Since the mid-1960s, Los Angeles has been Ed Ruscha’s constant muse. He’s painted its cool, modern gas stations and the iconic Hollywood sign many times, but nothing shows dedication like the half-million photographs he’s taken of this city’s streets. In particular, he’s focused on the 21-mile stretch of Sunset Boulevard, the lively and highly trafficked road that takes you from the Pacific Coast Highway to Downtown Los Angeles. Selections of these photographs have been published in books and exhibited in shows, but never have we been able to witness the true vastness of his archive, until now.
In October, the Getty Research Institute (GRI) launched 12 Sunsets: Exploring Ed Ruscha’s Archive, a website that allows you to hop in your car of choice (a punch buggy, pickup truck, or old-school van) and travel along the boulevard between 1965 and 2007, through the eyes of Ruscha. The website, designed by Stamen Design and Getty Digital, allows you to sift through the 65,000 photographs (most of them never seen before) by plugging in a year or address. The GRI has been working on this delightful project since 2012, when it acquired Ruscha’s archive of photographs.
You’ll notice that the photographs are taken in-motion, from the perspective of a cruising driver. That’s because Ruscha mounted a motorized camera to the back of his pickup truck, snapping pictures of both sides of the boulevard. I imagine him driving along, blasting the radio (“I not only like the radio but I like the word ‘radio,’” I once heard him say at a New York Public Library event. “It’s like 360-degree happiness”).
While Ruscha has recognized that his photographs, particularly those that stretch back to the ’60s, might be perceived as nostalgic, that was not his intention. “I didn’t wanted to delve into nostalgia,” he’s said. “I wanted it to be immediate.”