Book Review: Los Angeles, Portrait of a City

Sun and neon

At last, the city at the end of the rainbow gets the Taschen treatment: a large, chunky, 570 page, visual history. This is more than just an ordinary picture book though because so many of the photos, after the Thirties, have been taken by named photographers (there are biographies of thirty-nine of them at the back of the book) and it's the mixing of their work and anonymous photos that I thought gave the book a special feel. Another interesting theme reflects the creativity of the city with the use of quotes from well-known historical books and movies that appear throughout the pages, nicely with a graphic of the jacket or poster.

Having looked through the pages a few times it does seem amazingly comprehensive. The seven chapters run from 1862 to the last photo in 2005. Each starts with a several hundred word overview followed by a spread with a period map then by captioned photos. Cultural, political and sports personalities, architecture (including street scenes plus industry) and historic news photos are the dominant themes and I thought the selection was rather impressive, there doesn't seem to be any image that would make me say "Just why is that one included".

What I really love about the book is its big page size. Pin-sharp photos from before 1940 are frequently run over a spread and look terrific as do news photos from later decades (all printed with a 175 screen). Tying in with the historical book and movie links throughout the book the back pages carry a recommended list of viewing, listening and reading material that sum up this intriguing city.

A slightly similar photo book of Los Angeles but with images selected from the last few decades which might be worth checking out is Looking At Los Angeles, with many of the same well-known photographers as Jim Heimann's book.

Los Angeles, Portrait of a City is available at Amazon (US | CA | UK | DE | FR | IT | ES | JP | CN) and Book Depository

Los Angeles, Portrait of a City

Los Angeles, Portrait of a City

Los Angeles, Portrait of a City
Simon's drive-in on Wilshire, 1939. Throughout the book there are wonderful large photos like this.

Los Angeles, Portrait of a City
Grauman's Chinese on Hollywwod Boulevard in 1929.

Los Angeles, Portrait of a City
Streetcar map from 1929.

Los Angeles, Portrait of a City
Left: what could symbolize LA better than Welton Becket's Capitol Tower at night.

Los Angeles, Portrait of a City

Los Angeles, Portrait of a City
Jazz West Coast at home in Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse, Hermosa Beach, 1960

Los Angeles, Portrait of a City
A couple by Editor Jim Heimann. Left: a Fairfax Avenue newsstand, 1985.

Los Angeles, Portrait of a City
Burn it up in South Central, 1965.

Los Angeles, Portrait of a City
Right: some of the 484 homes destroyed by fire in Bel Air, 1961.

Los Angeles, Portrait of a City
Right: Spring and First streets, 1902.

Los Angeles, Portrait of a City
Right: a shop on Hollywood Boulevard,1950

Los Angeles, Portrait of a City
Unfortunately all gone. The thirties craze for dotty buildings.

Los Angeles, Portrait of a City
The book's endpapers with a 1894 view.

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