Pamela Mayers-Schoenberg: “The Vermont Project” at dnj Gallery

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Untitled, 1998, Silver Gelatin Print, 8″ x 10″
Photo: courtesy dnj Gallery

It’s always interesting to see the world through the eyes of others, especially if they’ve just arrived in a new place. Hence, Pamela Mayers-Schoenberg’s new body of work “The Vermont Project” needs to be understood as the perception of a Cincinnati native, for whom “multi-culturalism” had only been a term and not a daily-lived experience, before she moved to Los Angeles in the mid-1990s. Mayers-Schoenberg started her 18-month-project in fall 1997 with an artist’s grant from the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs that she received for her previous project “The Boys.” The show is comprised of 50 black-and-white photographs taken on Vermont Avenue, one of the longest north/south streets in Los Angeles, with a length of about 23 miles. It includes images of Los Feliz, Hollywood, Koreatown, South Central and Harbor City. However, instead of concentrating on the major attractions of these neighborhoods, such as the Greek Theater or the Observatory (where the film “Rebel Without A Cause” with James Dean was famously shot), Mayers-Schoenberg captured its ordinary people and their everyday lives, either working, dancing, eating, strolling, relaxing, or gathering on the streets. Her photos recall the works of New York scene photographers Vivian Maier and Rebecca Lebkoff, shot with the sentiment of Diane Arbus, who said that “the camera is a license to enter the lives of others.” Her subjects are either presented posing or otherwise engaged; sometimes slightly aware, at other times completely unaware of the camera.

One image (21) displays a young man with a Kafiya scarf on his head, who is buying incense from an African-American salesman on the corner of 3rd Street and Vermont in Hollywood, both looking slightly towards the camera. Another (43) shows a woman and a man with sun hats, shot from behind, while she’s reading and he’s studying a newspaper stand, which tellingly sells a gamut of multi-ethnic publications, such as La Opinion, The Asia Times, and USA Today. Image (7) depicts a gray-haired African American woman posing on a porch swing in South Central, gazing directly into the camera. Although these people share the same street, there is no sense of just one community, and it is this striking fact that Mayers-Schoenberg’s project tries to address. “Through my images, I want to build a collective vision and create an interaction among the various neighborhoods,” she has said. With this work, she does just that.

—SIMONE KUSSATZ