The Getty Museum has launched a website called 12 Sunsets that is a fascinating interactive archive of 65,000 photos taken over 50 years of every building and every block on one famed Los Angeles street by one famed artist. The photo archive is the vast output of a project by Ed Ruscha, the L.A.-based artist who’s association with the city is deeply ingrained in his life, career and body of work.
Ruscha is best known for his paintings, which often have a word or phrases painted over urban and natural landscapes. But his lesser known photography-based project documenting the buildings along L.A.’s long, winding and landmark Sunset Blvd., a.k.a., “the Sunset Strip,” is a substantial, major work in itself.
Starting in the 1960s, Ruscha embarked on photographing every building along every block along both sides of Sunset. The boulevard is symbolic of the City of Angels in many ways. The wide thoroughfare runs more or less east-west through neighborhoods rich and poor, landmarks famous and unremarkable, through business and shopping districts and exclusive residential enclaves, all the way from downtown through districts as diverse as Chinatown, Echo Park, Silver Lake, Thai Town, Hollywood, West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, past UCLA, Brentwood and finally to its western terminus at the Pacific Ocean and a high-traffic T-intersection with another famed roadway, the Pacific Coast Highway, better know to Angelenos as “PCH.”
Initially, the output of Ruscha’s photo project in the 1960s amounted to an intriguing book of images published in 1966 titled “Every Building on the Sunset Strip.” He continued to capture images of Sunset’s blocks many times over across several decades. The effort now amounts to a massive photo collection of exhaustive magnitude. It not only documents the urban streetscape but shows how it has changed over the decades, its aesthetic evolving as old buildings are torn down, new ones arise, storefronts close, new shops open, signs change, evidence of fashion and architectural design trends come and go, and billboards appear where once there were none.
The collection is now part of the Getty Museum‘s archive, which has been virtually impossible to easily access in its entirety by the general public. The 12 Sunsets website allows fans of Ruscha’s obsessive project, and even the merely curious, to dive into the collection and explore and savor the project either at down-the-rabbit-hole length or in occasional cursory dip-ins. Both will reward the viewer.