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 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 heartbreak. 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 Parillo 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. Website: BrianParilloPhotography.com