Wednesday, 20 April 2011 Raymond Chandler said it was "a city with no more personality than a paper cup". Clive James called it "paradise with a lobotomy". Dorothy Parker famously called it "seventy two suburbs in search of a city" and Frank Lloyd Wright said that "if you tilted the whole country sideways, Los Angeles was the place where everything loose would fall".
It’s been the constant butt of generations of American comedians since the early years of the last century, when it was little more than village. Film makers like Woody Allen and Mel Brooks snigger and make jokes about it, and even actors like Harrison Ford, that owe their whole livelihood to the place, deride it, refuse to live there and spend as little time in the city as possible.
I love LA. I don't mean that in a sarcastic Randy Newman type way, I mean I genuinely love being there. But one thing that I've never quite understood is why most Americans seem to hate LA so much? You hardly ever hear an American ever say a good word about LA, whether or not they've ever actually been there. Google will turn up an enormous number of examples of famous Americans being snarky about Los Angeles and they almost always seem to me to be cliches.
And not only Americans. Every time I hear a British actor talking about living or working in Los Angeles, they always have something rude to say about the place. It's almost always rude and almost always very ill-informed.
Mind you, not even the Los Angeles Tourist Board always gives a very good account of the place. In the mid '90s, many years before Google was invented, I was commissioned to write and photograph a travel article about Los Angeles and I was determined to focus on the city's hidden gems - if I could find some. I called up the Los Angeles Tourist Board and asked them whether, other than the Watts Tower, there was anything south of Wilshire Boulevard that could possibly be of any interest to a tourist? I got a straight answer. "No".
In that particular case, they were probably right. Only an idiot would write an article advising tourists to go wandering round parts of South Central, Watts, Compton or the like, and I certainly didn't do so. But there are definitely places of great interest for a music fan in those parts - the motel where Sam Cooke was shot, for instance - and for a lover of Americana, there are some wonderful, fifties style, car washes and bowling alleys.
And for a keen photographer, there is an awful lot of subject matter.
Over the last 24 years, I guesstimate that I've taken more photographs in Los Angeles than I have in any other city, even including London, the place I was born and have lived all my adult life. I've been to Los Angeles close to a hundred times and every time I drive up from the airport or over the hills coming from the North or East, I experience a frisson of excitement as I see the downtown skyscrapers through the haze in the distance. And every time, I feel genuinely glad to be back.
I've loved LA almost from the first moment I got there. I say "almost" because it wasn't quite that way the first time. I first went there in '87 to shoot a bunch of West Coast rappers for Island Records. They put me up in the Beverley Hilton. Ronald Reagan was still President and despite owning a house in nearby Bel Air, he was staying in a room on the floor below me. So there were secret service agents everywhere 24/7. There was a police car on the roof of the building opposite, facing directly, or so it seemed, into my window. Also, rather bizarrely, some of the hotel staff were wearing rubber Ronald Reagan masks, one assumed as some sort of wacky tribute. I wasn't able to go out for a walk, especially at night, without being trailed by cop cars or being stopped and asked where I thought I was going. I've come to realise, this experience wasn't at all typical.
One reason why I think I love LA so much is that I'm from the first generation of ordinary kids who grew up with TV's in their homes. And so much of that early commercial TV was filmed in and around LA.
77 Sunset Strip, Dennis The Menace, Bewitched, The Lucy Show, Perry Mason, The Beverley Hillbillies, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Monkees, Mr Ed.
There were many others and it's quite a long list. It didn't matter that most of those shows were so studio bound that you'd only get a glimpse of a genuine, real life street once in every half a dozen episodes. Something of the spirit of the place existed in those shows and it somehow entered my DNA. To a kid growing up in a grey, dreary, postwar London, that still had bomb sites everywhere and the occasional coal age pea-souper, Los Angeles seemed incredibly exotic.
And in later years, as I grew older (and maybe stopped watching so much TV) it struck me that a lot of the people I most admired had either lived or created some of their best work in Los Angeles.
Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits, Herb Ritts, Helmut Newton, Gary Winogrand, Charles Bukowski, James Ellroy, the aforementioned Raymond Chandler...
I won't go on but it's another very, very long list.
After 35 years (and counting) of taking photographs, as much as I've been able to deduce anything about my photography at all, I've worked out that what I'm inspired by more than anything else is (i) being able to evoke a specific sense of place and (ii) sunshine.
And that's why I love LA.