The idea for how to celebrate the first anniversary of the installation of Chris Burden’s Urban Light at LACMA began almost as soon as this new and inspiring landmark in Los Angeles was installed in February 2008. Throughout the days and nights of the past year, photographers and videographers have made their pilgrimage to Urban Light. The artwork’s temple form and its 24-hour invitation to walk within its structure so perfectly fuses the physical reality and transcendental magic of Los Angeles. It is, therefore, no surprise that the challenge to create and then capture the myriad experiences that Urban Light offers has been taken up by so many image-makers. This exhibition celebrates the wealth of creativity that Urban Light has inspired within us.
The vast majority of the submissions to Celebrating Urban Light were photographic, but we were thrilled to have inspired video and poetry entries. We made one stipulation for photographic submissions that, whether you used film or digital capture, the essence of the work was “in camera” and not reliant on digital post production techniques. The challenge to which over 200 hundred image-makers responded was a traditionally photographic one of being sentient and present, observing, and finding the visual language to represent their experience. There is a full and exciting range of strategies at play in this exhibition. Many of the photographs describe the strong formal qualities of the lines of lampposts, others emphasize the experience of standing within their towering forms. Some of the photographs were cleverly timed to bring these urban lights and the ambient light of the sun and the moon together within the same frame. There are other wonderful juxtapositions of the precision of Urban Light with human action, the dramatic shadows cast by the structure upon the sidewalk, and the organic poles of the palm tree trunks along Wilshire Boulevard.
Doug Hein’s winning photograph stood out for me because it was unlike any other photograph that we received. More than this, I really enjoy the economy of means that Doug employed—creating a distilled, rather than descriptive, experience of Urban Light. Perfectly timed for a full moon, Hein’s photograph captures the way that Urban Light itself condenses the pedestrian’s experience of this open-sky, luminous city.
Charlotte Cotton
Department Head and Curator
Wallis Annenberg Photography Department