What Does Los Angeles Really Look Like?

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By Elise Gray 

Ah, Los Angeles, California, where do we begin? We're all used to seeing The City of Angels in the movies. For many people, this is the Promised Land. Most Americans have a general idea of what it looks like, as it is the breeding grounds for the rich and famous. A lot of outside assumptions about LA are accurate. Yes, perfect people are running around with designer footwear, and dogs are allowed everywhere. Trimmed palm trees and luxury vehicles do line the streets with well-groomed lawns in a uniformed fashion. The first time you step foot in LA, it's sort of like a surreal #instastory coming alive. How can one place be so beautiful? Contrary to popular belief, Los Angeles also offers more than conventional beauty. Rodeo Drive isn't the only place that native Los Angelenos see every day. In fact, unless you're a well-paid individual, you might not ever step foot on Rodeo Drive – that's where Matthew Grant Anson comes in. He uses Lightroom to edit this still-life portraits of LA's backstreets and staples, like Santee Alley and the Metro. His work presents a depiction of LA that is free from designer boutiques and high-end cafes. Matthew's work offers a more honest and raw look at the city of Los Angeles, in all its urban glory.

LA Pulse had the opportunity to talk with the rising LA-based photographer. Read on to meet Matthew Grant Anson and how he brings LA to life with his photography: 

What do you want people to take away from your photography?

 I want them to come away thinking "Huh, this is some real shit." 

Your work is different. You don't capture the glamorous side of LA or the slim physiques of IG models. In my opinion, your work portrays the side of Los Angeles that people do not usually see. What made you want to shoot this way? Please elaborate on your style.

 I am shooting what interests me, and I have pretty much no interest in shooting models or any moments that don't feel authentic and candid to me. When I was a kid being driven around LA by my parents, I was always interested in the sides of freeways and alleys in the city...when I became an adult, I just started going to the places I used to stare at from the car. I have a photojournalism mindset to what I'm doing, and my goal is to document the city as frequently, as long, and as well as I can. I like going through old work and seeing the skyline change, and the tags get painted over and redone and, unfortunately, the city becoming gentrified block by block.

How exactly did you first get started with photography and was it something you always wanted to do or did you stumble into it?

I became interested in photography about seven years ago. I was doing primarily music photography for my college newspaper, and I would shoot a lot of backyard punk shows around LA. After a few years, I lost interest in the shows and was more interested in capturing the environments that the shows were held in. I transitioned to street photography, and for the last five years, I've been exploring the parts of LA that appeal to me most. 

What camera or device(s) do you use to capture your work? 

I use a Sony a7sii and have been for the last few months. I like it because it has a silent shutter option. I also keep a few disposable cameras in my backpack and car, but I don't share the results of those efforts anywhere because they’ve sucked so far.

Where do you prefer to shoot? 

My favorite spots are Santee Alley, MacArthur Park, the LA River, the 110 Freeway above the tunnels, and the top of the Bendix building. 

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What advice would you give to anyone looking to pursue photography?

Photography has been nothing but a positive in my life so I'd encourage anyone to pursue it. If someone wanted to get into street photography in particular, I'd advise them to take stock of who they are and how they present to the world and operate with that in mind. If you're a person of color, female, disabled, etc., my impression is that you are more likely to encounter conflict, depending on how upfront you are with your photography. If you're white, or especially if you're a white male or white-passing male like me, you can basically drift through the world with people at the least treading lightly around you, or at most thinking you're a cop. If that's the case, I think it's required you be aware of that advantage and try to contribute to your community in some way, by filming police you encounter and speaking up when you see something that's not right. 

How do you feel the digital age has contributed to your success as a photographer? Has the community been welcoming and supportive?

I think the digital age supplied the inspiration I needed to get started, and without it, I don't think I would have stuck to this as long as I have. 

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What influences your work?

Mostly other photographers on Instagram and Tumblr. 

Where do you see yourself going with your photography?

Nowhere – this is a hobby. I have a career that has nothing to do with photography, and I like it that way. If I could shoot streets for money, I'd do that, but I don't think that's a realistic goal, and the reality is that I'm not interested in shooting anything but streets.  

Can we expect any meetups or collaborations in the future?

I'll be meeting up with my cats to collaborate on editing pictures I took two months ago, which is the size of my backlog right now. 

All photography by Matthew Grant Anson. Check out MatthewGrantAnson.com for his latest work or follow him on social @MatthewGrantAnson