"Homelessness," writes photographer Lewis Baltz in his introduction to Landscapes for the Homeless, "as a contemporary, industrial-scale phenomenon probably began in California in the late sixties when Governor Ronald Reagan closed the state mental institutions and turned the mad loose on the streets (a condition Baudrillard likened to the breaking of a Seal of the Apocalypse). Not really the dangerously mad, just the weak, the helpless, and the incompetent. Even the word homeless, as a noun, is recent."
In the last decade, particularly in temperate Southern California, the presence of an ever-increasing homeless population has become an undeniable fact of social life. Although estimates vary, thousands of homeless men, women, and children reside in the Los Angeles region. In the best tradition of documentary photography, Anthony Hernandez set out to record the hidden dwelling places of this marginalized population, which he found in vacant lots, under freeways, and in scores of abandoned sections of the city. "In Hernandez's photographs," critic Deborah Irmas has written, "it is the way the details are drawn that makes the work so powerful: a safely-stowed plastic shopping bag half-filled with food; a pair of greasy combs and an old jacket; an undulating blanket sprinkled with pepper tree leaves; a still-warm grill, silvered with ash. These objects deliver with aching force the recent or distant presence of human beings, those all-too real people we see each day in Los Angeles and from whom we instinctively turn away."
Hernandez, however, actively resists sensationalizing both the content and its context; his vision, while decidedly unsentimental, remains at once objective and almost crushingly intimate. This successful if precarious hybrid of artistic attitude is due largely to Hernandez's maintenance of a respectful psychological and social distance from the subject matter. "Anthony Hernandez isn't, can't be, and doesn't pretend to be the voice of the homeless," insists Lewis Baltz, "Nor does he spectacularize their condition. His work offers an index of those conditions, or, more exactly, of those conditions that can be seen or photographed." Hernandez's photographs, then, manage to personalize that which is inherently political, and simultaneously to politicize the intensely personal. The result is, finally, the sensitive capture of a disturbing, yet profoundly American zeitgeist, one which speaks to both the fundamental abjectness and the resilience of the human condition.
NUMBER OF WORKS:
December 1997 - March 2000
Exhibition Catalog (DG BANK-Förderpreis Fotograpfie, 1995)