anthony hernandez, ‘Saigon – Vietnam’, ca. 1972, Be-hold
anthony hernandez, ‘Saigon – Vietnam’, ca. 1972, Be-hold
anthony hernandez, ‘Saigon – Vietnam’, ca. 1972, Be-hold

Signed, titled and dated 1972 on the back mat, verso. These were made while Hernandez served in the army. He was in Saigon in 1968, (21 years old!) so 1972 is when they were printed. They are both very exciting photographs that anticipate his later work in his native Los Angeles and other US cities. His work has been included in numerous shows and his photographs are in many institutions. SFMOMA had a major retrospective that ended in January of this year. A recent show of his work at the Yancey Richardson Gallery in NY received rave reviews. Here is one from the New York Times—

Anthony Hernandez, born in Los Angeles in 1947, is highly esteemed in the photographic world, but relatively little known outside it. His first retrospective, now at the Milwaukee Art Museum, isn’t scheduled to come to the East Coast, and his current show at Yancey Richardson Gallery is, astonishingly, his New York solo debut.

It’s a beauty. Mr. Hernandez, a child of Mexican immigrants, grew up in the Boyle Heights section of East Los Angeles, and first picked up a camera in high school. Drafted into the Army in 1967, he worked as a medic in Vietnam, an attitude-shaping experience. After being discharged, he took up photography again to stabilize himself. He approached the medium on the model of street-photography, as practiced by older contemporaries like Garry Winogrand and Diane Arbus, taking Los Angeles as his subject.

Of two groups of pictures at Richardson, the city is viewed panoramically in the 1979-80 black-and-white series called Public Transit Areas, in which isolated figures stand, under a beating-down sun, at unsheltered bus stops in working-class neighborhoods. Exquisitely composed, the views have the classical lines of Renaissance perspective and the mood of Desolation Row.

In the 1980s, Mr. Hernandez switched to color, experimentally in a series focused on the luxe life represented by that city’s high-end shopping strip, Rodeo Drive, and poetically in a second great body of work called Landscapes for the Homeless (1988-91). Images from this series, shot at deserted encampments under Los Angeles freeways, are in the show: a chair improvised from broken slabs of drywall, a pollen-bejeweled jacket hung from a tree, a length of indented earth that could be a bed or a grave.

The complete series is one of the most moving in contemporary American photography, and is absolutely pertinent to the present moment of debates about immigration and border crossings. It’s a shame that the retrospective found no berth in New York to let us see that. The Yancey Richardson show gives us a cogent sense of what we’ve missed.

This is a wonderful opportunity to acquire these rare early works. This will be offered in an upcoming auction.

Signature: Signed, titled and dated 1972 on the back mat, verso.

About anthony hernandez