Snapshots: West Hollywood

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665 Leather

Today was too perfect a day not to go for a walk, and WeHo’s too interesting a city to walk through without noticing things. So I walked, and I noticed.

I brought a camera with me, an old temperamental Soviet film camera because it’s a good conversation starter. It’s eye catching, and just weird enough that people like to ask questions about it.

I started my excursion prosaically enough, wandering past the Starbucks at Santa Monica and Roberston. There was a guy with two dogs sitting under an umbrella. The guy was cute and the dogs were cuter and I asked if I could take their picture. I held my vintage camera out in front of me like some hipster totem, confident in its allure.

Construction SMB

“No thanks,” said the guy… “It’s film,” I said, and immediately hated myself.

“I can see that,” he said. I withered…. “You can pet my dogs,” he said.

I did and felt much better for it. We parted on the best of terms and I walked down Robertson toward the Abbey. Just outside its gates I met a doctor (or a dude wearing scrubs, at any rate) who asked me if I worked there. I told him I didn’t, and he seemed weirdly put out. I asked if I could take his picture, and he told me I couldn’t. We parted with a degree of frigidity that as I write this I still can’t account for.

I met a doctor (or a dude wearing scrubs, at any rate) who asked me if I worked there. I told him I didn’t, and he seemed weirdly put out. I asked if I could take his picture, and he told me I couldn’t. We parted with a degree of frigidity that as I write this I still can’t account for.

The Abbey

Determined to walk in a different direction than the dickish doctor, I turned around and headed back the way I’d come. I met a pair of young women taking a selfie in front of a wall of flowers, and I offered to take the photo for them. They politely but firmly declined. “It’s called a selfie,” one of them pointed out, “so you really have to take it yourself.”

There wasn’t much I could say to that, so I asked where they were from and whether they liked WeHo.  They told me they were from Kansas, and they loved WeHo. “It’s a place for everyone!” one of them said. “I just feel so, like, accepted here!” She was blonde and straight and carried a Coach bag, but it’s the thought that counts.

I wandered east on Santa Monica Boulevard snapping photos as I went. The wind picked up and rainless rain clouds scudded across the sky, without apparent purpose but putting on a fine display. From time to time I thrust my camera at a passerby, but no one took the bait.

Rainbow Crosswalks

I’d been out for a few hours by this point, and decided that in one more block I’d turn around. Just then something wonderful happened. “What type of camera is that?” said a voice. I turned to find an attractive young couple sitting at a sidewalk café.

I told them all about my camera, probably in much greater detail than they’d bargained for. I explained how I loved shooting film, how it gave the images a timeless feel and made the everyday feel instantly iconic — and how I particularly loved shooting film in WeHo because the city has such style.

I, at last, managed to rein myself in, though and asked if I could take their picture. They told me that I could. Feeling that my entire ramble had been vindicated, I breathlessly raised my camera. I composed the shot, focused on their smiling faces, and pressed the shutter button. Nothing happened. I tried again. Still nothing. Their smiles wavered a little. I tried winding the camera, but I couldn’t. “Hey man,” said one of them, “I think you’re out of film.”

Well, dear reader, I was. But as I walked back down old Route 66, my useless camera dangling at my side, I didn’t despair at all the faces I couldn’t photograph. I rejoiced because next week I’m going to bring an extra roll of film.

“When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs.”  – Ansel Adams

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Forrest Leo is an LA-based writer and photographer. His first novel, The Gentleman, was published in 2016 by Penguin Press.
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