Los Angeles in the 1970s was an age filled with grit and glamour. The allure of Hollywood in its gilded age hasn’t faded; today, fashion, music, and film all pay homage to the 1970s and the glitterati that inhabited it then. But LA had a less glamorous side, too; photographer Gary Krueger captured the frenetic, the bizarre, and the surreal, currently on display in Gary Krueger’s City of Angels, 1971-1980, a new exhibition at Joseph Bellows Gallery.
Krueger came to California in 1963 right after finishing high school, driving from Cleveland, Ohio to Los Angeles to pursue graphic design and photography at the prestigious Chouinard Art Institute (now Cal Arts), joining the ranks of artists like Ed Ruscha, Larry Bell, and Robert Irwin, all of whom also studied at the Institute. After graduating, Krueger was offered a job at Imagineering, an arm of the Walt Disney Company that created and built their namesake theme parks. During his tenure there, he photographed the theme park and the events that took place there; in his spare time, he began to photograph scenes around Los Angeles that he describes as “split-second juxtapositions in life”.
It’s these photographs that comprise the exhibition; among the split-second juxtapositions feature the peculiar nature of street photography around LA in this period. In one image, a clown, suited head-to-toe in polka dots, stands alone on the sidewalk, his painted face grimacing; in another, a woman in a bra and underwear rides a mechanical rocking horse outside a storefront. While some of his subject’s faces are shown, a good many of them are anonymized, shown from below the neck, as Krueger was less interested in the person as a subject and more interested in the setting as a whole.
Though there is a range of subject matter, all of his photographs are imbued with a sense of texture, harkening back to Krueger’s training in graphic design. A figure wearing a furry coat faces away from the camera, the white-tinged fur poking out like the spikes of a sea urchin. Similarly, a group of girls with glimmering tiaras in their hair huddle together in a soft white blanket, their graphic fishnet tights peeking into view. These blends of harsh lines and delicate textures add a unique dimension to the work, with an appearance as though one could reach straight into the picture and run their hands through the fur coat, or feel the softness of the blanket.
There is a humor present, too, in many of these photographs. Looking at them now, this Hollywood seems to be a faraway dream, a bygone era filled with whimsy and celebration. “I don’t think the world is ever going to be as good as it was then,” he said in an interview. “I really think we lived in the golden age.”
By Christina Caccouris
Christina Cacouris is a writer and curator based in Paris and New York.
Gary Krueger: City of Angels, 1971-1980
Until March 19, 2021
Joseph Bellows Gallery
7661 Girard Avenue, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA