MATT LOGUE & THE MATT LOGUE & THE

ART OF ABSTRACTION ART OF ABSTRACTION
By Jared Smith

ALL PHOTOs COPYRIGHT © MATT LOGUE

land that Neville inhabits; Logue’s Los Angeles is instead alternately fey and intimate, as the images assume, for most, a quiet significance. So deftly and beautifully are they composed that one may at first overlook the lack of a human element—an element that any Angeleno would agree is as inextricable to their city as the persistent sun and temperate climate. Only a nonnative could envision Los Angeles otherwise, and only a nonnative such as Logue could render the city with such grace. Outsider’s Perspective Logue was raised in a small town near the city of Redding in the northernmost part of California’s Central Valley. Photography played a significant role in his life, even from early age. And growing up in a rural environment clearly affected his perception of the world. “There are no tall buildings out there,” Logue says, “so when I grew up, of course, with sky and sunsets, what it feels like to be outside is very different from what it feels like in Los Angeles.” Logue became passionate about photography while studying under famed Americana shooter Robert Dawson at San Jose State University. Yet, to this day Logue is not a photographer by trade. After further experimentation at school he eventually settled on animation and effects as his major— and now his subsequent career. It turned out

In the opening scene of The Omega Man, the 1971 film adaptation of Richard Matheson’s novel I am Legend, Colonel Richard Neville, the only surviving human on Earth, cruises blithely through downtown Los Angeles in a red convertible. This Los Angeles is unfamiliar—its desolate and windswept streets and intersections unoccupied, save Neville and a handful of abandoned cars. The scene is uncanny, if not altogether disturbing. Yet it is imme-

diately apparent to the viewer this world exists only within the confines of film, and thus a suspension of disbelief is knowingly in order. But open the book Empty L.A. from landscape photographer Matt Logue, and you will find a vision of Los Angeles that transcends mere cinematic contrivances. You will find, as Logue puts it, “an impossibility that looks like it could be real.” The images do not depict the dystopian South-

to be a prudent choice. From 2000 to 2004 he lived in New Zealand while working on the The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Still, photography has always remained Logue’s personal art. Throughout the years he has pursued landscape shooting during “stolen moments” of time he says, preferring a Noblex 150 to capture bending panoramas because “it’s more true to what the eye sees.” The beauty of this work lies in its effortless composition. Although they appear formal and planned, most of his landscapes were taken impulsively during a hike. When Logue and his family moved to Los Angeles he was forced to rethink his entire approach to photography. “Moving to L.A. was kind of a culture shock,” he says. “I’m still getting over it.” It was 2004, the rolling New Zealand countryside was gone, and Logue was left staring blankly at a tangle of freeways and looming buildings. A Love of Labor Empty L.A. is an incredibly focused project that echoes the social explorations of Dawson, whose work on California’s Central Valley “really struck a chord” with Logue. Unlike his previous work, it was anything but effortless. Spanning the better part of four years, Empty L.A. first began in 2005 after Logue spent another morning sharing the road from Torrance to Santa Monica gridlocked with his fellow commuters: “I spend a lot of time driving to and from work,” says Logue. “It sounds kind of ridiculous because I’m only 15 miles away, but it’s hours out of your day. I just got an image of: What would this look like if it was empty? What would it sound like and feel like to be there? The initial objective of Empty L.A. was just to see it realized.” Using a combination of Google Street View and his own scouting, Logue began to compile a map of potential intersections and freeway overpasses. He says, “I wanted to use locations that were recognizable and ones that could never possibly be empty.” One of his greatest difficulties was in locating unobstructed views of freeways, as most overpasses in Los Angeles are enclosed by chain-link fences that protect pedestrians. Thus, even in the project’s early

are people and cars and society surrounding you, you don’t get a chance to concentrate on the landscape around you when you’re in the city. That’s one of the things I was going for,” Logue says. “Now you can see what is on the other side of the 405.” Staying Put In The Omega Man Neville has been living alone in downtown Los Angeles for nearly two years. We find him talking to mannequins and reciting movies word for word in an empty theater. The message is clear: inhabit such a world for too long and the solitude transforms—begins to consume. Fortunately for Logue, Empty L.A. is a reverie, a harmless daydream, not a viable mode no matter how idyllic it may seem. What is viable, however, is Logue’s potential future in photography. While he is contented with his career as an animation supervisor, the overwhelming (and unexpected) acclaim Empty L.A. garnered has prompted him to explore this future. He is currently pursuing gallery opportunities, large-scale publishing for the book, and other projects. Of his early photographic pursuits before animation, Logue says, “I think I wasn’t ready for photography at that time,” and perhaps this much is true. But over the years Logue has honed his eye and his art, and the quietude and tranquility of the outdoors have revealed much to him. Yet, strangely, it is not the outdoors that has had the profoundest impact. When asked about the single most important location to his photography, Logue issues a reluctant, but certain reply: “Los Angeles,” he says.
Jared Smith is senior editor for Rangefinder and AfterCapture magazines.

stages, he was unconsciously removing any human element from the visual narrative. Once he found an ideal location, Logue would return at a time when the scene, though never entirely still, would be at its least frenetic: “I had to go out a lot of Sunday and holiday mornings—New Year’s morning and Christmas morning— when people were generally at home and when the traffic was light enough to be able to actually get a long distance perspective on the freeway.” And so on calm Sunday mornings, armed with a Canon 300D (Canon Digital Rebel in the U.S.), Logue would shoot 100 to 150 images of each cityscape to create a “digital mosaic.” He explains, “Where there were cars, I took anywhere from 10 to 50 photos of each individual piece of the mosaic in order to have enough empty space on each Photoshop layer to paint through each car to the next layer. If there was road under there—great; if not, I could use another layer.” Surprisingly, the compilation and abstraction process, while seemingly tedious, was therapeutic for Logue: “I’m not a city guy at all. When I was using the eraser tool in Photoshop and taking the cars out, I could just feel the tension melt away.” A Matter of Perception Like all of Logue’s photographic work, Empty L.A. was a personal project. When he assembled the book using software from

Blurb.com, he decided to enter it into their annual book contest. To his astonishment it won an honorable mention. And this was only the beginning: “On a lark I mailed it to Boing Boing [a technology, art, and culture Web site],” says Logue, “and once on there it exploded and my server crashed. Then I had to start thinking about publicity.” Much of the book’s appeal seems to stem from its ability to command a direct emotional response from the viewer. These reactions, as Logue and others have noted, manifest in two forms: Some find the images peaceful and utopian, a reflection of the great city Los Angeles could be if it weren’t plagued by urban congestion. Others, after witnessing their beloved city stripped of its characteristic vim, identify a darker thread, one more in line with our nuclear-age anxieties. That Empty L.A. elicits such ardent feedback is a testament to Logue’s ability to ask truly provocative questions with his art. He has forced us to confront our preconceptions about environments by inverting the landscape paradigm: We’re accustomed to our forests and foothills devoid of people and velocity, not our downtowns, city centers and freeways. Logue shows us we cannot learn to appreciate our environments until we have become objectively aware of them. And with Empty L.A., he’s given us the means for doing so: “Even when you are walking around downtown, I think because there

Empty L.A.
2009 Photography Book Now Honorable Mention 78 pages www.emptyla.com

Reproduction with permission from the After Capture June/July 2010 issue.