b. 1947 Los Angeles, California
Some people ask, "What's so important or compelling about taking pictures of such unpleasant subjects like city dwellers?" . . . My work may be beautiful or it might not be, that just isn't what I am concerned with. I try to be open and face the city. . . . To me it's not unpleasant or unbeautiful, it's just life--which has to be threatening sometimes if it is going to be interesting." --Anthony Hernandez
Anthony Hernandez's 1970s photographs of urban inhabitants are often focused on odd-looking people staring right at the camera. His subjects often appear surprised and slightly perturbed, as if caught unaware in private moments of thought or conversation. Following two years of study at East Los Angeles College and two years of service in the United States Army as a medic in the Vietnam War, Hernandez took up photography in earnest around 1970. He walked the streets of his native Los Angeles, observing its inhabitants. In order to work quickly and intuitively, he would pre-focus the camera and then wait for subjects to come into the zone of focus--only briefly bringing the camera to his eye as he walked past them. He repeated this strategy in other cities, including London, Madrid, Saigon, and Washington, D.C. In later decades, Hernandez's photography might seem to have changed dramatically: from black-and-white to color, from wide shots to close ups, from people to places. But Hernandez's interest in urban environments--and cultural differences of class and race implied in them--has not. By the 1980s, Hernadez was working with large format cameras, which necessitated a slower and more deliberate shooting style. His 1979 series, Public Transit Areas , involved using a 5 x 7 inch camera on a tripod, and his subjects seem clearly aware of his presence. Rather than the off-kilter backgrounds of his earlier portraits, streets and buildings recede calmly into deep space. By the 1990s, Hernandez's style shifted again, as he concentrated on color and close-up details. Most of his pictures since the mid-1980s are devoid of human subjects--although their presence is felt. Projects such as Landscapes for the Homeless (1988-91), Waiting for Los Angeles (1996-98), and Everything (The Los Angeles River Basin) (2003-4) documented how the city's human presence has been reduced to the traces and debris left by destructive social forces.