I did not let the constant harassment prevent me from nearly completing a task in which Ive been involved off and on for several weeks now, which is downloading a goatload of historic photographs of Los Angeles from the Arnold Hylen collection at the California State Library. The reason I'm not entirely finished is because the library web site is a bit unreliable. There are almost 500 pictures in the Hylen collection, and the virtual device which fetches them usually manages to get the entire list at first, but by the time I've downloaded some of them, the site loses track of how many there are and begins telling me that there are fewer than it found at first. The highest number to which it has admitted having is 497. Tonight, it started with that number, but crapped out when I got to 481.
"Did I say there were 497?" the site asks. "I meant 481! Sorry."" Well, I'll just have to nab the remaining sixteen some other night. I only wish the site didn't make me click through page after page of listings of things I've already got in order to get to the stuff I haven't got yet. But then it is a library site, after all, and I can't expect it to be well designed.
Anyway. Since I've spent two hours downloading pictures tonight, I'm going to post one of them. This is a self portrait of the photographer himself, standing in the arched entrance to the courtyard of the Plaza Church in Los Angeles sometime around 1948. In the 481 pictures that I've nabbed thus far, in perhaps half a dozen Hylen put his camera on time delay and included himself in the shot. This is the one of those that I like best. He spent over two decades, from about 1940 until the early 1960s, recording the vanishing architecture of Los Angeles. During that time the metropolitan population increased about fourfold. There was a lot of demolition, of course, and Hylen's photographs provide one of the best records of what is now gone.
Looking at his pictures, I've often imagined him wandering about the streets, lugging his photographic equipment, setting it up, becoming himself the object of attention of the passing crowds or of local residents peering from behind dusty curtains in the small apartments and fading Victorian houses of quiet backwaters. I've also recalled how, like so many of the buildings he photographed, and like Hylen himself, most of those curious passersby are probably gone now. I probably saw some of those people, myself, long ago, when I wandered the streets of the city, seeing the landmarks fall, one by one. I only recognized the landmarks, and recall many of them still. The unknown faces in the crowds have faded from my memory altogether.
Photographer Arnold Hylen in the courtyard of the Plaza Church in Los Angeles, about 1948.