Taking a picture on a public street is a touchy thing. Unless they pose or give consent, I make it a point not to point my camera in people’s faces. I do take a certain type of picture surreptitiously, usually a public tableau, where people appear in the background, at a distance, or from behind. Usually I’m not taking pictures of people, per se, but things: buildings, streetscapes, nature. There are have been moments when people have demanded to know what the hell I’m up to with a camera, who did I think I was, taking pictures of their store without permission. Until last night, no one has ever crossed a busy boulevard to confront me as Fouad did when I took a picture of his tire shop at dusk.
In answer to the why, I told him I was a photographer.
‘Oh,’ he replied, his mood lightening considerably, ‘I thought you were up to some funny business.’
Satisfied I wasn’t a private detective or insurance investigator, he invited me to cross the street and take a picture closer up. He even cheerfully posed:
Downtown LA has two faces. Street level blight and architectural grandeur overhead. Two adjacent worlds not necessarily in opposition but now a symbiosis of urban life. Those who are drawn to the aesthetic of Tribeca West cannot wish away Skid Row. Those who live a blighted life cannot wish away the new, moneyed intrusion. Inevitably one must give way to the other, but for now its sort of a draw.
Same location, same business all these years. Old school, like out of a movie. The durability of trade. Think how much Valley history has passed through these doors. Think how few businesses like this have survived the encroach of franchisement, of strip mall big box stores and el Nino cycles of recession, and lived to tell about it.
A little tile and creative signage can make an ordinary strip mall business look…well, kinda Arts-District-y. Kudos to the owner. Down market retail doesn’t always have to be ugly. Good aesthetics raise the game for those in the vicinity, even inspire a virtuous circle of neighborhood improvement. Maybe the City could give out tax abatements to businesses which undertake de-uglification measures. Now why would it ever do that?