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True Topographics

In conversation with Kwasi Boyd-Bouldin

I was born in Brooklyn, New York, but have lived in Los Angeles, California since I was two years old. I’ve been a serious photographer for about fifteen years and started getting commissioned for projects on a regular basis about four years ago. I primarily support my family with my day job as a technology specialist at a local art school.

What’s your story?

I’ve been a creative person for as long as I can remember, but I came to photography in my early twenties. It was a few years after my father passed away, and one of the things he left me was an Olympus Pen FT camera. I fell in love with the medium as soon as I started using it and have never looked back.

What kind of photography are you interested in?

I’ve always been focused on landscape photography, even though I primarily grew up in an urban environment. Due to my surroundings, I began to focus on how the urban landscape shapes the lives of the people who live in the city – the structures, signage, architecture, and typography of a neighbourhood can tell you so much about life there, but they are often overlooked.

The rapid pace of gentrification here in Los Angeles has always been central to my work. My work is a visual record of the transformation that has been taking place in areas like Hollywood, South L.A. and Downtown over the past decade.

Let’s talk about True Topographics. What was your motivation behind the work?

“True topographics” is a reference to the New Topographics movement. When I saw the work from that show, it instantly resonated with me. I wanted to incorporate the sense of loss I feel when I think about how gentrification has transformed the city I grew up in. There is a visual beauty that is native to the city, and it is disappearing. True Topographics is a record of the patchwork architecture, the gaudy liquor store signage, dingbat apartment complexes, and all the other little details that make Los Angeles unique.

What’s the importance of stillness to you?

I take most of my photographs on a Sunday morning. It’s a time when the city is calm, when I can work relatively undisturbed. I feel like this setting allows me to emphasise certain aspects of a neighbourhood that are normally hidden. This approach captures a type of quiet that isn’t usually associated with life in a major city; much of my work is inspired by these silent moments that go unnoticed.

While making the work, were there any moments that stand out to you now?

I tend to get caught up in the impermanence of the city. It’s a flexible, evolving environment that’s constantly shifting. The entire atmosphere of a neighbourhood can be changed by the addition or removal of a structure. I should be used to it by now but I’m still shocked whenever a building or area I’ve photographed in the past changes in-between visits.

What are you working on next?

Right now I’m working on my New American Landscapes series as well as my street photography project, The Los Angeles Recordings. New American Landscapes is a series of urban landscape photographs from around the country, often in neighbourhoods that stand apart from the mainstream idea of what America looks like. The Los Angeles Recordings focuses on creating an authentic portrayal of life in the neighbourhoods that I photograph.

What are you recommending?

I’m obsessed with the Watchmen series on HBO. I’m currently listening to the newest releases by Little Brother, DJ Shadow, and Black Milk. I’m not reading anything at the moment but the last book I finished was The Peripheral by William Gibson.

Tell us about a piece of art that has influenced you.

The single work that has had the biggest influence on my photography would have to be A Time Before Crack by Jamel Shabazz. Through his amazing and intimate portrayal of New York in the late 70s/early 80s, he showed the world a side of life in New York that wasn’t represented before.

It inspired me because, although my approach is very different, in many ways my objective is similar; to show the outside world the version of Los Angeles that is familiar to those of us who grew up in the city – before it’s gone.

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