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No, it is not a declaration of love. It is more like the swan song of a faded beauty – a beauty never truly understood, but who always knew how to dazzle, to seduce and to draw attention to herself. The fact that Christian Werner has always been fascinated by the legendary city is very evident in his picture series, yet he manages to avoid any typical clichés. During the visits he has made regularly since 2015, he appears to have consistently applied an imaginary regime to his picture-taking process.

One might consider the first rule to have been: do not photograph any people! No stars or starlets, not even the tiniest motes of star dust for all the hopefuls who come to try out their luck in the metropolis. There is no one there: the streets and squares under the burning California sun are empty. Has the ultimate crisis pushed the inhabitants to a mass exodus? It is almost as though that might have been the case, allowing the photographer to quietly document the strange, and at times absurd, legacy left behind – including a pool vacuum cleaner and plastic props.

Second rule: take pictures of animals – at least those that still remain! They are, however, stuffed or made of ceramic or concrete – only a few birds circle the city or linger at urban waterways. Nature in Los Angeles – if that is what you want to call the palm trees and succulents surrounded by concrete – has also seen better days. Half-dessicated plants like bizarre still-lifes defy the sadness of the urban lay-out, defined by highways that divide the city into grids.

Third rule: avoid any well known cinema images that could emerge while photographing the architecture and streets. After all Los Angeles is not a film set; but rather looks like a chaotic conglomerate made up of surfaces, materials and structures. Peeling colours and crumbling stucco in front of a backdrop of palm trees: the American dream bubble seems to have burst, the city of dreams has declined into a depressive nightmare. With delightfully creepy imagery, this photo book reveals what the sudden demise of civilisation might look like. The photographer has managed to produce a piece of art that uses contemporary motifs to show a possible version of the future. The photo book represents a fine series of moments captured with great delicacy, while adding an appropriate touch of irony to show the whole decadence of a way of life.

At the very end of the magazine-format photo book, a couple of the city’s residents do get to have a say. On pink paper, service providers speak about their professional, everyday lives: limousine driver Jorge; life coach Dr. John; police helicopter pilot Julie Kay; Kim, the daughter of a stylist for the stars; and Thomas, a paddle tennis trainer. These interviews seem to represent a condensed version of all the city’s clichés. And what a great coup to have managed to put Tom Kummer in charge of the texts. (A reminder: the Swiss columnist provoked a real media scandal back in 2000, when it became known that parts of his interviews with Hollywood greats were based on pure invention). No surprise then that the ambiguous interviews could hardly have been done any better. Like no other, Kummer seems to understand the people and conditions in the city, and the “culture of deception” (in the words of one of those he interviewed). The interviews are like the echoes of a life style that the pictures seem to suggest is now in the past. What a delightfully mean pleasure it is to observe Los Angeles through the photographer’s merciless kaleidoscope.
(Ulrich Rüter)

Christian Werner
Los Angeles
144 pages, 102 colour pictures, 33 x 23 cm, German, Korbinian-Verlag.
With interviews by Tom Kummer

Christian Werner

Born in 1977, the Leica photographer from Berlin works for many national and international magazines such as Zeit magazine or Numéro and clients such as SSENSE and 032c. His work focusses primarily on long-term projects, which have already resulted in a number of books: another recent publication is Bonn. Atlantis der BRD (Bonn, Atlantis of the FRG) (see the corresponding portfolio in LFI issue 3/2019).

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