I am Boris, and here’s my story about a photo project I started in 2019. Even though the 2020 events changed its course quite a bit, I was still able to finish it and make it into a book, to be printed in 2022.
For over two decades I worked in the magazine publishing industry where I developed my passion for photography. I first started to photograph much earlier though. At the age of 10 I learned how to shoot with my dad’s medium format TLR.
As the (then) outsider in Los Angeles, I started photographing things which I saw around and that surprised me. It was something I have never seen in any other “first world” big cities I visited. A half-ruined and graffiti covered taco stand in the middle of Hollywood boulevard, lots of motels which looked like they came straight from the 50s with signs like “Water bed, Color TV, Adult Movies” still hanging on the façades, or a meticulously built (working) copy of the DeLorean from “Back To The Future” parked at our local “Home Depot” lot next to a Lamborghini Hurricane (and what are they doing parked at the home improvement building materials store lot anyway?).
As I shot my first 10 rolls or so ( and I started with black and white, Ilford HP5+ which is usually my film of choice) I began to notice more city life around me. One person once described Los Angeles as the immature child of the world. Yes, the immature child is often annoying. But we all have an immature side. Maybe New York is the young adult of the world, London the grown up. And Paris the elegant older person. But the immature kid is the most unpredictable and interesting one.
Photographing people on the street in LA is not nearly as easy as in other big cities around the world. First of all, there are not exactly crowds of people on the street – they all drive in their shiny Bentleys and Porsches or sometimes beat up Honda Civics, planning their routes around traffic, as true locals without using Google maps. If you ever find yourself walking on a sidewalk in LA, it is likely that a good Samaritan will pull over and offer you a ride back to your car, which must have broken down or run out of gas! Because of this paucity of pedestrians, I wasn’t really trying to mimic any common concept of “street photography”.
Photographing during Covid19 restrictions presented me with a rare opportunity to move quickly around town without having to spend time in traffic. Also some of the locations looked very unusual due to absence of any “life” – such as Sunset blvd or Hollywood Blvd Walk of Fame absolutely empty in the middle of the day. These locations probably have never looked as empty before ever since Los Angeles was still a desert.
I used film exclusively for this project as I think it works best with Hollywood visual vernacular. Also I thought it would be a tribute to Hollywood Film making!
For most of my work I chose my tried and trusted Nikon F3 paired with 135 mm f2.8 Nikkor manual focus lens. An unusual focal length for street photography, yes, but it allowed me to compress vast LA avenues, buildings and signs and frame the subject closely. For some wide angle images I used a “made to order” 4×5, large format camera based on Chroma Snapshot. I attached a 75 mm f 5.6 Schneider Kreuznach lens (about 28 mm equivalent on 35 mm). Even though I used zone focusing most of the time, the detail and sharpness on these shots are insane.
In my next projects, I will explore more street signs (many of them are still hand painted here!), car culture and midcentury modern architecture.
GEAR used :
– Nikon F3 with 135 mm f2.8 Nikkor, sometimes I also used my 55 mm f1.2 Nikkor lens with it. For black and white I used a Red 25 filter. I shot about 75% of the project with this camera.
– Leica M2 R with 50 m f2 Summicron (3 gen.)
– Nikkormat (with working light meter!) (for when going to sketchy parts of town) with 55 mm f3.5 Micro Nikkor.
– Nikonos V underwater camera (for shooting at the beach and surf shots) with 35 mm f2.8 Nikkor.
3 D printed 4×5 technical Camera ( a modified Chroma Snapshot) – fixed lens, carbon fiber front plate, wooden grip handmade by me.
Lens: Schneider Kreuznach Super Angulon 75 mm f5.6
I used this camera with 4×5 holders or, alternatively with 120 Horseman backs.
Ilford HP5+ developed in Kodak 110c
Depending on conditions, I shot 135 HP5+ at either box speed, or pushed +2 stops.
Kodak Portra 400
Kodak Gold 400
Developed using Cinestil kit for color development.
I bought all my supplies in FreestylePhoto Los Angeles which still had curbside pickup even during the strictest lockdowns.
About the author: Oleg (Boris) Dyachenko is a Los Angeles based art-director and photographer. He started a series of art books about Los Angeles, Southern California car culture, and mid-century modern architecture.