Lovers of documentary photography, this one is for you. Californian artist Dotan Saguy drew a fascinating portrait of one of Los Angeles’s neighbourhoods, doomed to disappear: Venice Beach.

I know that this will sound cliché, but Venice Beach chose me, and not the other way around”, Dotan Saguy explains. “I photographed several streets and neighbourhoods of Los Angeles – Hollywood Boulevard, Boyle Heights, Beverly Hills, Downtown Los Angels etc”, but Venice Beach was the one. “It was where I most enjoyed just walking around, I identified to that place”, he adds. And then, he realised how much this neighbourhood was changing, causing the disappearance of its cultural diversity. This same diversity that inspired his pictures. The project Venice Beach turned into a true obsession. “I started feeling guilty whenever I wasn’t there, I was afraid of missing important moments”, he tells us.

Between tourism and gentrification

“Picture a 3-kilometres-long beach, on which dozens of communities interact peacefully: body builders, skateboarders, painters, surfers, homeless people, hippies, roller skating dancers, acrobats, street artists, musicians, percussionists, basketball players, and drug addicts”. Welcome to the second touristic attraction of California, behind Disneyland, “a place packed with intensity”. Each of those meetings created a powerful memory. Dotan shared one with us – the one from his book cover. In the picture, a young woman is wearing a bathing suit, looking after a huge snake, wrapped around a metal bar. “Before photographing Jenna, she told me her story. She used to look after two boas, with her 5 year-old son, to help a snake charmer. This scene captivated me for more than an hour”, he remembers. By scrolling through the comical situations printed in the book, it becomes clear that Dotan must have a thousand more stories to tell.

The photographer preferred to work in black and white, to highlight the timelessness of the subject, and to keep time still, around this bohemian culture doomed to disappear. Yet, the reader may find it easy to imagine the colourful energy of this microcosm. A joyful portrait released at the perfect timing, since the neighbourhood is currently experiencing gentrification. “This phenomenon has increased these last few years, and Venice Beach may very well become a sea resort for rich people only, like the beaches of Santa Monica, Pacific Palisades, or even Manhattan Beach. How would rich owners, living by the seaside, tolerate camping-cars parked in front of their homes?” With this superb project, Dotan could orient public discussions on local politics.

© Dotan Saguy

Venice Beach, Kehrer Verlag, 39,90 €, 128 p.