When Patrick Gookin moved to Los Angeles in 2010 to work as a photo editor, he faced an hour-long commute from Koreatown where he lived, to the beach neighborhood where he worked. In an effort to avoid freeway traffic and deepen his experience of LA, he began driving through city streets. As he explored this uncharted landscape he took quick iPhone photos of strangers along the way, drawn to the secrecy that shooting from his car provided, and how that seemed to clash with their presence in open, public spaces. After making and sharing these images repeatedly on Instagram for a year, Gookin started to stage the photos, working with actors and a point and shoot 35mm camera, evolving the photographs into his series LA By Car.
Despite using actors, the images feel all but contrived, more closely resembling Google’s street-view photographs than the large scale color narratives of Jeff Wall, Gregory Crewdson or Phillip Lorca. While the framing and gestures are carefully constructed, Gookin’s pictures have a natural jaggedness that, even in a ‘post digital’ era where truth is rarely accepted, appears natural and spontaneous. Gookin’s use of a point and shoot camera and consumer grade film help give it this raw, low-fi resonance.
“One starting point for my approach,” Gookin tells us, “was Jeff Wall and his ideas on ‘near-documentary’ photography. Where his work is obviously grander in its staging than my own, his use of 4x5 sometimes has an effect of making things look more like art than document. So, one question I had in making the work was, ‘what kind of documents can I make, staging 'near-documentary' photographs, but using the language of vernacular photography?’ ”
Gookin also cites Google’s mobile camera and what he sees as its relationship to photographic history as an influence to his work. “I thought of these photos as the place where the Google car meets Lee Friedlander's America By Car in a strange Los Angeles that I was able to bend past normal reality."
Aside from aiding his creation of spectacle, the decision to use actors was largely a riff on the common cliché that aspiring, and often-failed actors overpopulate LA. “In some cases,” says Gookin, “the actors were placed specifically in scenes to create a feeling of isolation that I was looking for and in other images scenes from art photographs are reenacted in new contexts.” For Gookin, the identities of these actors are less important. Instead he uses their obscured likeness to emphasize the perceived coldness of LA’s social landscape.
“Rather than looking into the lives of strangers, I'm trying to make photographs about the distances between them, the coldness of public spaces in cities like Los Angeles, and what it looks like to pass through a city in an automobile.”
Bio: Patrick Gookin is a 31 year old photographer from Salem, NH currently living and working in Los Angeles, CA. He achieved his BA in New Media from Emerson College in Boston in 2006 and has spent the eight years since split between Los Angeles and Tokyo. He recently published a book of this work, which you can (and should) purchase here.