When we lived in Los Angeles, friends from far and wide would come “visit us,” which – let’s be honest – meant “enjoy an L.A. vacation with a free couch to sleep on.” We’d cart them around to various trademark posts: Hollywood, Malibu, the hills of Palos Verdes. We’d hear the same phrase, over and over again: “You guys are livin’ the dream.”
And we were, to an extent. The weather was great, the traffic less so. But we were young and in love, surviving on Taco Bell and the office Keurig machine. We had our health, and a roof over our heads and a car and two bikes and the legs required to propel them. We had it all.
But we were a mess. We were newlyweds navigating a marriage where we spent 80 hours each week apart – at the office, in traffic, back at the office again – and 50 hours asleep. The other 12 hours were reserved for grown-up things: cooking, cleaning, laundry, attempting to get to know the city we’d chosen to spend our careers in.
One weekend, we’d agreed to take out-of-town visitors to see the Hollywood sign. We set out for the 405, weaving in and out and around to avoid stand-still traffic. When we’d arrived at our secret viewpoint – the one we’d discovered months prior during a work function of Ken’s – our visitor stared, mouth open.
“That’s it?” she said.
In 1977, Italian photographer Luigi Ghirri visited the Italian coastal town of Remini and photographed ‘Italia in Miniatura,’ a kind of theme park that featured a large model of Mont Blanc. The series is a mix of realism and fabrication: some shots are framed in a way to make the mountain look original – towering and beastly – while others reveal the truer sense, all handrails and tourist paths.
When asked about the meaning of his work, Ghirri’s response was simple. “The meaning that I am trying to render through my work,” he notes, “is a verification of how it is still possible… to be able to distinguish the precise identity of man, things, life, from the image of man, things, and life.“
Identity and image, it seems, are rarely the same.
Over four decades later, an artist named Elizabeth Corkery snapped these photos from the 2014 polar vortex in Boston. Cold and snowy frames were transformed – by light and color and framing – into portraits resembling an epic mountain range, a depiction of the Hollywood Hills. Winter became summer. East became West.
Identity became image.
Los Angeles, for us, eventually became a place of great love and growth, but not without its early challenges. Like all newlyweds, as our new cookie sheets grew rusty, our naivete turned brown and crumbly. So we changed our story. We quit the rat race, swapping careers and making sacrifices – each putting the other first, taking turns on the merry-go-round. We grew up, together. You became us. Me became we.
Identity into image.
When we moved home to the Midwest over five years ago, friends would whisper, “Why’d you leave? Why would you ever leave?”
And although the short answer involves a lot of factors – family health issues, an ailing father, flexible work environments, future plans, slower living – the longer answer is buried in the very foundation itself: a quiet mountain towering over everything we choose, then and now.
Identity over image.
Credits: Elizabeth Corkery for The Tappan Collective