Review: ‘Driving LA’ at Craig Krull shows how cars, freeways shape the region

“Driving LA” paints a fascinating picture of the profound ways cars and freeways have changed Los Angeles and the way we perceive our surroundings.

At Craig Krull Gallery, transformations to the city’s infrastructure are clearly evident in the 63 photographs and one artist’s book, which span almost 90 years, from 1926 to 2013.

The two earliest, by E.O. Hoppe, show a forest of oil derricks covering Signal Hill and a filling station sandwiched between signs advertising gas for 2 cents a gallon and “The Girl Behind the Pump.”

The most recent, by John Humble, Jeff Brouws, Michael Light and Mark Swope, depict a landscape made possible — and precarious — by freeways, their benefits and pitfalls a big part of everyday life.

In between are stunning shots that record L.A.’s love-hate relationship with cars. Romance and glamour play major roles in Julius Shulman’s sexy pictures of dealers’ showrooms and Julian Wasser’s nighttime shots of famous bars and even more famous boulevards.


Clear-eyed objectivity gives a gritty kick to John Swope’s unsentimental pictures from the ’30s and ’40s, George Tate’s from the ’50s and ’60s, Malcolm Lubliner’s from the ’70s and Tim Bradley’s from the ’80s.

The transformation of L.A.’s landscape goes hand-in-glove with the transformation of the way we see our surroundings and make sense of them.

About half of the photos describe a world seen from a pedestrian’s perspective. In them, “the street” actually means “the sidewalk.” Reality is made up of face-to-face interactions.

In the other half, something new emerges: a car’s-eye view of the city.

It appears in three 1949 silver prints by Richard C. Miller, each measuring only 4 by 5 inches and showing, mostly, the hood of his car and the road ahead. Urban details are pushed to the margins — both of the picture and of life in the big city.

Today, the repercussions of that transformation are still with us. Although electronically illuminated screens have replaced windshields as the lenses through which we perceive just about everything, they have not brought back the face-to-face interactions that once defined urban life.

Craig Krull Gallery, 2525 Michigan Ave., Bergamot Station, Santa Monica, (310) 828-6410, through Aug. 23. Closed Sundays and Mondays.