2015; a year in the photobook’s life

2015_year_in_photobooks_life_crop2015; A Year in the Photobook’s Life
A survey of photobook-specic happenings in the US and Europe.

Access the PDF here
Access the JPG here

This survey intends to visualise and in a sense, flatten, the many events, competitions and workshops that are taking place around the photobook right now. In doing so, a lineage — or at least a chronology — can be established, demonstrating a growth of interest and increasing institutional support in the medium.

It has been put together with the view that it will act as a record not just of 2015 but the new age of the photobook (golden or otherwise). is research is concerned only with photobook speci c events and only covers the US and Europe. is is not because these geographical areas can be seen as the home of the photobook – not by any means, but because this is both the focus of my broader research project, and provides an opportunity, through networks, to realistically claim con dence in correctly recording and listing the vast majority of appropriate events. e choice to begin with the year 2015 is similarly bene cial. While of course many events have run in earlier years, or are starting up in 2016, the single year provides a baseline from which to work back in establishing the aforementioned chronology and origin.

Only photobook-speci c events have been recorded — a choice which, if aiming to build a picture of the variety of spaces in which the photobook is present, would be disastrous. Here, art book fairs and non-medium-speci c zine workshops for example, have been excluded. In doing so it is hoped that clarity is improved and subjectivity removed.

Fairs and festivals are subject to a further limitation in that they must be multi-day events. Once again a choice of clarity and con dence and not a suggestion that single day events are not a part of the photobook world. Many single day events have been arrived at during this research, the transient and o en independent nature of which have on many occasions presented quite di erent ideas on what the photobook, and what a photobook event should be.

A list of thanks can be found on the right hand side of this visualisation — these are people who have contributed to this survey and without whom many omissions would have been made. ere are likely still some errors or misses so please do get in touch if you have any: A scroll of this document will be produced in Autumn of 2016 on lightweight poster paper, if you are interested in having a copy, please email the above address.

Matt Johnston


Despite a relatively strict set of criteria for the events listed here, it was inevitable that I would miss over signi cant happen- ings. In sharing beta versions of this research I was grateful to receive help from a number of contributors. My sincere thanks to Tommy Arvidson, Bonifacio Barrio Hijosa, Ana Paula Estrada, Sarah Greene, Jose Félix Liébana, Hermann Lohss, Malcolm Raggett and Hannah Watson who all got in touch to share information. If you see absences and would like to aid the building of this resource, please get in touch –

A1: The Road Itself

Readers from England might well know about the A1 road depicted in this months book (Paul Graham’s ‘A1: The Great North Road’), but for those who don’t, here is just a little information on the road to help with you reading of the book.

the A1 Great North Road

The route was originally used by coaches from the 17th Century (aprox) who were traveling between London, York and on to Edinburgh, Scotland. Since it’s birth it has been constantly changing route. Due to the nature of the transportation and that both horses and workers were in regular need of water, food and sleep, the early route passed through many more small towns than it’s modern day counterpart.

With the wonders of technology we can see exactly where the new ‘Great North Road’ travels, and despite it’s bypassing a great deal of towns, it is still perhaps the most interesting road to travel in the UK, not just for it’s size but for it’s uncompromising straight line through wildly disparate towns and regions.

In the 19th Century the route took around 45 hours by coach, today only 7

The modern day A1(M)

The most important information regarding the road, at least for the reading of the book is the text accompanying the book itself as it gives a few clues as to what Graham was looking out for on his trips.

From the blurb on the back cover:

The A1 was the first major road to run the entire length of England, linking the ‘two nations’ of North and South. Conceived as the central artery of the 1930’s trunk road system, the A1 travels from the Bank of England, in the very centre of London, up through the industrial midlands, North East England and the East coast of Scotland, to finish in Princess Street, Edinburgh. The 400 mile route was the busiest road in the country and quickly became known as the ‘Great North Road’, a title it aptly deserved until the late 1950’s, when it was usurped by the fast and efficient motorway system, which left the A1 in a state of atrophy, underused and decaying.

The modern day A1(M)

– Matt
And if you haven’t seen the book yet…

Kurt Easterwood on Stephen Shore’s ‘West Fifteenth’, A Conclusion

Here is the fourth and final extraction from an extended piece of writing by Kurt Easterwood of Japan Exposures. Kurt produced a fantasticaly rich deconstruction and analysis of Shore’s ‘West Fifteenth St. and Vine St., Cincinnati, Ohio, May 1, 1974’ featured in ‘Uncommon Places, The Complete Works’. The image in question can be seen on the right hand side of the image below and you can find the full PDF underneath the image or right here.

West Fifteenth St. and Vine St., Cincinnati, Ohio, May 1, 1974

PDF – Kurt Easterwood on ‘West Fifteenth’

A Conclusion

At most, Shore probably spent about 30 minutes standing at the corner of Fifteenth and Vine, framing the scene, adjusting the focus, measuring the light, preparing the film holder, and tripping the shutter. We can be fairly certain he did all these things blissfully unaware of Over-the-Rhine’s German immigrant antecedents, trends in outdoor advertising, or pawn shops as economic indicators. Nor is it likely that Shore took the inverted image he found on his camera’s ground glass and flipped it over in his mind, ruminating on what sociological discourse the graphical elements contained within his frame’s borders might conspire to conjure up for future travelers on his tour of uncommon places.

Thus there is a very real possibility that readers will bristle at my deconstruction of this photo, and the introduction of what may seem like incidental history and tangential politics in an attempt to locate the photo within a much broader context than Shore ever intended. Seeing as I’m likely guilty as charged on that count, in my defense let me stipulate that I see the tour I took of “West Fifteenth St. and Vine St., Cincinnati, Ohio, May 1, 1974” less as a deconstruction of an image and more a construction of a separate image, akin say to Mark Klett’s rephotography projects.  Like the spirit in which those are undertaken, the aim has not been to bring Shore’s original photo kicking and screaming into a context imposed from outside, or to re-align it to fight some rhetorical battle, but to merely have it in hand like a trusty map as I negotiate its spaces nearly 40 years later. It’s my hope that the new topography I have constructed as a result informs the old, much as Shore’s two-dimensional photographs in Uncommon Places built upon and informed their physical counterparts. READ MORE

– Kurt Easterwood

Kurt Easterwood on Stephen Shore’s ‘West Fifteenth’, The Photographers Presence

Here is the third teaser from an extended piece of writing by Kurt Easterwood of Japan Exposures. Kurt has produced a fantastic deconstruction and analysis of Shore’s ‘West Fifteenth St. and Vine St., Cincinnati, Ohio, May 1, 1974’ featured in  ‘Uncommon Places, The Complete Works’. The image in question can be seen on the right hand side of the image below and you can find the full PDF underneath the image or right here.

In this installation Kurt looks at Shore’s presence in the scene itself….

West Fifteenth St. and Vine St., Cincinnati, Ohio, May 1, 1974

PDF – Kurt Easterwood on ‘West Fifteenth’

As our last stop on this exploratory journey, a final sightseeing viewpoint as it were, let’s ponder for a moment one more spot at the corner of Vine and Fifteenth, the spot Shore placed his tripod and set up his view camera to capture this scene. Shore’s presence, and the position of his tripod and camera, is referred to, if not exactly reflected in Lee Friedlander-like fashion, by the out of focus “Bus Stop: No Standing” sign that could be nowhere else but directly in front of where Shore was standing. We smile at the sign like we do at other occasional ironical signage in Uncommon Places — e.g. “MECCA” (p. 129) or “John F. Kennedy said: “ART IS TRUTH”” (P. 133) — as if Shore were thumbing his nose at the municipal establishment that would deign to tell him where he could or could not stand his tripod.


PDF – Kurt Easterwood on ‘West Fifteenth’

The Photographer’s Presence

But telling people where they can or cannot stand in the form of municipal anti-loitering ordinances has long been a tactic used by city governments and police forces to exert undue control over citizens in lower-income areas. Three years before Shore took his photo, the U.S. Supreme Court had struck down Cincinnati’s own anti-loitering ordinance as unconstitutional. The ordinance had held that “It shall be unlawful for three or more persons to assemble, except at a public meeting of citizens, on any of the sidewalks, street corners, vacant lots, or mouths of alleys, and there conduct themselves in a manner annoying to persons passing by, or occupants of adjacent buildings.” In a footnote to his opinion, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart wrote that, “The alleged discriminatory enforcement of this ordinance figured prominently in the background of the serious civil disturbances that took place in Cincinnati in June 1967,” by which he was referring to race riots in the Cincinnati neighborhood of Avondale that spread over into Over-the-Rhine.

The sign can then be read not just as a joke of Shore’s own making, but as an ironic and not necessarily unintentional questioning of Shore’s right to be there, assembling these elements in a manner annoying to persons passing by, “an alien element impeding the activity on the street.”  READ MORE

– Kurt Easterwood

Kurt Easterwood on Stephen Shore’s ‘West Fifteenth’, The History

The second teaser from an extended piece of writing by Kurt Easterwood of the awesome Japan Exposures. Kurt has produced a fantastic deconstruction and analysis of Shore’sWest Fifteenth St. and Vine St., Cincinnati, Ohio, May 1, 1974′ featured in  ‘Uncommon Places, The Complete Works’. The image in question can be seen on the right hand side of the image below and you can find the full PDF underneath the image or right here.

A huge thank you to Kurt for opening this great piece of writing up to the Photo Book Club community.

West Fifteenth St. and Vine St., Cincinnati, Ohio, May 1, 1974

PDF – Kurt Easterwood on ‘West Fifteenth’


Fifteenth and Vine is in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine (or OTR) neighborhood, one of the oldest parts of the city. It came to prominence — and indeed acquired its name — from the many German immigrants who worked there in the 1800s and later settled in the area and built many of the homes and buildings that stand to this day. By the turn of the century, Cincinnati, along with cities like Milwaukee and St. Louis, was home to one of the largest Germany immigrant communities in the United States. However, while already in a long, slow decline in the first half of the 20th century — in particular, its many breweries were hit hard by Prohibition — OTR’s fortunes declined rapidly after World War II as so-called “white flight” began to take hold, with residents moving to outlying suburbs and retail businesses following them shortly thereafter. The deteriorating structures became a source of cheap housing for a successive wave of first poor whites from Appalachia and then African Americans displaced from the historically black neighborhood of West End that had been demolished in part by the construction of an expressway — an expressway that if not a literal escape route was at least a figurative thoroughfare that helped pave the way for whites’ exodus to suburbia.

At the time when Shore took his photograph, the population of OTR was only around 15,000, a significant drop from a population of 45,000 in 1900. One-third of these remaining residents were African American. By 1990, less than 10,000 people lived in the area, 71% of them African American. 5 In 2001, Vine Street and the surrounding areas were the scenes of a race riot when an African American teenager was shot and killed by a member of the overwhelmingly white Cincinnati police force. As of this writing, Vine Street and various other places in OTR are part of a massive urban renewal project, and indeed most of the land and buildings in the 1400 block of Vine Street, which comprises much of Shore’s photo, are now owned by a tax-exempt, private, non-profit corporation called The Cincinnati Center City Development Corp., or 3CDC, which has renovated or is in the process of renovating the structures for loft apartments or retail spaces. READ MORE

– Kurt Easterwood

Kurt Easterwood on Stephen Shore’s ‘West Fifteenth’, An Extended Introduction

Kurt Easterwood of the awesome Japan Exposures has produced an extended piece of writing on one of Shore’s images featured in ‘Uncommon Places, The Complete Works’. The image in question can be seen on the right hand side of the image below and as well as finding the full PDF underneath the image or right here, this is the first post also featuring an extraction from the full article, this time an extended introduction to the full article.

A huge thank you to Kurt for opening this great piece of writing up to the Photo Book Club community.

West Fifteenth St. and Vine St., Cincinnati, Ohio, May 1, 1974

PDF – Kurt Easterwood on ‘West Fifteenth’

An Extended Introduction

I would like to explore Uncommon Places: The Complete Works by looking at a single photo, a photo that like all the photos of Uncommon Places can only be referred to by its caption, “West Fifteenth St. and Vine St., Cincinnati, Ohio, May 1, 1974”, which appears on page 43. This photo was not included in the original publication, and while it would certainly be a useful exercise to discuss why not, I would rather take Shore’s inclusion of the photo in the revised edition to mean that for him the photograph is an important part of the complete work.

It is tempting to be self-deprecating on the photograph’s behalf and acknowledge that it’s true there is nothing particularly compelling about this photo that would cause it to stand out in relation to the other photographs in the book, but saying that would imply that Uncommon Places: The Complete Works contains stand-out photographs. It does not, which is precisely why it is such a wonderful book to look at. The power of Uncommon Places is not the sort where each turn of the page knocks us back into a sublime revelry. Its power rather results from an accumulation of what Gerry Badger has called “quiet” photographs 3, and it is this quiet tone that allows us, if we are so willing, to journey along with Shore, and occasionally to step off and linger a bit at stops along the way, to explore further.

Several years ago when I got my copy of Uncommon Places: The Complete Works, this ordinary, dare I say nondescript, photograph taken in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1974 caused me to dwell and ponder a bit longer than the others. For personal reasons (I had a suspicion I had once been on this section of Vine street during a visit to Cincinnati in 1987), and for graphic, visual reasons (there was something in the denseness of the signage on the left side of the photo, and a single, dominant sign on the right side that visually appealed to me), I felt compelled to explore the photo further. What follows is an account of this one stop on Shore’s larger journey — my journey within a journey, we could say — and what I found at West Fifteenth and Vine in Cincinnati. READ MORE

– Kurt Easterwood

West Fifteenth St. and Vine St., Cincinnati, Ohio, May 1, 1974

Super excited for this ‘mini-series’ which will be posted over the last week of our Stephen Shore month. Kurt Easterwood of the awesome Japan Exposures has produced an extended piece of writing on one of Shore’s images featured in ‘Uncommon Places, The Complete Works’. The image in question can be seen on the right hand side of the image below and as well as finding the full PDF at the bottom of the post or right here, there will be 4 posts coming up with little sneak peaks.

A huge thank you to Kurt for opening this great piece of writing up to the Photo Book Club community.

West Fifteenth St. and Vine St., Cincinnati, Ohio, May 1, 1974

“A few years ago when I got Stephen Shore’s revised Uncommon Places book, I couldn’t get over how familiar the places looked to me, though surely most of the towns and places he shot I’ve never been to. But one image was more familiar than any other — a street scene from Cincinnati. “I’ve been here!”, I remember exclaiming to myself, and I started to take notes about the image. Now five years later, I’ve used Shore’s photo (and my notes) to visit that photo, that place, one more time.”

– Kurt Easterwood

PDF – Kurt Easterwood on ‘West Fifteenth’

An Interview with Chris and Jack

In preparation for this month looking at Shore’s ‘Uncommon Places’, I revisited the 2009 Steidl publication ‘New Topographics‘ (a great representation of the 1975 exhibition, or as much as I can imagine without having been there). Just after the director’s preface is a great little interview with two viewers at the exhibition; A man (Jack) and his wife or girlfriend (Chris).

Jack’s comments sort of some up my own feelings on the work featured in the exhibition, and in particular of Shore’s images, it’s also a lovely little interview with great characters itself and so I hope you enjoy it here:

– Matt

CHRIS: I just don’t like this at all; [I prefer] people, pictures, something that tells a story. Route 66, big deal, it doesn’t mean anything.

INTERVIEWER: Do you think the photographer had any intent?

CHRIS: He must have, for a layout like this. He couldn’t have been doing this for his enjoyment, because they are very dull pictures in my opinion. Jack, what do you think?

JACK: They mean something to me because I’ve never seen them before. I think he’s trying to get at…I’m still working on it…

INTERVIEWER: Do you think these pictures really capture the feeling of the places?

JACK: They really do, very much so. At first they’re really stark nothing, but then you really look at it and it’s just about the way things are. This is interesting, it really is.

CHRIS: Look at this picture. I just…why? What is he trying to show?

JACK: You said there are no people here, but there are people, all over the place. Everywhere you look there’s people.

CHRIS: Okay, you look at this you can imagine somebody checking out of the hotel, but it’s gone, there’s nothing for you to identify with except, what, dirty sheets? I don’t like it. I’m sorry! I don’t care for that kind of…Are you a photography student? What kind do you prefer?

INTERVIEWER: Do you think there’s any difference between the [photographers] in the show and what they were doing? Do you like anyone better than the others?

CHRIS: I really can’t comment because we’ve only been in just this one area [Shore, Schott], looking at just these, so I can’t say as to what I prefer.

JACK: I found my truck. I can’t believe it, it’s my truck, right there.

INTERVIEWER: Robert Adams, got your truck.

JACK: Just interesting. You know I think there’s a lot of people, I really do, there’s people, it’s a way of life. It’s how it is. It’s interesting.

CHRIS: I don’t like them. They’re dull and flat. There’s no people, no involvement, nothing. Why do you like them?

JACK: Because I’ve been there. This is what people have done. [The pictures are saying] ‘This is it, kid—take it for its beauty and its ugliness.’

CHRIS: I don’t like to think that there are ugly streets in America…but when it’s shown to you, without beautification, maybe it tells you how much more we need here. What do you think, Jack?

JACK: Try not to, it hurts.

CHRIS: You’re the one who enjoyed them.

JACK: I enjoy everything.

Havn’t seen ‘Uncommon Places’ yet? Have a look…

Invisible City: The Text

As well as showing Invisible City in its entirety here, we see that the text is just as important to try and get a sense of the book and Schles’ vision. So here is the text featured in the book alongside the full video for your viewing pleasure!

Opening text:

Cities are a product of time. They are the molds in which men’s lifetimes have cooled and congealed, giving lasting shape, by way of art, to moments that would otherwise vanish with the living and leave no means of renewal or wider participation behind them. In the city, time becomes visible: buildings and monuments and public ways, more open than the written record, more subject to the gaze of many men than the scattered artifacts of the countryside, leave an imprint upon the minds even of the ignorant or the indifferent. Through the material fact of preservation, time challenges time, time clashes with time: habits and values carryover beyond the living group, streaking with different strata of time the character of any single generation. Layer upon layer, past times preserve themselves in the city until life itself is finally threatened with suffocation… Lewis Mumford The Culture of Cities

Back of the book text:

Steadily, for the past generation, a transformation has been going on in every department of thought: a re-location of interest from mechanism to organism, a change from a world in which material bodies and mechanical motion alone were real to a world in which invisible rays and emanations, in which human projections and dreams, are as real as any immediately visible or external phenomenon – as real and on occasion more important.
Lewis Mumford, The Culture of Cities

A man becomes confused, gradually, with the forms of his destiny; a man is, by and large, his circumstances. More than a decipherer or an avenger, more than a priest or a god, I was one imprisoned. From the tireless labyrinth of dreams I returned as if to my home to the harsh prison.. I blessed its dampness, I blessed its tiger, I blessed the crevice of light, I blessed my old suffering body, I blessed the darkness and the stone.
Borges Labyrinths

All is imaginary – family, office, friends, the street, all imaginary, far away or close at hand, the woman; the truth that lies closest, however, is only this: that you are beating your head against the wall of a windowless
and doorless cell.
Kafka Diaries (1921)

This metropolitan world then, is a world where flesh and, blood is less real than paper and ink·and celluloid. It is a world where the great masses of people, unable to have direct contact with more satisfying means of living, take life vicariously, as readers, spectators, passive observers: a world where people watch shadow-heroes and heroines in order to forget their own clumsiness or coldness in love, where they behold brutal men crushing out life in a strike riot, a wrestling ring or a military assault, while they lack the nerve even to resist the petty tyranny of their immediate boss: where they hysterically cheer the flag of their political state, and in their neighborhood, their trades union, their church, fail to perform the most elementary duties of citizenship.

Living thus, year in and year out at second hand, remote from the nature that is outside them and no Ie remote from the nature within, handicapped as lovers and as parents by the routine of the metropolis and by the constant specter of insecurity and death that hovers over its bold towers and shadowed streets living thus the mass of inhabitants remain in a state bordering on the pathological.
[Nb – The quote continues, but I did not include this part in the book, although it might be interesting to see it here:] – Ken Schles
They become the victims of phantasms, fears, obsessions, which bind them to ancestral patterns of behavior. At the very point where super-mechanization takes hold of economic production and social intercourse, a treacherous superstition, a savage irrationality, reappear in the metropolis. But these reversionary modes of behavior, though they are speedily rationalized in pseudo-philosophies, do not remain on paper: they seek an outlet. The sadistic gangster, the bestial fascist, the homicidal vigilante, the law-offending policeman burst volcanically through the crust of metropolitan life. They challenge the dream city with an even lower order of ‘reality’.
Lewis Mumford, The Culture of Cities (p.258)

…reality itself, entirely impregnated by an aesthetic which is inseparable from its own structure, has been confused with its own image. Reality no longer has the time to take on the appearance of reality. It no longer even surpasses fiction: it captures every dream even before it takes on the appearance of a dream. Schizophrenic vertigo of these serial signs, for which no counterfeit, no sublimation is possible, immanent in their repetition – who could say what the reality is that these signs simulate?
Jean Baudrillard, Simulations

All he wanted was to hold the photograph in his fingers again, or at least to see it.
‘It exists!’ he cried.
‘No,’ said O’Brien.

He stepped across the room. There was a memory hole in the opposite wall. O’Brien lifted the grating. Unseen, the frail slip of paper was whirling away on the current of warm air; it was vanishing in a flash of flame. O’Brien turned away from the wall.
‘Ashes,’ he said. ‘Not even identifiable ashes. Dust. It does not exist. It never existed.’
‘But it did exist! It does exist! It exists in memory. I remember it. You remember it.’
‘I do not remember it,’ said O’Brien.

Winston’s heart sank. That was doublethink. He had a feeling of deadly helplessness. If he could have been certain that O’Brien was lying, it would not have seemed to matter. But it was perfectly possible that O’Brien had really forgotten the photograph. And if so, then already he would have forgotten his denial of remembering it, and forgotten the act of forgetting. How could one be sure that it was simple trickery? Perhaps that lunatic dislocation in the mind could really happen: that was the thought that defeated him.

O’Brien was looking down at him speculatively. More than ever he had the air of a teacher taking pains with a wayward but promising child.
‘There is a Party slogan dealing with the control of the past,’ he said. ‘Repeat it, if you please.’

‘”Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past,”‘ repeated Winston obediently.
George Orwell, 1984


VIDEO – Larry Sultan’s ‘The Valley’

Here from cover to cover is Larry Sultan’s ‘The Valley’ for those who do not have access to a copy, and due to it’s limited number, this may be many of you.
An extensive excerpt of the text that accompanies the book ‘Nature is strange in the Valley’ is shown below and gives a little more insight from Sultan.

We would love to hear your thoughts, especially if this is the first time you have seen the book. Get involved in Twitter by using the #photobc hashtag, on Facebook here or in the comment section below.

Nature is strange in the Valley by Larry Sultan

It’s time for lunch. The sounds of clattering plates and muffled conversations drift upstairs. In cool, dark rooms, amber light glows through shades drawn in the middle of the summer day. Someone is napping fitfully. He’s bored rather than tired. He wakes up with a feeling of dread. In those first moments of confusion, he tries to assess which house he is in and what he’s doing there.

Downstairs, everyone has gathered in the large two-car garage. Folding tables have been set up with an array of cold cuts: stacks of wheat and rye bread, potato salad, paper bowls filled with cashews and M&M’s. There is a large platter of jumbo shrimp arranged in a circle around a head of lettuce. A tall woman wearing a T-shirt and thong spears one with a toothpick. Balancing paper plates filled with food, people drift into the back yard, a large grassy area with uninterrupted views of the San Fernando Valley. They look like friends and lovers having a Sunday picnic as they lie about in small groups in the few areas shaded by sycamore trees. To the far side of the yard, crew members are beginning to set up movie lights and a stand with a large silver reflector. On the lawn is a huge wind fan, and next to it Michael, the director, is talking with his wife, Julie Anne, who’s wearing a flowing pink dressing gown with a white fur collar. Her clear acrylic high heels are sinking into the grass, and he offers her his arm as she reaches back to pull off her shoe. Directly behind them, near the edge of the yard where the lawn ends abruptly in a vertical drop, stand 5-foot-tall letters cut from plywood, painted white and anchored in the ground with diagonal supports. DOOWYLLOH. It takes a moment to make sense of it, but then it’s as clear as the day: Facing out toward miles of subdivisions and malls, a miniature version of the sign — Hollywood in the Valley.

The house is a big, two-story “old hacienda”–style place, built sometime in the 1970s. When I called to get the location for today’s shoot, the production assistant assured me that I would like it. “You’ve really got to see this house: high ceilings, enormous rooms, a spiral staircase. It’s a real mansion with an incredible view.” In the past 10 years, homes in the Valley have become the preferred locations for adult-film companies, which rent them from their owners for the two to three days that it takes to make a porn film. In reality this house is just an oversize variation of a tract home, with sliding glass doors and cottage-cheese ceilings. It’s been customized with dark wood paneling, overbearing stonework, marble counters and other features that give it the appearance of the “good life,” of wealth and taste. Wandering from room to room, I get the feeling that something went wrong, that the owners have left suddenly in the middle of the night. They’ve abandoned the entertainment center with their mega-TV and sound system, the exercise room that has been converted into an office, the bleak master-bedroom suite with its Jacuzzi and statuary. They’ve left behind some evidence, personal effects, notes by the phone, shopping lists and “things to do” stuck to the refrigerator. In the living room there hangs a formal portrait of the family standing in the back yard in late-afternoon light. It’s been printed on textured paper and framed in gold to give it the appearance of an oil painting. Throughout the house there are more casual photographs, 8-by-10s of smiling sons and daughters, the family dogs, the big anniversary party on the cruise ship. They cover all available surfaces and stare down at us from nearly every wall in the house.

A few years after we moved from our first house in working-class Van Nuys into a new house in Woodland Hills at the far western edge of the Valley, my mother hired an interior decorator. With marble-tile floors, Formica kitchen counters, and 12-foot fireplaces in the den and living room, the house felt cold and needed to be “cozied up.” The decorator was from South Carolina, and, as my father would say, she was “quite a dish.” She had piles of brassy red hair and wore tight white pants that revealed faint traces of either beige or pink panties. I remember my fascination with her lipstick, which covered her mouth well beyond its natural borders. She had my mother completely under her spell.

It didn’t take long to see the results of her handiwork. She painted a grape vine on the kitchen wall and attached real rubber grapes to its tendrils. She was crazy about gold leaf and applied it freely, on the upholstered footstools, the end tables, the oversized candleholder standing next to the sofa, and on a big wooden box that sat on the coffee table with no discernable purpose. She brought in bright green shag carpets and a massive coffee table adorned with gold and black paint, and she filled the gaps on our bookshelves with Reader’s Digest compilations. But the real pride and joy for all of us was the painting she made that hung over the length of our flesh-colored Naugahyde sectional: a sweeping panorama of an Italian landscape. In the foreground jesters danced with bare-breasted women in the courtyard of imagery Florentine villa. It was bold and magical — too bold, it seems. After a year or two my mother had it cut into two parts and each was reframed. One piece appeared in the dining room and the other in the living room, where no one ever ventured.

The entire house vibrates, shaking as if a dozen overloaded washing machines were stuck on the spin cycle. Exaggerated moans, groans and screams erupt from the back rooms. From the crescendo I can tell that the director has called for the FIP (fake internal pop) shot. I half expect the next-door neighbors or the police to rush over and bang on the doors to see if everything, everyone is all right. But then it grows quiet.

The talent get up from their positions and reach for bottles of cool water and dry towels. The cameraman is distracted and forgets to turn off the camera. It dangles from his arm, relaying a series of random images of the interior landscape of the bedroom over to the monitor in the next room: the junction of wall and ceiling, the corners of dressers, a chair and parts of bodies, under the bed. It’s as if someone, overcome by excitement and intense desire, is crawling around the room on his hands and knees interrogating every object and surface for its secrets.

Being on a film set is a bit like those endless summer days of high school: hanging out, waiting for something to happen; snacking, even when you’re not hungry; napping in the middle of the day. Invariably I end up standing around in the back yard.

Nature is strange in the Valley, a chaotic mix of unrelated trees and plants that share the same space. Palm, spruce, eucalyptus, poplar and pine, all in neighboring yards, each seeming to generate its own microclimate. There is a peculiar quality of silence that hovers over these streets, like an invisible dome that insulates it from the noises of the working life of Los Angeles. It filters the light and softens the edges of things, giving them a glow like a landscape seen through a thin layer of gauze. The heavy air becomes a medium for amplifying the small sounds that occasionally reverberate throughout the neighborhood. A car door closes; someone wheels in the garbage can; a few kids yell at each other in a back yard; a roofer off in the distance hammers for a few seconds, stops and then starts up again. Standing in the back yard listening to these sounds has the effect of slowing down time, elongating the space between the random sonic events.

The cord to the refrigerator is pulled from the wall socket; the air conditioner is turned off in the heat of the day; toilets go unflushed; conversation stops. Everything is still except the wild knot of bodies writhing on floors, couches and tables.

I walk around on tiptoe, stand in hallways and lean against walls. I want to see but don’t. I pretend not to look. Like an argument or a fistfight, the scene grabs my attention, pulls me in.

The event of filming creates a sexualized zone in which the gestures, rituals and scenes of suburban domestic life take on a peculiar weight and density. The furnishings and objects in the house, which have been carefully arranged, become estranged from their intended function. The roll of paper towels on the coffee table, the bed linens in a pile by the door, the shoes under the bed are transformed into props or the residue of unseen but very imaginable actions. Even the piece of half-eaten pie on the kitchen counter arouses suspicion.

The production assistant comes in and tells everyone on the set that we’re not allowed to park on the street in front of the house. She tells us to park farther up the block or on the next street over. As if in a fire drill, we pour out of the house and stand somewhat dazed in the glaring light that bounces off the driveway in front. In the minute or two it takes to walk to our cars, the sidewalk hosts a brief spectacle: a parade of women in 6-inch heels and tight, skimpy clothes and men with shaved heads and tattoos, all laughing, talking loudly and smoking cigarettes. I look across the street to see if neighbors have come to their windows or out onto their front porches to watch, but they haven’t. The few people who are at home stay deep inside their houses.

I park way up the street, and as I walk from my car I meet up with Claudia, a woman in her early 20s who is just getting started in porn films. It feels slightly strange to be walking the street in the middle of the day, like we’re either intruders or a father-daughter team of Jehovah’s Witnesses. She tells me that she grew up in this neighborhood and that her best friends lived just a few blocks away. She tells me that they would hang out together all summer long in the pool house in the back yard, watching TV, getting stoned. They were known as the Big Titty Committee. I ask her if she went to the local high school, Taft High, where I went to school. “Yeah,” she says, “but only for a year. Then I was sent away to school in Colorado, one of those survival-type programs. I was a bad girl. I guess I still am.”

There was a girl my age who lived in the corner house at the end of the street and who went to the same high school as I did. She had a remarkable body and a very bad complexion. To solve some of the social problems caused by her acne, she reportedly gave sexual favors to the jocks and the more popular guys at Taft High. Late in the afternoon when school was out I would see all these guys milling around her house and lining up at the front door. There was Gary H., the quarterback, and Barry A., the big overweight linesman. I would endlessly imagine what these guys got to do with her. I pictured them in all possible combinations.

Once while we were waiting at the corner for the school bus, she glanced over at me and made an obscene gesture: Her arms at right angles to her body, she began pumping them in and out. It confused me and I had no idea how to respond to her. But I took it as a sign and later that day I got up my nerve and walked down to her house. I was worried that in order to have sex I might have to kiss her. All I could picture were her blackheads and enlarged pores, a troubling image and an omen of a bad performance. But it was too late; I was already knocking on her front door. When she opened it, she was taller and more imposing than I had remembered. She was wearing a flower-print dress that lent her an unexpected air of modesty as well as maturity. She stared at me for a few seconds, like she didn’t know who I was. Then a strange smile or smirk appeared on her face. “What do you want?” I just stood there feeling the blood drain from my face into my hands that were dangling at my sides. I couldn’t begin to find the words.

It’s Wednesday, the middle of the week, and everyone is taking the day off. Men and women return home from work early, bringing carloads of friends with them. The streets are lined with black SUVs, Cadillacs and Corvettes. There’s no place to park.

It looks like an interracial block party, with Latinos and African-Americans wheeling suitcases filled with sexy costumes up driveways and into back yards. Deliverymen, saleswomen, and neighbors who have lost their dogs or who need a cup of sugar come to the door and are invited in for lunch. There’s nothing like a good, hot lunch in the middle of the day, pasta with sausage and peppers and chicken and plenty of sauce. The television is on, but the volume is turned way down. In the back yard, the automatic pool sweeper drifts around the pool making a swishing noise, almost like a muffled rain bird: sh sh sh sh. The pool looks like a blue oasis sparkling in the heat. People sit around in small clusters and joke, make small talk and eat. Slowly they lose their inhibitions. A young woman leans over and asks if her breath smells; a man stands up and casually takes off his clothes. Someone is nibbling on someone else’s neck.

What could be better? A lazy afternoon in the suburbs with all the time in the world to enjoy the small things and to spend a day in another’s arms. A day that is punctuated not by noisy children and errands but by the urges and fantasies of the people gathered together here. They raid the refrigerator and put whipped cream, butter and even mustard on each other’s naked bodies. They rub one another into a frenzy. They crowd into the master bedrooms and spill out onto the kitchen floors and onto the patios and into the pools that look just like our neighbors’ pools, like our pool, and do the stuff of daydreams.

It’s a day when no one turns away from another, when tentative glances and awkward first moves are met with passionate approval. Everyone is seen, and held, and longed for. One’s clumsy body knows exactly what to do. It is a day when betrayals are overlooked or are mutually forgiven.

But at the end of it all, these people do not retire to the living room to watch their favorite TV programs together. Nor do they go upstairs to bed. Instead they pack up their high heels, fancy underwear and sweaty T-shirts, and they carry them to their cars. They pat the backs and kiss the cheeks of those who earlier in the day were such intense lovers. Exhausted, they drive across the Valley to their apartments.