Landscape scholar, photographer and UCLA lecturer Yogan Muller has been photographing the urban landscape of Los Angeles prior to and throughout the current Covid-19 crisis.
Mona Kuhn (MK): As a creative director for The Billboard Creative in Los Angeles, I have curated and seen a myriad of works inspired by the surroundings here, but yours was different. It has that fresh look into what we might consider to be quotidian. I was struck by the emotional truth your images reveal, without a being judgmental. Can you share with us where you are coming from, physically and emotionally?
Yogan Muller (YM): Hi Mona, it is always a pleasure to get together. As I was putting the final touches to my practice-based PhD thesis in landscape photography in June 2018 in Brussels, Belgium, it dawned on me that L.A. was the next chapter of my photographic journey. An earlier body of work shot in southwest Iceland does contain the seeds of the work I am making in L.A. Upon arrival, I remember sitting on the Expo Line train looking out at the blue skies above the Santa Monica mountains. They were surrounded by an encroaching urban landscape that made them look like bare bones. People whose dreams got them in L.A. lived there. I was going to meet these people and explore this landscape for the first time. I felt the urge to start photographing as a way to connect the many questions and references I had in mind.
MK: You mentioned Arcadia and your interest in creating an archive. In fact, on your website you show a preview of The Arcadian Archive. What brought you there and why is this important to you?
YM: The city of Arcadia, east of Pasadena, is another reason why L.A. strongly bleeped on my radar. It reminded me of Nicolas Poussin’s The Shepherds of Arcadia that bears the latin memento mori ‘Et In Arcadia Ego‘. Arcadia also has to do with an idyllic pastoral landscape in ancient Greece. On the other hand, the Californian Arcadia sits at a termination point in the history of western civilization and the geography of westward expansion. In addition, I knew long before moving to L.A. that we were destined to hit a major speed bump. Hence, creating an archive was a strategy to address these questions.
MK: While this city is an abstraction in many regards, your pictures are clearly devoid of fiction. Can you expand on your photographic approach?
YM: Well, the landscape of L.A. is the result of an overwhelming sequence of physical transformations to the point where I often think there is nothing to add to that rich picture. In other words, L.A. is such a semiotic treasure trove and photography such a powerful medium to attend to complexity that anything else truly seems superfluous to me.
MK: Besides the importance you place on what one might call the “reality factor”, your images contain a certain intangible quality. Tell us a bit more about it.
YM: That’s right, while the material reality of L.A. is incredibly interesting, what L.A. does to people, trees, and skies certainly attracts me as well. I am after something akin to the genius loci and its imprint on the landscape and people’s psyches. In other words, I am trying to capture the physical manifestations of this spirit in “core samples”. It is really exciting because L.A. seems to be an inextinguishable source.
November 05, 2020 to December 05, 2020