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West of Western

Michael Varhol moved to Los Angeles from Washington D.C. in the late 70’s; a move where the boundless sprawl impressed his eye with a continuum of never ending blandness. “The long boulevards and avenues seemed to blend into a bland, building-after-building architectural continuum, with no center of focus, like Ed Ruscha’s “Every Building on the Sunset Strip“. The only things that rose above the horizon line were the palm trees, billboards and the occasional cluster of tall buildings.”  

West of Western was his first collection of black and white L.A. photographs all shot west of Western Avenue, in the last quarter of the 20th century. When introduced to the work of Max Yavno’s galvanizing black and white imagery of Los Angeles from the late 40’s and early 50’s Varhol felt as though Yavno had handed him the keys to the city. “His night shots of the klieg-lighted Hollywood premier of “The Heiress” at the Carthay Circle movie palace and especially “The Leg,” a gigantic woman’s leg, spot lit atop a stocking shop, gave me a clearer vision of the city’s past.” And while these iconic images punctuate and influence the work one also needs pay attention to the vision that lies beneath the signage and out of the limelight. Varhol’s Los Angeles is inclusive of an elegiac attitude that speaks to what lives in the shadows of an abandoned doorstep and to that which has been abandoned to the streets.

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