There are different ways to represent, and share one’s impressions of, a place. Photographers use light to define their subject as they see it, while writers use words to describe, explain and tell stories about particular settings. In a recently published book called Archaeologies: LA, Italian photographer Renato D’Agostin and CalArts urban historian Norman Klein turn their attention to Los Angeles and explore, through images and words respectively, the meaning, nature and collective memory of the city.
The complementary and intertwined takes on Los Angeles, one visual, the other narrative, appear sequentially in the book, with the Klein essay presented after the photos. I like that structure, because it allowed me to experience D’Agostin’s beautiful black and white images without any preconceived notion of their meaning.
The photographs presented in Archaeologies: LA capture many aspects of the city as I experience it – beauty, solitude and longing come to mind. At the same time, the collection explores the idealized image of the city juxtaposed with traces of its hidden character, as well as the sense of possibility that permeates the place that Angelenos call home.
As is my custom when looking at a book of photographs for the first time, I leafed through the pages, stopping on one folio, turning back to another, and moving forward again. Some pictures immediately resonated with me, such as the four below:
Other images grew on me after repeated viewings, such as these two.
The book’s large format is ideally suited for its subject matter. Just as the city seems to stretch out forever – an unending collection of subdivisions, linear boulevards, and sweeping freeways punctuated by mountain ranges and clusters of tall buildings, D’Agostin’s photographs are expansive, bleed off the pages and often incorporate striking visual elements that capture your attention.
D’Agostin’s storytelling prowess is evident by the way in which he lays out the book. In some cases single images spread across facing pages, while other photos appear opposite one another – effectively calling attention to some relationship between the subjects.
Interspersed throughout the book D’Agostin also pairs individual photographs with a dark, black page, thereby highlighting the details in the picture and enabling the viewer to perceive things that might otherwise go unnoticed. I found these single page photographs both quiet and calming.
As Norman Klein writes in his essay A Brief Archaeology of Light, “We study the intrusions set up by Renato D’Agostin in his photographs. He calls his method ‘the archaeology of a city through images.’ Page by page, we gradually notice the clues that he leaves for us, the encoded memory: A softness, a twist of light on a face; or the DNA diagram of a cityscape.”
For those who want to learn more about the photographer, I highly recommend the following video. In it, D’Agostin speaks poetically about his creative process, which when understood, adds a completely different dimension to your experience of the book.
Archaeologies: LA is the first of three planned collaborations between Lovechild, Blok Design and Furlined that will focus on the evolving identities of Los Angeles, Istanbul and Mexico City. “By exploring the intersection between our idealized images of these cities and their hidden, underlying personas, the still photography in the Archaeologies series offers viewers a deeper understanding of the evolution of city life,” says Diane McArter, Founder of Lovechild and Furlined. Based on the quality of this first book, I look forward to perusing the other two once they’re published.
A Lovechild / Blok Design project
Photography: Renato D’Agostin
Essay: Norman Klein
Design: Blok Design
Size: 48.2 x 25.2 cm / 79 pages