Photo File: ‘Faraway So Close’ documents turbulent ‘80s in L.A.

The ‘80s were a turbulent time in the City of Angels. Gentrification and revitalization of downtown and Hollywood Boulevard were still years away, the punk subculture had yet to be co-opted by suburban shopping malls and relations between law enforcement and the region’s racial minorities exploded from time to time.

Evocative and provocative images of such themes are at the heart of “Faraway So Close: Photographs of Los Angeles in the ‘80s,” a group show running through Saturday at the Morono Kiang Gallery in the Bradbury Building downtown.

Artists whose work is in the show are Sara Jane Boyers, Edward Colver, Willie Robert Middlebrook, Shervin Shahbazi (who also curated the exhibition), Ann Summa, May Sun, Mark Vallen and Richard Wyatt. Longtime observers of the Southland’s music scene will find special interest in some of the photos from Colver, represented with explosive shots of Black Flag, Minor Threat and the Dead Kennedys, and Summa, who also comprehensively documented the early years of L.A. punk.

Colver’s photo of the scene outside a Hollywood Boulevard theater at the 1981 premiere of Penelope Spheeris’ celebrated punk documentary “The Decline of Western Civilization” communicates volumes about the combative atmosphere from which punk arose like a weed through a crack in a sidewalk: The street is lined with dozens of police motorcycles, setting the stage for battle.


Summa, whose work sometimes appeared in The Times’ music coverage, contributed a fascinating shot titled “The Tourists, Hollywood, 1984,” which she shot on Hollywood Boulevard with a Widelux camera that allows for a 180-degree panoramic view.

In another noteworthy moment in L.A. music, Middlebrook tagged along with reggae giant Bob Marley when the Rasta king visited Watts.

Vallen’s focal point is L.A.'s Latino community, including a celebratory shot from 1980 of a group of young men in MacArthur Park just moments before a clash with police erupted during an International Workers’ Day rally. Wyatt is represented with two shots of African American females, one his grandmother, the other his young daughter in front of a giant mural of herself.

“Each photograph is a certificate of presence that leads us back to a time that will never be repeated,” the gallery says, “but upon reflection makes the viewer contemplate what has changed and what remains the same.”