Gusmano Cesaretti’s ‘East L.A. Diary’


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As a boy growing up in Italy, Gusmano Cesaretti dreamed of America. He listened to jazz and rock ‘n’ roll on Radio Monte Carlo and was enticed by the fantasy worlds portrayed by James Dean and Marlon Brando in Hollywood movies. Yet when he arrived in the U.S. it wasn’t the palatial estates and closed-off enclaves of the Westside that drew him in but rather the raw energy, graffiti, culture and people of East Los Angeles.

‘Driving around in my Volkswagen in Beverly Hills, I saw beautiful, surreal houses surrounded by walls but didn’t see many people,’ recalled Cesaretti. ‘I kept driving to East L.A. and thought, ‘This is great!’’


So began a photo career capturing subcultures such as the ‘80s L.A. punk scene, Folsom Prison and, recently, America’s Midwest. His photographic studies have also taken him to Mexico, Haiti and Southeast Asia.
Two dozen of his vintage black-and-white photographs from the early ‘70s are showcased at Roberts & Tilton gallery in Culver City. ‘East LA Diary’ features his early work, in which he immersed himself in the low-rider subculture of East L.A.’s Klique car club.

Independent curator Aaron Rose, who worked on the gallery show and with Cesaretti on the Museum of Contemporary Art’s recent ‘Art in the Streets’ exhibit, said, ‘He’s one of the few true artists documenting outlaw cultures in the tradition of Robert Frank. He’s truly a great photographer regardless of what he was shooting.’

Cesaretti, 65, believes that because he wasn’t American and that his English was bad, it allowed him to make a personal connection with the residents and earn their trust. ‘I was trying to read the graffiti, but it was difficult to interpret, so I found this guy, and he introduced me to this subculture of low riders, ‘ said Cesaretti, who has stayed in touch with many of the people in his photos. He’d hang out with them, go to clubs and tagged along with street artist Chaz Bojórquez to the L.A. River.

‘Children of Silence’ (Niños del Silencio), 35 photographs Cesaretti took in 2007 of the impoverished town of Colón, Panama, is also on view in a separate space in the gallery. ‘I was blown away by the incredible colors,’ said Rose. ‘The parallel and juxtaposition between these shots taken a few years ago and the ones from the ‘70s show the evolution of a photographer’s craft staying true to his type of style.’

Cesaretti’s work has been exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Huntington and is in the permanent collection at the Smithsonian Institute and MOCA.

Roberts & Tilton Gallery, 5801 Washington Blvd., Culver City, through Feb. 18. 11am - 6pm. Tues.-Sat.


-- Liesl Bradner

Images: ‘Untitled (East LA Diary),’ top and center. Bottom: ‘Untitled (Ninos Del Silencio),’ 2007 Gusmano Cesaretti. From the artist and Roberts & Tilton Gallery.