Ella Roze Bandouveris realized at a young age that Hollywood must be a disappointing place for tourists. To the outsider, the expectation of a glamorous mecca becomes struck down by the reality of degradation and vapidity.
“It’s dirty and sad. That was something that’s so vivid and that has changed Los Angeles for me,” Bandouveris says.
In Los Angeles, as the tourist encounters, there is a constant schism between expectation and reality. The city itself, rapidly erected on land otherwise unfit for a metropolis, is a testament to the attempts the domestication of a desert, a struggle between the human-made and the natural. In Bandouveris’ photo series Sunset Boulevard, the dichotomies of Los Angeles are captured in combined photographs, overlaid and framed on one-another, capturing the contradictions and dualities of a city filled with them. While editing, she wanted the pictures to be like venn diagrams; the purpose was to compare.
The group of seven photographs were taken on an evening walk, during which Bandouveris describes herself as manic, emerging from a stint of creative block. Even the titles, set in all caps, convey this state of mind they were produced with. The fast-paced feel of the series is evident, a result of Bandouveris’ race to capture images of her neighborhood before the sun set. Pervading the images is the beautiful backdrop of twilight: a range of orange light to blue, cool colors define the tone of the series. Objects that are symbols of Los Angeles are framed inside of textural images. In the every-day subject matter, an underlying frantic feeling is revealed, often with the blurred quality of a shaky DSLR.
In one image, titled CAR CRASH THRU YOUR WINDOW, a monotone texture of a wrecked car might more resemble the reflective surface of a dark swimming pool. Superimposed on the car is an image of a window with its blinds opened, a yellow lamp brilliantly emanating from within, while Hockney-esque plants surround the light, both inside the room and outside. Bandouveris makes use of a familiar artistic representation of Los Angeles, but still somehow adds her own very personal conceptions to that mix.
The motif of the automobile is front and center in many of the photos. In CARS IN THE SKY, an old pastel yellow van is overlays an image—its frame—of a cool blue sky making way for evening; below, the enclosing horizon of silhouetted trees and powerlines have the same dynamism of a Franz Kline painting. The van, next to a juxtaposition of trees and wires, becomes a symbol offering the same narratives of decay between nature and the manmade. Even the small tuft of dried grass next to it seems intentionally included next to the hulking, deteriorating vehicle.
All of the cars are somewhat old: the camper, the Knight Rider headlight, and the lowrider evoke a Los Angeles straddling the line between nostalgic and present. It is an era both past and still current: not outdated enough to be kitsch, but still reminiscent of an automotive Los Angeles suspended in cumulative memory.
Other, more obvious lines are straddled—such as that between day and night. This duality is best explored through the photos of windows, which become closest to a human depiction the series gets still without showing actual people. Bandouveris’ windows serve as metaphors for what we know, and what we don’t know about people. “When you grow up in a space, you begin to learn everything about this home. But from the street, strangers only get the smallest glimpse into your life from your window.” During the day, a window is a place where those living on the inside can look out, and at night, a window frames the inside for the outsider. At Twilight, those contradictions intersect, and for a rare moment the window is both an aperture in and a casement out; the line between private and public blurred.
As there is grime, contradiction and authenticity in Sunset Boulevard’s Los Angeles, there is also humor. The humble Chinese takeout box strewn on dirt can be read in many different ways (the history of Chinese exclusion in LA, the west’s fascination with orientalism), but I was first struck by the unscathed look of the box, slyly peeking out of a broken paper bag. Bandouveris says that she walked across it, still full of noodles, begging more questions than can possibly be answered.
The images all come together to tell a story, that either Bandouveris serendipitously encountered or ingeniously captured. They are telling an overlooked narrative of Los Angeles.; similar to how Katherine Opie upended Julius Shulman’s architecturally spotless version of LA. It is the story of a city much dirtier than many like to think, messy with a history of schisms between the powerful and the sidelined, between expectation and reality, between the real and fake. Except this time, Bandouveris tells that story through the cars that are driven, windows looked out of, objects discarded. It is full of the craziness of the people it centers around, yet Sunset Boulevard depicts no one.
Ella Roze Bandouveris is a 17-year-old photography student at Grand Arts High School in Downtown Los Angeles. Holding a camera since age 10, Ella works every day to develop her style, technique and experience. She spends time volunteering at a local art studio teaching kids how to develop and print black and white film in the darkroom. Ella Roze strives to continue developing her portraiture and documentary photography portfolio and works constantly to improve and grow as an artist.