenting the labors of the ironworkers that was published last year. "I was in New York City a month and a half ago, and that's a city in which I am used to being recognized," he says. "This guy makes eye contact and says as I walk past him, 'Mr. Garcetti.' I turn around not knowing what to expect, you have to be a little on guard, and he smiled and said, 'I am sorry I don't have your book with me to sign. Those are spectacular photographs.' "

After that book, and as work on the concert hall progressed from the iron framework to the application of the steel skin, Garcetti kept snapping. From February into June this year, he walked and walked around the site at all times of day and in all types of weather, shooting more than 400 photographs with a hand-held Hasselblad XPAN panorama camera. He stopped as the hall neared completion, and dust settling on the exterior began to compromise the spectacular reflections.

The result, he has been told, is fine art photography. He is flattered. And still elated that he has combined two old loves, photography and architecture. He thought of switching his major to architecture while an undergraduate at USC, "but those guys worked too hard," he says. He took up photography right after the birth of his daughter, Dana, 34 years ago. "Photography played a large role in terms of keeping my balance," he says of his high-stress years as district attorney. "l always had a camera in my pocket. I would take it out at functions, parades. I would never bring it to my eye, just shoot from the waist and take three shots. Usually one of the three would come out.

"I was doing something people didn't expect that was strictly for me. I had my photos in the conference room, and for me the kick was seeing the shock on people's faces when they would say, 'You took this?' "

And in late October, when the concert hall opens and the photographs are published by Balcony Press as a book, "Frozen Music," it's even more likely that when he hears "Hey, Mr. Garcetti," he'll soon be discussing the speed of shutters, not of white Broncos.

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