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I Am a Camera

A Photographer Takes the Long View of L.A.

November 30, 2003|NELSON HANDEL

Santa Monica photographer Anthony Friedkin has been documenting Los Angeles moments for more than 30 years. From the hard-core reality of Watts to the fanciful illusions of Hollywood, from the murals of East L.A. to the pounding surf of Zuma Beach, Friedkin's work captures quintessential L.A. in a glint of chrome, the swagger of a hip and the wake of a surfboard. "I'm a timekeeper," he says. "When I release the shutter on my camera, I am preserving a very precise slice of time."

The prints in his one-man retrospective, "Timekeeper," running through the end of December at the Stephen Cohen Gallery in Hollywood, provide an impressive survey of Friedkin's life work. The show's lush, grainy prints reveal the rich dimensionality of L.A. culture, facets often lost in the day-to-day bustle of life. They also capture seminal moments from the city's past: the emergence of gay culture during the late 1960s, the weird strut of Beverly Hills in the 1970s, the aftermath of the riots.

Heavily influenced by photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson's concept of "The Decisive Moment," Friedkin's work often captures a specific, yet random, event. He doesn't stage his scenes, nor even crop the images he captures with the beat-up Leica 35mm camera that lives around his neck. He simply freezes the randomness of living, revealing it in profound ways. Given that his father directed hit TV shows and that Friedkin currently pays the bills working as a motion picture still photographer on film sets, it's perhaps not surprising that he describes his images as "split-second movies, each with a beginning, middle and end." This narrative impulse reveals itself in each of his silver-gelatin prints, which he lovingly makes in his kitchen-turned-darkroom. "A negative is like a screenplay or a musical composition. It needs to be brought to life."

The Getty Museum recently acquired 40 of Friedkin's photographs for the museum's permanent collection, says Julian Cox, associate curator of photographs. He feels Friedkin's relationship with his hometown will have a significant place in the visual history of L.A. "Anthony is a highly responsive photographer to his environment," he says. "His strength lies in his ability to work in a sensitized state, to get in the trenches, so to speak, and capture the authentic moment as it occurs."

All told, the photos document one man's naked encounters with the city he loves. Friedkin never leaves his apartment without a camera. In fact, he admits to being afraid to do so. "It's like a talisman," he says. "I'm convinced that no evil can come to me when I have a camera with me. It gives me evidence of my life, a sense of who I am and what I'm about."

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