There are few books that I have been anticipating more this year than Dotan Saguy's Venice Beach: The Last Days of a Bohemian Paradise. Since my interview with Dotan back in Ep. 355, I have been eager to see the culmination of a multi-year personal project centered on the Los Angeles cultural community of Venice Beach.
Venice has been a part of this city's story for decades, made famous for its unique take on beach culture. While other parts of the California coast are known for their beauty or surf, Venice Beach has long been defined by the people who have made this strip of sea, sand, and land an integral part of their lives. It is a community defined not only by the people that claim a zip code but also the transitory people who stake their own emotional claim.
Venice Beach is defined and comes alive as a result of the people and Saguy illustrates that in his beautiful black and white photographs. It is obvious that he was not satisfied with just a cursory glance into the world that is Venice Beach. He wanted to be fully immersed in a community that can be beautiful and ugly, welcoming and threatening. It is the unusual mashup of class, race, and culture that is unlike any other place in the City of Angels.
Despite its unique place in Los Angeles culture, it is a community that is not escaping the expansive wave of gentrification. As rents increase and property values soar, Venice Beach is experiencing new pressures and concerns that can and are changing what Venice is. Saguy wields his camera as an effort to memorialize this phase of Venice's community before it is transformed into something else.
Rather than being a visual polemic against gentrification, the book instead examines what makes a community, a community. Using his well-crafted layered compositions, he reveals the people within the environment they inhabit and suggests this it is people like these that have come to define Venice and not merely its location on a map. In many ways,
Saguy succeeds in crafting photographs and a book that makes Venice Beach as much of a character as the people that inhabit it.