Vincent Johnson’s Artist statement from 2005 on Vernacular architecture project:
My artistic practice is currently concerned with the production of an archive of digital photographic images of the remains of Los Angeles’ and Southern California’s vernacular architecture after the inception of the motel in the 1920’s through intriguing phase that delivered the fantasy of neon noir architecture of the 1940’s and 1950’s. Since the majority of this form of architectural history are in forlorn and neglected avenues of Los Angeles and beyond, I do not consider the project to be a form of cultural tourism, but an authentic investigation and concern that gives rise to a cultural document as history. On occasion I will also produce a photograph that documents the relationship between the 1950’s through the 1970’s car culture and California private residences.
I work in Los Angeles, which has an exceptional amount of interesting architectural artifacts from the First World War period onwards. Many portions of the Los Angeles that I depict come into existence when New York was attempting to wrest the thorn crown of painting from Paris and succeeded. In the course of producing my photographic archive, I have employed strategies of production such as those used by the flaneur and the derive, in day and at night, by car and on foot, primarily in a stark and challenging urban territory, the Anti-City that is Los Angeles. Similarly, I have also allowed myself to merely wander through this world as the American artist that I am, and fall into pictures and spaces that call for documentation.
It is my experience that driving a car in Los Angeles and seeing the world through its windows is a complex real-time cinematic event. There is a temporary encounter and an enduring intimacy through memory via the photographed subject – this produces the photograph, as versus a sustained relationship with a single but ever-changing street scene. Through auto travel one is given the privileged observer position of moving through the world as a real-time unedited film, a cinema-state; to take a number of photographs of it afterwards. Often, when I drive I look about and “remember” key images, photographs of urban sites from the mid-century and earlier that I will take pictures of in the future.
Despite the relative youth of Los Angeles cultural architectural properties from the mid-20th century and earlier, they are constantly vanishing from the physical landscape of the state, as the dead architecture and their signs are either demolished or their elegant features are almost erased. Part of my project is documentary in the recognition of this reality. At certain times and places in Southern California, merely by driving about, one can gain a very strong sense of the lifestyles of Los Angeles’ remarkable architectural past, in reinvented forms of openness to new possibilities, without external pressure, to fulfill the promise of the future.
Lake Balboa, California
Vincent Johnson on his Vernacular architecture project, 2005
The nature and form of my work is investigative and analytical. Each photograph in my body of work combines a commanding visual poetics with a documentary and literary sensibility. Visual movement enthralls me. By degrees my eyes now take in photographs of the commercial vernacular architectural history of Los Angeles. My work is driven both by a radical reader’s intensity – which is, my profound desire to continue read and to know the world through its myriad night forms and daylight appearances. I am both an image-maker and producer of fiction and of fact, in language and in vision. My project is expansive and expanding, from the old interior corridors of the first avenues of Los Angeles, roaming outwards to the edge locals of the region – Riverside, San Bernardino County, San Diego.
Vincent Johnson is an artist and writer in Los Angeles. He has recently been named a 2010 United States Artists Project artist.
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