Sears, Roebuck & Co., Bellingham & Hamlin, North Hollywood is a black and white aerial photograph of a parking lot in North Hollywood, Los Angeles. The angle from which the photograph was taken almost parallels the ground below. Two large structures occupy the lower portion of the photograph and appear almost flat, with their upright walls only just visible. In contrast, the walls of the residential houses dotted along the cul-de-sac in the upper portion of the photograph are visible beneath their overhanging roofs. This area is also populated by trees, parked cars and outbuildings, while the large parking lot in the centre of the image is uncluttered and almost empty. As a result, the straight white lines marking the individual parking bays, and the darker tyre marks and oil stains that occupy almost every space can be apprehended as a carefully crafted pattern that can only be seen from above.
Sears, Roebuck & Co., Bellingham & Hamlin, North Hollywood was originally produced for Ruscha’s book Thirtyfour Parking Lots in Los Angeles, published in 1967. The book is forty-eight pages in length and encompasses thirty-one photographs depicting thirty-four parking lots. Ruscha hired a helicopter to fly over downtown Los Angeles for an hour and a half and employed Art Alanis, a commercial photographer, to take the photographs for him while Ruscha pointed out which parking lots to shoot. In the late 1990s Ruscha then chose to print some of the photographs as individual silver gelatin prints. Sears, Roebuck & Co., Bellingham & Hamlin, North Hollywood is one such print.
Art historian Alexandra Schwartz has called Thirtyfour Parking Lots ‘one of the most formally compelling of Ruscha’s books’ (Schwartz 2010, p.132). As Schwartz noted, ‘[t]he resulting images call attention to the compelling visual motifs created by the shapes of the lots (triangles, trapezoids, circles, squares, rectangles, rhomboids) and the orderly formation of their parking spaces’ parallel lines’ (Schwartz 2010, p.132). However, Ruscha himself was not so concerned with the formal qualities of the individual photographs, stating in 1972: ‘Architects write me about the parking lots book because they are interested in seeing parking lot patterns and things like that. But those patterns and their abstract design quality mean nothing to me [...] I’ll tell you what is more interesting: the oil droppings on the ground.’ (Quoted in Schwartz 2010, p.133.) Curator Sylvia Wolf has argued instead that, in this work, ‘Ruscha’s engagement with photography reflects a sociological approach to the urban landscape’, whereby the significance of the images lies in their status as documents of a particular place and time (Wolf 2004, p.144). This way of thinking about the photographs is supported by their titles: Sears, Roebuck & Co., Bellingham & Hamlin, North Hollywood records the exact location of the parking lot, providing factual information that corresponds to the indexical quality of the image.
As an individual print, Sears, Roebuck & Co., Bellingham & Hamlin, North Hollywood can now be seen outside of the context of the Thirtyfour Parking Lots book. Ruscha has explained his decision to reprint his photographs: ‘Originally, I thought that the pictures were a means to an end, a vehicle to make a book. And then along the way there was some gear shifting. Over the years, I began to appreciate the print quality and see my photographs as not necessarily reproductions for a book, but as having their own life as silver gelatin prints.’ (Quoted in Wolf 2004, p.215). This later statement does not necessarily contradict his earlier remarks, but does demonstrate the way in which Ruscha often returns to earlier work. As he says, ‘I have always operated on a kind of waste-retrieval method’ (quoted in Wolf 2004, p.220).
Sylvia Wolf, Ed Ruscha and Photography, New York 2004.
Margit Rowell, Ed Ruscha: Photographer, Gottingen 2006.
Alexandra Schwartz, Ed Ruscha’s Los Angeles, Cambridge, Massachusetts 2010.
The University of Edinburgh
The University of Edinburgh is a research partner of ARTIST ROOMS.