Untold LA

Photographing the Astonishing Homes of LA's West Adams District

In 2012 photographer Jett Loe encountered the forgotten Los Angeles District of West Adams, the original wealthy area of town, the “Beverly Hills before Beverly Hills.”  Filled with an astonishing collection of Victorian and Craftsman homes in vibrant, diverse neighborhoods West Adams proved to be a revelation.  Following a successful Kickstarter campaign Jett spent two years producing this mammoth delight of a book that documents the variety of homes and people in the area.

Totaling a fully interactive 365 pages with 500 photos, 70 oral history audio clips from West Adams residents and two hours of behind-the-scenes video commentary, Untold LA is a massive treasure trove for lovers of Los Angeles, American history and architecture.

Filtering by Tag: behind the scenes

Thoughts on Untold LA in Print

I'd always conceived of Untold LA as an iBook first and foremost. I love the way holding an iPad with a full-screen photo displayed is like looking at an illuminated window - it's like holding up a piece of stained glass with light streaming behind. Also the ability to have audio and video in the book is a huge plus, there's over 70 oral history audio clips and two hours of video in the iPad version.

That being said, everyone who's had a look at the iPad version has asked me "when's it coming out in print?" Not everyone has an iPad, it's a luxury item I think, and paper is dependable - books last - books are there - they're PRESENT. They don't need battery power and you can pack 'em in a box and move them around with you as you make your way around the world. People love books.

So I've been thinking about what to do regarding a print version of Untold. One option is to make the reward given to Kickstarter supporters who helped out with $125 donations available to everyone, (those are going out in the coming weeks - you can see an advance copy above). These books feature 50 of my favorite photos from the project with notes, and an introduction by WAHA's Elizabeth Fenner. So I could do that. But it's expensive - it'll cost people at least $40 to get the book, and while I think the product is fine as a 'thank you' for people who supported the project, I don't think that offers good value for money in terms of print quality.

So I'm going to look at alternative ways to get into print. I think the project would make a great coffee-table book - there's over 500 photos in the iPad version and there's easily 300 of those I'd like to include in a print version. Also it would be great to transcribe some of the oral histories and include a couple of essays about West Adams.

So that's the next step - find a publisher! I've never done anything like this before so your thoughts and advice are really needed. I'll post this entry on Facebook which is where most folks read and interact with the project and see what people have to say.

Reshooting La Fayette Square

One of the problems in starting a project with a new camera system, (like the Fuji X-Pro 1 used in Untold LA), is that it takes time to find your style - time to find out how the technology works - how your own vision and sensibility meshes with the technology, etc.

With this in mind my photographic style changed over the course of the two years shooting Untold LA - to the point where I'm not happy with some of the photos taken in the early days. So I'm doing a bit of reshooting. I was never happy with the shots taken in La Fayette Square for instance, and so have been revisiting the area when I can.

The photo above is from one of the reshoots last weekend. I'll leave no comment about it other than what's obvious to me - over the course of two years shooting I realize that the project is as much about how the homes are inseparable from the flora in the environment as the homes themselves.

These new photos will be in the iBook version 1.6 - should be on the iTunes store within a month or so - the iBook is like an App in that if you have a copy already you can update it and get the latest version free of charge when it's available. 


Los Angeles as War Zone

This comment from 'John' about West Adams in yesterday's Untold LA Slate article really stood out to me:

"The houses in West Adams are beautiful, but a few blocks in most directions and your in a war zone."

I think this mentality is one of the reasons so many people have no idea of the historical and cultural richness we have here. If it's South of Wilshire people seem to think we live in some sort of Walking Dead meets Waterworld hellscape. 

As I commented back in the article: I live in West Adams and a couple of blocks to the south of me is USC, to the north is Downtown, to the east is the LA Trade Tech College and a new tram stop and to the west is Midtown. There’s no war zone. 

This idea that LA is some sort of, I don’t know - gangland hell? seems to be a hangover from what? The Zoot Suit Riots? Watts? The Rodney King trial? Innumerable crime movies with 'LA' as their setting?

I don’t know - but look at the crime rate - it’s the lowest it’s ever been, by far: Wikipedia - Crime in Los Angeles.

The photo posted above is a definitely non-War Zone street in West Adams. Though maintaining those Palm Trees is probably a bitch.

Instagramming Up a Storm

As I'm waiting, (in a semi-frustrated manner), for Untold LA to appear back on Apple's iTunes thought I'd post some of my Instagram shots of the neighborhood.

As I talked about in this video one of the ways Untold LA could have been done is as a purely social, mobile experiment where the project existed purely in the Instagram or Facebook realm instead of as a finite object that is downloaded locally in the hands of a user as is the case now with the iPad Book.

There is something to be said for that process. Camera phones have improved so dramatically over the years; the image processing power combined with the ingenuity of new software creates a space for drama, power and whimsy hereto unthinkable in such a small form.

With this in mind it's natural to ask how much is gained by using DSLR's or even the Untold LA camera, the Fuji X-Pro 1, if the final form is not a large gallery-type print but something that is observed on a small illuminated panel.

I think the answer, for me, has become apparent.

Untold LA is not a finite object, just the iPad book or possible print version, it's an on-going concern that exists in multiple ways. So while the iPad Book is its most dramatic, involving form, (there's just nothing like holding this thin slab of glass with hundreds of illuminated photos you can quickly scroll through, combined with hours of audio and video), the online/social component that allows mobile connected photography to bloom has become just as valuable.

Valuable in the sense that it shows the homes of Los Angeles' West Adams as beautiful, stunning inhabited objects worthy of study and love.

[All photographs in this post taken during the last couple of weeks in the North University Park neighborhood of Los Angeles' West Adams]