Photographing the Incredible Melting Pot of LA's Runyon Canyon
We had a chat with photographer Dan Wilton and writer Josh Jones about their new project.
LA gets a bad reputation at times for being a soulless, sprawling nest of crushed dreams and wildly tacky aspirations. But Canyon, a new publication by photographer Dan Wilton and writer Josh Jones, dispels some of that image.
The limited-run book, released this week and produced in collaboration with Ditto Press, takes a look at one place in the mega-city where Angelinos of almost every kind imaginable walk, interact and escape the smog and bustle of the city centre. We had a quick chat with Dan and Josh about their project.
VICE: First off, I guess you should explain where the canyon is – and what it is – for people less familiar with LA.
Dan Wilton: Runyon Canyon dangles off the end of Mulholland Drive, in between Beverly Hills and the massive hill with the Hollywood sign on it. It's a couple of big, dusty hills with loads of fitness freaks, wannabe actors and dogs scrambling all over it. I was in LA for a job and Josh happened to be in town, so I stayed on for a week extra to hang out. We ended up spending most of it crisping ourselves on top of the Runyon.
The idea for the book seems to be that this place is a rare example of somewhere where the vast social spectrum of the city mixes. What makes this so rare in LA? And how come the canyon works like this?
Josh Jones: That's exactly what it is. We went up there just to see who we'd meet, and within 15 minutes we realised that this dusty mountain trail was full of people representing every single walk of life in the city. The thing that struck us was that all these people were mingling and chatting at the peak. Guys with grills and massive dogs were having pleasant chats with millionaire grannies in their visors and Cape Cod sweaters. Someone was telling us it's one of the few places in the whole city you can let your dog off the lead, so I guess that's why the dog walkers are up there – but I think it's mainly because you can literally climb out of the city. The view is fantastic and it gets you out of the smog and traffic and constant shit that's going on in people's lives. It's a total break from the electricity. It's also one of the few absolute parts of nature that's easily accessible for most Angelinos. But mainly it's the view. The view's pretty badass – when you can see it.
What sort of people did you come across while shooting there?
Dan: All of them! Millionaires, fitness freaks, gangsters, some dude who told us a story about his dog being raised by feral ninja cats in a Sikh temple, weed farmers, wannabe models, pushy mothers who really wanted their daughters to be models, plenty of actors, kale eaters, video directors and a lot of entrepreneurs. The one thing about the people we met is they were all on the hustle. I love LA.
Was there any one character that really struck you?
Josh: My favourite was this lady called Yolande. She was this lovely grandma type, but when she started telling us her story it was crazy. She was born in Belgium, went to school in Windsor, moved to America – because she liked Doris Day – and was a Playboy Bunny in the original Playboy bar in Chicago. Then she ran away from a bad man to LA, met the guy who wrote Escape to Victory, which starred Sylvester Stallone, Pele and Michael Caine, and married him. They lived up on the canyon before it was a park, and she had seen two Native American ghosts up there. She told us she was neighbours with this lady called Blanche, who'd ridden her horse to LA from Oklahoma in the 1930s and bought acres of land on the canyon for $1 each, built herself a cabin in her spare time and died there aged 102.
How did people react to your accosting them on their barefoot runs and rambles? Were any irritated at being stopped or disturbed?
Josh: The handy thing about LA is everyone wants to talk about themselves. Also, Dan does an excellent Hugh Grant-esque, "Hello! How are you? I'm from England!" and they all absolutely love that. They were genuinely interested in the project and the fact we were just doing it for the fun of it. Also, a good percentage of them had never seen a film camera before, which is a worry but a good ice-breaker.
Do you see the canyon as a sort of antidote to the rest of LA? How do you two feel about the city generally? It seems to really divide people.
Dan: I love it. I think it gets a really bad rap, but every time I've been I've met truly nice and creative people. But then again, I've hardly explored the whole place – if I was from LA and went to Peckham I'd say I'd met a bunch of creative people I liked and [been to some] decent bars. If I'd flown to Brent Cross for a week, I doubt I'd like it so much.
See some of the photos from the book below: