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Southern Californialand: Mid-Century Culture in Kodachrome Hardcover – June 14, 2004
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Contains over 170 color photos and descriptions of the Southern California lifestyle in the 1940s. 50s and 60s.
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My favorite factoid: an Arcadia supermarket's interior cornucopia is dated within the week it was shot. How? There's a dimly visible magazine rack in the center of a panoramic composition. Phoenix must have researched the "Time" cover, which he identifies as June 20, 1960. Stephen T. McCarthy in his review (I agree with his China remarks; but I checked this out from the library!) has already admired the Desert Hot Springs pool comments, which I found the cleverest in the book, but I also must nod to the "Perfect Suburban Couple" lounging on a dangerously white-grey loveseat with surrounded by three ashtrays. The city looks-- as it must have been-- far emptier and thanks to the film stock much more colorful and less dusty. Ike and Mamie materialize in Palm Springs, 1962, and as Phoenix marvels, there's a distinct lack of Secret Service around their arrival. A middle-aged crowd of cavorting couples at an Ike-era pool 'n' patio party does look, from the looks on their faces and the empty martini glasses on the table, to be progressingly quite well!
You learn of the fate of the Farmer John muralist in Vernon, how the Cabazon dinosaurs arose, and the how sturdy the demolition team found the ironically named House of the Future at Disneyland. The vanished kiddy parks, the ones that Disneyland helped make obsolete even as they inspired Disney's idea of a theme attraction wonderland, find a place here-- I'm curious how many there were in the Southland alone. Similarly, the demo derby race tracks and drag strips, but not nearly enough of the drive-ins (only Compton's Viking-themed one, which may astonish contemporary fans of that suburb) are shown. I suppose the author must work with what he has from chance finds taken by ordinary folks, but I expected more coverage of iconic edifices such as these.
There's a great snap of the parting of the Red Sea on the set of "The Ten Commandments," which I am not sure was taken by an amateur tourist or was an official souvenir. I'd have liked to have known that, among the considerable amount of fascinating detail that Phoenix provides in his two paragraphs of comments. For non-natives, it'd might have been useful to have a simple map of the region, perhaps a period one, with "pins" stuck where the photos were taken.
This anthology may appeal to those readers, as with me, from the same region as the author, and in the same decades, so my enthusiasm may be tinged by nostalgia. I wish that one of the final photos, that of a location that captivated me, Rialto's Wigwam Village, had a caption-- it's relegated silently to the last page's credits. Still, reliving my boyhood amazement in Tomorrowland's Carousel of Progress at Disneyland, laughing at the author's careful observation of his hometown's Hot Dog Stand's iconography, or pondering how southeast L.A.'s suburbs look so much fresher and innocent then than now in the tracthome postwar boom era does make for a valuable collection that probably could have been three times the length and remained entertaining. I guess that's why he has published his other popular culture image collections.
For a start 'Southern Californialand' only uses photos and none of them are angled like the earlier book. The design is much more formal too, the photos are large, frequently one to a page or one to a spread, the very detailed captions and headings are not set in period typography either.
The 170 were mostly taken by amateurs but don't let that put you off, there are some great shots in these pages and Phoenix has wisely chosen a wide selection of places, for instance the Eastland Shopping Center, West Covina 1957, the Compton Drive-in 1977, Angel's Flight funicular railway 1956, kids enjoying an Easter party in Palm Springs 1953, Vine Street, Hollywood 1948, tract homes in Highland Park 1958, oil derricks at Signal Hill 1953 and the huge globe at Leisure World 1962.
As well as plenty of places and events there are many showing folks having fun in the fifties (why would an amateur take a photo of someone looking glum?) and some of these are sometimes the most interesting, a super photo on page sixty-eight shows four people having a meal, nothing clever about this at all photographically but it has a wealth of information about fashion, interior decor, furniture, utensils and the food on the table. Pages twenty and twenty-one show a husband taken a photo of his wife sitting on a bench at an intersection, again a real amateur shot (I wonder why this photo of someone taking a photo was taken?) but it is full of detail, commercial strip architecture, their clothing, ads on the seat, and the street furniture. So many of these photos have this kind of detail that you can pore over.
Because these are amateur photos there are a few duds but overall I thought this was a lovely book of photo nostalgia and examples of the pop architecture that commercialism in Southern California did so well. If you lived here in mid-century this is the book to get.
***FOR AN INSIDE LOOK click 'customer images' under the cover.
Gratifing! Esp. The 'San Pedro' Pics (Where I Hail From) Everyday
People Capturing Everyday Situations....Makes The Book VERY
Spontaneous! A Winner!