Sign Language – Photographing a Hollywood Icon
I’ve stalked these letters for years now. It’s presence is undeniable as
it carries a significant voice over the city it watches. The journey
however is never without a price, sometimes literally.
The sound of a loud voice coming through a bull horn shouting ” get off the hill or you will be arrested” is all a part of the gig. But what makes this climb to the top of MT. Hollywood worth it? What’s worth being potentially arrested and
fined over? After all we know the sign exists and we’ve seen thousands of
shots of it before. However, my interest in these iconic letters is in its
essence or at least its perceived essence. In a sense its defined an
entire period of time that ironically is in a constant state of flux.
It’s symbol alone conjures up thoughts of fame, promise and heart brake.
For most it’s the latter but never the less it is a dream with dramatic
out comes regardless.
As I said my focus has always been to bring the signs energy to the shot.
For me its about defining what that is. What type of feeling or mood
exists within its perception and mine. I know one thing for sure and that
is every dream has a price. Where there is sun, darkness will follow. I
never wanted my shots to feel like something out of a Disney film and at
the same time I didn’t want them to read completely dark either. There’s
hope but you have to make it through the forest first type of thing.
There’s inspiration in a silver lining but I’m also interested in the
moody road traveled to get to it. I like that dynamic. It feels somewhat
haunting and mysterious with a sense of sensuality to it as well.
My path to the sign starts out on Beachwood drive. Ironically as you drive
up through Beachwood Canyon you will pass the home where a young starlet
named Peg Entwistle stayed for a short period of time in the early 1930’s.
On a late hot summer day in September of “32,” Peg not happy with where
her acting career was at took the long hike to the sign and climbed to the
top of the H where she jumped to her death. Broken down by her dreams Peg
tragically gave into the darkness of her pursuit of stardom. As the story
goes a telegram was delivered to her home the next day before the news of
her death announcing that she would be staring in a film destined to
change her career. Today this canyon street is filled mostly with hipsters
carrying guitars and aspiring actors and models jogging the streets. No
matter what the pursuit may be they are all here waiting under this sign
hoping for the best and often stomaching the worst.
I’ve lived in Los Angeles now for many years and can really say that most
of the thrill is gone. I’ve shot the Hollywood sign from so many different
perspective angles. I’ve stood directly in front of it, behind it, touched
it and even chased from it. However, inevitably whenever I’ve gotten close
up to the sign while pointing my camera in its direction something occurs
that makes me love ever bit about being a photographer. The hollow
mysterious sound of the wind always reminds me that I’m alone but at the
same time I’m fully submersed in this thrilling view realizing I only
have moments to capture it until I’m either escorted away or arrested.
Stretching my body out as far as I can reach for one last shot I
religiously hear the sound of Roy Schneider’s voice from one of the last
scenes of Jaws as he points his gun at the charging shark and fires away
while saying “smile you son of a bitch.” As I dig into the soft and
unstable hill side trying to maintain balance I start setting up for one
more composition. I remain committed while never looking over my back to
see if the coast is clear. I’m thrilled to be here and the hope is to find
a shot that feels as timeless as this sign
Born and raised in Connecticut, Brian now resides in Los Angeles full-time. He is a self-taught photographer whose work has been published around the world and featured in countless articles.