Los Angeles

Anthony Hernandez

Christopher Grimes Gallery

MAKE ME A LATE BREAKFAST: A T-shirt emblazoned with this decadent demand appears near the top of Anthony Hernandez’s photograph Beverly Hills #34, 1984, behind a wild-maned Raquel Welch wannabe posing in a gray, asymmetrical jersey dress. In a complex act of doubling—of herself and of the stillness of the photographic image—the woman also wants to be a mannequin: She is not posing specifically for the photograph, but was apparently frozen in this stance in order to sell clothes off the rack to tourists in Beverly Hills.

Known in recent years for his meticulously composed images of evacuated spaces—the depopulated construction site of the Walt Disney Concert Hall; barren industrial tunnels accommodating the Los Angeles River; abandoned provisional homeless dwellings—Hernandez’s recent exhibition of sixteen candid color shots taken on and around Rodeo Drive in 1984 place the human subject front and center. Despite adopting an improvisational mode of street photography very different from his current approach, these vintage images—particularly the lush “Beverly Hills” series—are aesthetically striking, but their form also serves their documentary function. The reemergence of these strangely familiar images suggests an attenuated feedback loop of cultural nostalgia for another deeply conservative period. In 1984, Los Angeles might as well have been the center of the universe (it hosted the Olympics), with Beverly Hills the capital of an image-conscious, mythmaking Empire. These photos index specificity: Pretty women displaying feats of hairspray engineering; a man sporting manicured eyebrows; the design of a Diet Coke can; the gold-framed windows of Cartier; the yellow-and-white striped awnings of what looks like Giorgio—and above all else the gloss of Reaganomics, in all its optimistic glory.

A case in point: Beverly Hills #11 captures Wally George, pioneering host of the conservative talk show The Hot Seat, with signature icy blond comb-over, holding hands with a confident young woman. In Beverly Hills #3, a glamorous brunette, with red Ray-Ban sunglasses perched atop her head, applies eye makeup in the reflective golden sign for Bellini’s, a high-end children’s furniture store: The solipsistic image metonymically suggests a society of superficial self-involvement. Even when not posing like mannequins, many of these subjects still seem to be willing victims of the “decisive moment” that fixes them in time. With society, and all of its historical minutiae, caught in the reflection of storefronts, these images recall the Paris albums of Eugène Atget (see, for example, the four “lifelike” male mannequins behind glass in his uncanny Magasin avenue des Gobelins, 1925).

In the back gallery, Hernandez exhibited ten smaller black-and-white photographs taken in the early ’70s in downtown Los Angeles and Hollywood. These mirrored the candid approach of “Beverly Hills,” but their reflections are grittier: The subjects appear overwhelmed by unseen forces, the jewelry-shop displays are empty, and the coat on a mannequin was already well out of fashion when the photograph was taken. The contrast between the two series is all too obvious, but the individual photos remain complex and affecting. In Hollywood #1, 1973, two grand dames, excessively made up and coiffed, with hemlines too high for their age, walk through a construction zone, with a young woman about to pass them by: Time rendered palpable.

Michael Ned Holte