The Wilshire Project

 Wilshire Boulevard runs almost sixteen miles—roughly the length of
Manhattan—from the skyscrapers in downtown Los Angeles to the ocean in Santa Monica. It cuts its way through communities that make up the city’s very heart. Some names every local knows, and others carry fame worldwide—MacArthur Park; Korea Town; Hancock Park; the Miracle Mile; Beverly Hills. Along its one hundred ninety-five blocks, the pedestrian encounters every kind of person, every nationality, every architectural style, every kind of business, every kind of landmark that has come to typify the City of Angels. In short, Wilshire Boulevard is Los Angeles.

 Wilshire, more than any other of Los Angeles’s thoroughfares, is
alive. It stands out in a city mocked and celebrated for its car
culture. Every block teems with vibrant humanity; people doing
business, shopping, strolling for pleasure, simply getting out of the
house. You can find the city itself—its people—out on Wilshire
Boulevard. A portrait of the street and its people becomes a portrait
of the city.

 The sense that Wilshire both emblematically and literally constitutes
the essence of Los Angeles drives this project. Between 2003 and 2011,
I took portraits of people on every corner of Wilshire Boulevard.

 I gave myself simple rules. Every corner would be represented,
documented by a street sign. I only took photographs of people I
encountered on the street. They determined the locations, not
landmarks, remarkable architecture, or great views. I wanted to
document the living city, not its buildings.

 I chose to take full-length portraits because they are more personal,
more revealing. Head shots and other close-ups can be much more
generic. They hide clothing, handbags, canes, and shoes. They also
allow the person to camouflage himself. When the whole body gets
involved, the person’s individuality emerges. There is simply too much
to control. The way a woman holds her hands; a man’s legs when he
stands; the angle of a head registering impatience; shoulders thrown
back in pride—the revealing personal habits and quirks that make each
of us unique—cannot be suppressed.

 I had no preparatory questions and set no requirements, except that
they were on Wilshire Boulevard and willing to pose for roughly six
exposures. I asked people to look at the camera, but gave no other
directions. Their poses remain their own, personal statements of those
individuals in those particular times at those specific places.

 I think when you take a picture of someone that way, it’s a kind of
test for them. They have an opportunity. It is a chance to answer the
question: How do you want to be remembered? At this time, in this
place? It’s up to you. Some took the opportunity to promote
themselves. Others struggled to hide their emotions and themselves. I
had no interest in taking flattering, or unflattering, shots. I wanted
to show people as they wanted to present themselves.

 I did not ask people for their stories, but many gave them anyway.
There was the man just released from prison. A woman studying law; a man selling Bibles who made me promise to read the scriptures; aspiring actors and musicians; homeless people expressing quiet dignity; and tourists exploring the city in the most unorthodox way, by walking. And on Wilshire and Ocean, the final block, I photographed a friend who in a city of 3.8 million people, just happened to be passing by.

 The result captures an essence unique to a city so often simplified,
stereotyped, and misrepresented. Ultimately, the Wilshire Project
makes tangible the diversity, complexity, and simple basic humanity
inherent to Los Angeles.