A while back State of the Art looked at Lee Friedlander’s photo ‘Los Angeles’, an image that does a fine job of capturing the city’s curious atmosphere – a strange mixture of superficiality and indefinable nostalgia, of brashness and melancholy. In the course of writing that piece, we stumbled across the work of LA photographer Matt Logue, and specifically his book Empty LA.
Logue’s work does pretty much exactly what it says on the tin – it captures Los Angeles when it’s empty. His photos depict streets and freeways completely devoid of any human presence – no pedestrians, no cars, no nothing. All you see is human environments, without anyone to populate them. While a couple of interiors present themselves here and there, it’s the shots of empty landscapes that are most memorable.
Quite how he managed to do this is an interesting question – some of the photos were clearly taken early in the morning or late at night, but others appear to be broad daylight. There’s apparently a technique in the extended version of Photoshop where you can take a series of images of a location and merge the stacked images to only preserve common features, thereby eliminating pesky things like people (the details are here if you’re interested). We’re guessing Logue might have used an idea like this, but only he knows for sure.
But in any case, regardless of how they were made, the images have a real power to them. State of the Art remembers reading a while back that apparently houses tend to deteriorate far faster when they’re unoccupied, even if the tenants aren’t doing anything toward upkeep etc – it’s as if bereft of the human energy that holds them together, the materials that constitute the buildings return to the earth from which they came.
There’s a similar atmosphere in the images that make up Empty LA. The shots of empty highways are particularly poignant – LA is one huge monument to America’s love affair with the car, after all, and when they’re removed, the place looks like a giant concrete mausoleum. Others have called the images post-apocalyptic, but they don’t evoke anything so negative for me – or if they are, the apocalypse was a very long time ago, so that any trace of violence has gone, leaving only emptiness. Unlike in, say, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, the places that Logue presents aren’t frightening. Nor are they cold and barren, as one might expect – they’re peaceful and serene, but also wistful and evocative. Looking at Logue’s work is like visiting the Forum or the Colosseum in Rome – you get a sense of ghosts walking the streets, echoes of days gone by. Who’d have thought empty streets could be so strangely beautiful?
You can see more of Logue’s work, and order the book, via his website.