By Michelle Park – Photos by Loretta Ayeroff
People often move to a different city to avoid their problems, but Loretta Ayeroff makes her move to face the location of her shoot. Beyond the tourist known areas of LA, Loretta captures scenes and subjects that evoke the ‘60s, especially among “The Motel Series.” As an educator and a photographer, our photographer of the week has much to say about her work, as well as a handful of advice to aspiring photographers.
How did you get into photography? Was there any specific incident that started it all?
Well, like a lot of the photographers, I was given a big camera when I was very young. I was given a Brownie Starmite by my uncle, and that was probably around the age of eight or eleven. That’s when I started taking pictures. I also can identify the first photograph I’d taken—it was a squirrel standing upright on a rock in Yosemite.
You have quite a colorful resume: editorial photographer for The LA Times, instructor at UCLA Extension and Otis, and film coordinator for the Getty… Apart from your pursuing your personal practice as a photographer, what was your most enjoyable job so far?
I love teaching. I’ve been teaching since 1983, and I am still teaching. I really liked running the program at Otis in the Continuing Education Department, which I’ve been doing for a number of years, hiring people like John Humble and various photographers for the class. But I think my most favorite job, other than shooting pictures, is doing film series on photography. I’ve done four, on the history of photography, two for Otis and two for the Getty, which were documentary films either about photographers or about the history of photography. I think it is really a great way to get that information across; I would like to do one more that I have in mind: I would like to do a film series to reproduce film of photo which was the first known documentary film series circa Germany 1938. It went along with an exhibition of photography, mostly German photographers at the time, but also included people like Edward Weston, and a couple of other American photographers. It’s been reproduced in the ‘70s, and I just think that it would be a wonderful event to do over again now.
Within our 24-hour social media challenge, you managed to collect 91 “LIKES” in the limited time—how did you promote yourself to win the challenge?
I am very… well, I don’t want to say active, but I really use facebook as my primary form of communication now, because I have a lot of friends who are spread out all over the world… Once [the Photographer of the Week Challenge] got posted on facebook, it was pretty to easy keep posting it and asking for “likes” and “shares,” but I also put the link on twitter and my art culture blog, not to mention on emails. But it was hard for people to go and “like” from an email, if they were not a facebook member. Some of them wouldn’t go the extra step to do that, but a lot of them did.
What equipment do you shoot with?
Skipping right ahead, skipping all the film cameras, I now just use a small, Olympus digital camera.
Do you miss film, since your transition to digital, after shooting “Mountain View, Edris Drive, 2006,” your last film series?
I don’t miss film. I do, however, have a fantasy that I will go back to film pretty soon, like maybe within another year or two. To me, the quality of print, the final analysis, is like the final message. I just don’t see it as replicated as well as you can with film. Yet, I have to admit that it took me about a year to get used to the physicality, or the physical difference in the [digital] camera. At first, I felt like I had learn how to sort of bear with the digital camera… Now, it has just become an extension of my eye, and I am very comfortable with it, and I prefer it to the viewfinder—I am fully backing digital photography.
Tell us more about your series “Los Angeles: Dedicated to Raymond Chandler.” Any specific reason why you made the dedication to the novelist and screenwriter?
I moved from Edris Drive in 2006, which is where I shot that last group of images in film. In 2007, I moved two times—I moved to another part of Los Angeles that I hadn’t lived in before, a much older part near Highland and Venice. It turned out that Raymond Chandler and his wife lived in the corner of each one of those residences. At the time, I was reading a lot of Chandler short stories and some of his personal writings. When I discovered exactly where he lived, I just thought it was destined that my work began to get kind of darker, a bit more noir like; I just attribute that to being in the same neighborhood as Raymond Chandler. I think there was some energy going on there that affected my work.
In “The Motel Series,” it’s amazing how you bring back the ‘60s with photographs taken in the ‘80s. Tell us what inspired you to shoot these motels in Desert Hot Springs.
I was working on the “Ruins” series at that time, and I brought it to New West Magazine (now California Magazine). [They gave me a green light], and for the next year, I made two trips, at their expense, to northern and southern California. At that point, I began to feel as though what things were completely out of my control; other than my shooting methods, everything was being controlled by the magazine. [To counter-balance this] and regain control on my personal work, I started to shoot motels in the Desert Hot Springs with my young daughter—she was about 2 or 3 years old at the time. We would stay in these very inexpensive hotels, and I just began photographing them. Later on, after I made this series, these little motels were turned into very chic spas or retreats. The culture of these little, cheap motels doesn’t exist anymore.
With the “Ruins” series being directed by California Magazine, and “The Motel Series” being self directed and realized, tell us about the difference in shooting for editorial versus a more personal project.
It’s interesting that you ask that question, because the “Ruins” actually started out as a personal project. I was into photographing crumbling, old structures. So that really started out as a personal project, and then later on, it went onto being published. I am also in the process of working with a writer, Geoff Nicholson, who wrote The Hollywood Walker, to do a project on the ruins, a kind of re-photographing the ruins that were in the original series. The difference is sometimes a little bit slim, because my personal work usually winds up in an editorial content, or it’s published in a fine art publication… The “Ruins”, as published in the magazine, used completely different photographs than that of my choice; I didn’t even have a choice at the time, because they owned it, so they chose what they wanted. For my website, I chose ones that I liked. When you are working for someone, and they are paying your expenses, you have to collaborate, and you have to be ready to compromise, and I am always agreeable about that.
In your biography, you mention that you’d prefer to have the location of shoot “right outside [your] door.” What is your next move for your next project?
I’ve been living the past eight months in Topanga Canyon, which is a very mountainous region in Los Angeles. Every time I drive into town, my senses are lit up, and I say, “Where do I really want to shoot this time?” Oddly enough, I keep going back to my same neighborhood of Beverly Woods, where Edris Drive was shot, and where I lived for many years—I very much appreciate the architecture of that period and that area. For example, I could never live in the Valley, because there’s no architecture there. None—it’s just shopping center after shopping center. An area has to evoke a kind of a mood for me that I can shoot from dawn to dusk, and into nighttime. There has to be some electrical lights, some mixed lights, and there has to be character in the architecture. That’s what I am thinking about as I am probably going to be back in my same area or near by, when I move back around November.
What advice do you have for aspiring photographers out there?
There’s a quote from Alfred Stieglitz that I really like, that I give to my students at the end of every class:
“…The only advice is to study the best pictures in all media – from painting to photography – and to study them again and again, analyze them, steep yourself in them until they become a part of your aesthetic being. Then, if there be any trace of originality within you, you will intuitively adapt what you have thus made a part of yourself, and tinctured by your personality you will evolve that which is called style.”
Alfred Stieglitz, “Simplicity in Composition” from “The Modern Way of Picture Making”, 1905.
You have to shoot, period. You have to have that camera with you no matter what it is, whether it’s your cell phone and you are doing Instragram, or like me, carrying around a pocket camera. You must be able to see into light, and I have various ways of helping people become aware of this critical, photographic element, by being observant from dawn till dusk. Even in the dark, there is light. Also, it’s important to study the history of photography to present day, but definitely up to the ‘80s. When my students ask what class they should take after mine, I tell them to take a wet darkroom class. Unless you’ve really printed, or at least observed, wet dark room practices, I think you miss out on a huge understanding about photography.
All images © 2012 Loretta Ayeroff: loretta-ayeroff.photoshelter.com