By MICHAEL PERKINS
A DRIVE DOWN OCEAN AVENUE IN SANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA, directly opposite the town’s fabled Pacific Park (and that glorious neon pier entrance), is usually a slow and stately one, given the nonstop traffic along the city’s main artery, which is itself a major link to the Pacific Coast Highway. The streets are regularly clogged with visitors, a given in a city that, only a hundred years ago, was a sleepy bedroom community far enough away from Hollywood Proper to be thought of as an exclusive (and slightly shady) getaway for the rich and famous.
The Georgian Hotel, Santa Monica, California, July 3, 2021
One of SM’s most venerable architectural citizens is the gloriously Deco-rative Georgian Hotel, which, during the waning days of Prohibition, gained notoriety as a glamorous go-to for those seeking a little under-the-table taste. In the California of the late 1920’s, Santa Monica was still not long past its days as a tiny Chinese-Japanese fishing village, with the site of the hotel surrounded by a small forest, and….not much else. The Georgian’s formal 1933 opening coincided with the return of legal liquor, which confirmed its status as a chic retreat for the film community, with the likes of Clark Gable and Carole Lombard enjoying the ocean views alongside occasional clandestine stays from Al Capone and Bugsy Siegel. The hotel came to be the visual signature of the town’s full entry into the 20th century, and of the non-stop westward sprawl from L.A. that would continue to transform the waterfront for decades to come. By 2000, this elegant symphony in aquamarine attained monument status, and underwent a multi-million dollar restoration, guaranteeing its survival to the present day.
Photographing what I call a First-Tier-Postcard attraction, a place that everyone feels they simply must check off their bucket lists, doesn’t often result in anything new being done, beyond merely recording one’s “take” of it. In some ways, famous places are the most challenging things to shoot, since you’re in competition with the entire world in your desire to say something personal or unique. But, as this summer marks almost twenty years since the last time I photographed the Georgian, I recently approached the task with as much “just do it” zen energy as possible. It continues to delight and fascinate me with its quiet elegance, and its ability to evoke a world that has largely vanished, even as it’s been joined by other brighter, brassier neighbors over the years. Sometimes it’s just a privilege to be standing where so much magic has happened, and to take comfort that, to a degree, some of the old spell persists.
By MICHAEL PERKINS
PUBLIC PLACES, ESPECIALLY RECREATION SPACES, ARE A REAL STUDY IN IMAGE CONTROL. The world’s playgrounds and theme parks are, of course, in the business of razzle-dazzle, and their marquees, grand courts and official entrances are carefully crafted facades designed to delight. For photographers, that usually means we all take the same pictures of the same Magic Gate or Super Coaster or whatever. Great for convenience: not so great for photography.
I’m not saying that it’s impossible to improvise a different way to frame something new in shooting something overly familiar. But I am saying that sneaking around to the service entrance can have its points, too, offering a flavor of things that are a little funkier, a little less polished, a little less ready for prime time. I recall my dad, who, years ago, dreamed of taking the ultimate “real” shots of the circus, trolling around near some of the lesser-traveled entrances and halls, trying to catch the clowns and acrobats either just before or just after their time in the ring. I still pursue that strategy sometimes.
Pacific Park, the amusement center along the boardwalk at the Santa Monica pier, is a predictably colorful, semi-cheesy mix of carny sights and smells. The main foot traffic is straight down the pier to the fishing lookout, but there are alternate ways to get there along the back of the ride and games section. This shot is rather gauzy, as it’s taken through some sun-flecked netting, softening the color (and the appearance of reality) for some gaming areas. I took a lot of standard stuff on this day, but I keep coming back to this frame. It’s not a work of art, by any means, but I like the feeling that I’m not supposed to be there.
Of course, where I’m not supposed to be is, photographically, exactly where I want to be.
You never know when you might spy a clown without his rubber nose.