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How do you get LA into your pocket?

It’s a challenge, but a new pocket-sized book captures the city’s history in photos

  • How do you get LA into your pocket?

    Anonymous: Rooftop location shoot, downtown Los Angeles, 1922 (detail)

  • How do you get LA into your pocket?

    The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences: The Hollywood sign was built in 1923 as advertisement for Los Angeles Times Harry Chandler's "Hollywoodland" real estate development (detail)

  • How do you get LA into your pocket?

    Dick Whittington: Simon's drive-in, Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue, c. 1939 (detail)

  • How do you get LA into your pocket?

    Frank J. Thomas: Little Tokyo, First Street, 1953 (detail)

  • How do you get LA into your pocket?

    Double Standard, 1961 (detail) © Dennis Hopper

  • How do you get LA into your pocket?

    Lawrence Schiller: The Jackson 5 in Santa Monica, before the release of their first album, 1970 (detail)

It’s not an easy job selecting a group of photos to tell the entire history of a city – but Jim Heimann, executive editor for Taschen America, took on that very job for Los Angeles: Portrait of a City, which starts with a tourist image of Altadena in 1896, and ends with a palm tree being airlifted into a residential block in 2005. Originally published with more than 500 images as a coffee table book, it has recently been edited and released in pocket size by the publishers, along with editions on New York, London, Paris and Berlin. 

“A lot of the challenge was to portray LA in a way that it hasn’t been seen before, and to find images people hadn’t seen,” says Heimann of his original task. “A lot of people think of the city’s identity as the entertainment industry – they forget this has been a centre of agriculture, aviation and real estate over the years, or that it’s been home to these huge international populations, from the Armenians to the Chinese.”

He calls Los Angeles “the first 20th-century city”, largely because it grew up with the car. “Up until the early 1900s, it was still considered a backwater town; San Francisco was the only bona fide city. It developed as the automobile developed and is built around the car; unlike many cities, it’s not geared towards a river or a harbour.”

He says the Taschen “portrait” books have coincided with a phase of interest in photography and history. “Photography as art has been on the rise, and there’s been a resurgence of interest in photographers like Julius Shulman and that mid-century modern LA aesthetic, which was under the radar just a few years ago. There are also more preservation groups in LA now, and it’s become hip to remodel old buildings – look at the new Ace Hotel, which has totally restored the exterior of a 1927 film studio. Los Angeles has always tended to push forward; now it’s seeing the value of looking back.” taschen.com


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