For four years in the late 1960s and early '70s, photographer Dennis Feldman hit Hollywood Boulevard in his tattered jeans and cowboy boots, a Rolleiflex camera around his neck.
There he captured people playing some very wild, very real roles. On this iconic street — whose very name evokes the glamour of Hollywood, even if its reality is far more mundane or gritty — Feldman found a wild intersection of tourist guides, drifters, wannabe rockers and mustachioed dandies, along with the hopeful and the despondent. Everyone, he says, wore a kind of costume.
"You could see that people had taken these archetypal identities out of the movies and were trying to live them," he says. "There's a guy who is costumed as the cliché of a silent film director. There's a guy who wants to be a rock star, and he has the costume, down to the guitar case prop."
With his camera, Feldman captured a brief moment in the lives of these characters.
Now his poignant black-and-white images — some of which reside in the Metropolitan Museum of Art's permanent collection in New York — have now been gathered into a book: "Hollywood Boulevard, 1969-1972."
"I'm interested in the psychological aspects of people," Feldman says. "What's in their minds, their identity."
Yet the artist got into photography because of the movie business. As a young student at Harvard University, he took up the camera after a fellow student told him that photography was necessary for anyone interested in becoming a director.
Though he would eventually enter the film business (where he has worked as screenwriter and director), for much of the 1970s he took pictures: in Hollywood, in tumble-down L.A. hotels, and on a cross-country trip where he traveled in an old Ford pickup for 11 months.
But Hollywood Boulevard provided him with a parade of drama and flash.
"You can't get into the studios," Feldman says. "The dream factories have guards. The agents all have receptionists. But you can walk that street and dream."
"Hollywood Boulevard: 1969-1972," ($49.95) by Dennis Feldman is available from Artbook / D.A.P.
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