C A M I L O J O S E V E R G A R A : By Night in LA
[17 August - 14 September, 2013]
Camilo José Vergara considers himself an “archivist of decline,” documenting changes in the urban landscape over time. Year after year, he returns to photograph the same places, creating an accumulation of images that present the ever-changing history of a community. Vergara depicts buildings as a stand-in for their inhabitants, stating that “a people’s past, including their accomplishments, aspirations and failures, are reflected less in the faces, postures and clothing of those who live in these neighborhoods than in the material, built environment in which they move and that they modify over time.” These images of space over time act as a collective portrait of a community with a depth and scope that a single portrait could not afford.
In the series By Night in LA, Vergara returned to the familiar structures he photographed during the day. The buildings take on new character and significance when daylight’s brightness gives way to darkness. Vergara writes, “it was not the stars that illuminated the LA night, it was electric lights. Contrasting with the day view, light at night often came from the buildings themselves…fences and spikes illuminated from behind and alleys lit with patches of yellow tungsten, white fluorescent, and neon lights.” These artificial lights describe the buildings in such a way that heightens the loneliness of Vergara’s almost empty cityscapes. From shops covered by text to a solitary church lit by a streetlight, Vergara’s buildings imply the people who built, frequent, and inhabit them. Vergara gives voice to the struggles of the absent inhabitants of these overlooked communities not by exploiting their image, but by presenting their environment as a straight document.