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LA photographer Anthony Hernandez gets his first museum retrospective... in San Francisco

by Kevin Ferguson | Off-Ramp®

Anthony Hernandez, Rodeo Drive #3, 1984, printed 2014; dye destruction print. Anthony Hernandez

Anthony Hernandez is a Los Angeles photographer who's made a huge volume of work: candid, black and white shots of a midcentury Downtown LA, hypnotic color portraits of Rodeo Drive's well-heeled clientele, huge, bleak murals of abandoned homes and offices.

It's a career that's spanned decades but until now, has gone largely unrecognized. Just last month, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art opened Hernandez' first ever museum retrospective. Hernandez says it's there and not in LA because of his long friendship with at SFMOMA.

Off-Ramp producer Kevin Ferguson went to Hernandez' studio in Mid-City to talk about the exhibit, and his long career photographing Los Angeles and beyond.

Interview highlights

Do you remember the first time you went out onto the streets, taking people's photos?

It's awkward because you have to find a way, in that kind of space, in Downtown LA. And I grew up, by the way, in Downtown LA. Meaning, as a kid, that's where I hung out. And then trying to photograph there, at the very beginning, I fell into this step, you might say. You might say it's a dance: so I'm walking, as I'm walking through, my camera was in my hand, and it would come up to my eye.

And you can do that with a Leica very quickly, just photograph with one hand. Always up to your eye. And you just keep moving. So I never actually asked anybody's permission to photograph them, except for a couple very early photographs. After a while, you get better and better at it.

When you talk about Los Angeles as a photography subject, a lot of the time people tend to gravitate towards the very, very high in Los Angeles: the rich and the famous, the celebrities. Or the very, very low. We could count skid row series all day.

I think that's interesting about your work is there's a lot more comprehensiveness to it, there's a lot of middle. And I think that comes because you're a Los Angeles native.

I think it has to do with, in that sense, walking everywhere. Not just Downtown LA, but walking all over Hollywood, walking Venice, walking in Beverly Hills, walking down Wilshire Boulevard carrying a camera. And if you actually walk, and I'm talking walking quite a distance every day, that's how you actually know LA. And maybe know neighborhoods most people wouldn't want to be in, or to try take pictures (of).

But I think of LA as my big studio. One day, I wake up and go to this part of my studio, and the next day I go to another part of my studio, and it's overlapping. And now it's getting to be a very large studio.

My wife and I have a place in Idaho. And since 1991 we've been going back and forth. So because of going back and forth, leaving LA means that when you come back to LA after leaving it for months, you get a fresh feeling for LA. For me, LA is always new.

To listen to the rest of the interview, click the play button above.

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