Marten Elder is a photographer currently seeking his MFA at UCLA. We’ve seen his work at BOOM and at the UCLA Open Studios, both of which saw a sculptural slant to the presentation of his photography. While pulling links for the BOOM piece, we were doing a little putzing around on his website and came across a Los Angeles body of work that isn’t about palm trees or the characters that live here: it’s about how over designed and slightly mundane the look of Los Angeles is and how it occasionally leads to chaotic, often stupid beauty.
The photos all feature boring, bland buildings that look like crappy, cookie cutter, stucco nineties apartments and various mini-malls, these boring and stupid places that are often visual embarrassments to locals who crave good design. With his photos, Elder is able to filter these bland places and pinpoint small moments of beauty. The photo at top best sums up this idea: three mismatching gates to a faceless apartment building that, when zoomed out, likely looks terrible but, from this angle, is a meditation on neutrals and bright greens. The two photos above and one directly below have a similar effect, where random and unplanned color pairings make for inadvertent color blocking exercises. It’s Rothko by way of Costco.
The last three photos we’ve shared represent another side of his Los Angeles collection of photos. These photos all point out how silly and slipshod we are in our construction. Our streets are uneven, we can’t pick just one architectural style, we’re constantly painting and repainting our surroundings, and we really don’t care if people see that we are “in progress” and unkempt for extended periods of time. We as Angelenos can tend to be very image conscious and known to do our best to look our best–but the objects we make and work and live in? It’s somewhat of a design mess.
Elder has a ton of other photos in this Los Angeles collection, which you can check out here. This series definitely made us rethink about some of our city’s ugliness, reminding us that even buildings and streets that don’t look great zoomed out have a beauty to them if zoomed in on just a little bit.