Early last year, we wrote a post about Jonathan Hanson‘s “These City Streets” series—a personal project born from a need to get away from his computer and explore his hometown of Baltimore. In January, Jonathan traveled to Los Angeles to lay the groundwork for his impending move to the City of Angels, and ended up finding inspiration for a follow-up project. During his trip, Jonathan took a stroll along the Venice Boardwalk and noticed a “stark difference” in its culture—the lively Los Angeles lifestyle seemed worlds away from the laid back urban atmosphere of Baltimore. Jonathan was drawn to the people and characters on the boardwalk, so he began shooting his next series, “Down by the Boardwalk.”
Jonathan developed the body of work during several trips to LA over the course of six months. His approach was the same for both projects: simple portraits shot with his Hasselblad and a few rolls of Kodak Portra 160. I caught up with Jonathan to learn more about the work and his move to LA—check out photos from both projects and an interview with Jonathan below.
Images from “These City Streets” appear on the left, and shots from “Down by the Boardwalk” appear on the right.
Bring us up-to-speed: what was the inspiration behind the “These City Streets” project?
Being a freelancer means lots of time spent on a computer. The project started as a way for me to get off of my computer and connect with the people of Baltimore City. I lived downtown at the time so all I had to do was walk out my front door and start exploring. Baltimore is a wonderful city and I wanted to find an excuse to wander around and meet the people that make it what it is.
How did that transition into the “Down by the Boardwalk” series? In what ways are they the same, in what ways are they different?
“These City Streets” started off as a creative exercise, and as I began building a body of work, I began to see how it was a combination of travel photography, street photography and portraiture. Looking at the work as a series helped me realize that most of my travel experiences are often a result of the people that populate the area. With this in mind, I wanted to try to breathe new life into my travel and street photography by focusing on the portraits of the people that define the culture of a place while maintaining the energy and spontaneity of street photography. In January, about a year after I started “These City Streets,” I headed to LA for meetings and sunshine. I was down on the Venice Boardwalk and immediately was drawn to the characters and boardwalk culture. I started walking and shooting, and after several trips to LA over the course of six months, a body of work started to develop. I think the approach is very much the same between the two projects but it’s the culture that makes them so different.
Tell me a little bit about the process behind the “Down by the Boardwalk” series.
My process for making the series is pretty straight forward. I head out to shoot in the late afternoon and wander up and down the area from the Venice Pier to the Santa Monica Pier making portraits with my Hasselblad and Kodak Porta 160. Each trip I set a goal to shoot at least five rolls of film (three images of each person) and I stop when I run out of light. Some of the images were taken candidly while others I asked, it just depends on the moment.
You recently moved to Los Angeles. Why did you make the move?
I started my photographic career in Baltimore and it was a fantastic place to get my start because of the access to rich culture, low competition and low cost of living. Eight years later, I feel like I’ve come into my own style and have realized what I want to accomplish. Unfortunately, Baltimore is a small market and is limited to what type of work is available in the region so after a trip to LA in January, I decided I wanted to move into a larger market and put everything I’ve learned to test. I think my work is better suited for LA and I’ve seen a good response so far.
What’s your personal style like? Do these projects reflect that or were they a diversion from the type of work you’re usually commissioned for?
I think these projects are a way for me to simplify things and return to the type of photography that inspired me to become a photographer. When commissioned for a portrait assignment, the editor will often include samples from my portfolio and portraits from these series always make it in, even if it’s a studio portrait. I think what connects my work is my connection to the subject whether it’s something broad like music, or specific like a portrait. I make my best work when my interests merge with photography.
Did you learn anything through the creation of this series?
Working on this series has reinforced my love of street photography and portraiture.