Publish, Philip Stroomberg – November 2016
In Your Face
‘Skid Row’ staat er op de voorkant. Knetterend in zwart op neon roze (PMS 812). Gezet uit een letter die je zelf uit papier zou kunnen snijden, een soort antroposofische-punkletter. Associaties met het werk van Jamie Reid voor de Sex Pistols dringen zich op. Je kan er ook gebouwen of straten in zien: een plattegrond. Versterkt door het forse formaat, is dit een boek dat om aandacht schreeuwt. Niks is iel of subtiel. Zo zijn ook alle teksten fors, gezet uit Helvetica bold. En krijg je geen vier pagina’s omslag maar het dubbele daarvan, met op pagina drie en vier een introductietekst.
Op één van die felroze pagina’s stelt de fotograaf Désirée van Hoek zichzelf de vraag waarom ze zes jaar lang in Skid Row heeft gefotografeerd, een straatarme buurt in Los Angeles met veel daklozen. Het antwoord geeft op een sympathieke wijze inzicht in haar gedachten over het hoe en waarom van dit boek.
Niet alleen het omslag is kleurig, de foto’s hebben in druk een hoge verzadiging meegekregen. Er is weinig ruimte voor subtiele tinten en de schaduwen zijn zwaar aangezet, alsof het harde leven in Skid Row – letterlijk – hard moest worden vastgelegd. Niets is hier licht of luchtig.
Het boek is opgemaakt als een wandeling door de wijk, je kijkt mee met de fotograaf die afdaalt naar straatniveau, in- en uitzoomt, details bekijkt en mensen portretteert.
Al bladerend valt op dat er regelmatig pauzes in het boek zitten, in de vorm van lege witte pagina’s. Rustpunten die noodzakelijk zijn om alle ellende even te laten bezinken. Tussen die witte pagina’s zitten losse bladen geklemd, waarop bewoners van Skid Row zijn afgebeeld.
Die losse vellen, gedrukt op een lichter en matter papier, voelen als cadeautjes. Je kan er ook mee spelen en ze onderling verwisselen. En misschien zijn ze, net als de bewoners zelf, op een gegeven moment verdwenen. Het boek krijgt hierdoor iets van een familiealbum. Het verhoogt de belevingswaarde van dit toch al rijke boek.
Knack, Ludo Bekkers - October 2016
Het leven van een outcast in beeld
In het fotoboek 'Skid Row' portretteert de voormalige Nederlandse modefotografe Désirée van Hoek de daklozen in de wijk Skid Row in Los Angeles. Indrukwekkende portretten die de misère letterlijk een gelaat geven.In het Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam toont men nu de beste boekontwerpen van 2015 uit Nederland en Vlaanderen. Een van de bekroonde boeken is "Skid Row" een fotoboek van de Nederlandse Désirée van Hoek, origineel van vorm, prachtige foto's en in eigen beheer uitgegeven. Het juryrapport loog er niet om : "een kijkervaring zonder weerga, in your face, bovendien ondergebracht in een misleidende 'vorm'. De beoordelaars vonden dit een fotoboek dat zijn thema oversteeg én de gebaande paden met veel lef verliet"
Waar gaat het nu over. Skid Row komt van het werkwoord "skidden" dat sloeg op het wegslepen van boomstronken en -wortels uit de bossen ten gerieve van timmerlui via de Skid Road. Op een bepaald moment werden de "houtdieven" door de overheid verdreven en die zakten af naar Los Angeles via de Skid Road, een weg die leidde naar een gebied dat berucht was als een gevaarlijke en promiscue wijk. Haar kwalijke reputatie verergerde nog in de jaren dertig van de vorige eeuw, de tijd van de grote crisis en de Amerikaanse Depressie. Homo's en alcoholisten stroomden toe, later veteranen uit de Tweede Wereldoorlog samen met hun Afro-Amerikaanse kompanen die al snel begonnen met het uitbaten van obscure hotels, seksbioscopen, bordelen en ander soort vertier. Na de Vietnamoorlog kwam er een nieuw contingent oud-strijders aanwaaien en zij introduceerden de drugshandel. Kortom een hedendaags Sodoma en Gomorra en terwijl andere steden in de VS heel wat middelen inzetten om dat soort plagen te bestrijden kon Los Angeles onvoldoende geld vrijmaken om de strijd tegen drugs, prostitutie, armoede en promiscuïteit op een efficiënte manier aan te pakken. Skid Row bleef tot op vandaag een problematische wijk waar vooral kleurlingen, dompelaars en andere marginalen een thuis vinden onder tentjes, kartonnen dozen en huisportalen.
In deze omgeving werkte Désirée van Hoek haar langdurig project uit. Langdurig om dat ze het gebied, groter dan een buurt, grondig wilde verkennen en ook omdat ze het vertrouwen van de wisselende bevolking moest trachten te winnen. Vooral dat laatste was een werk van lange adem. Maar het lukte haar om niet uitsluitend de buurt te documenteren maar ook indrukwekkende portretten te maken die de misère letterlijk een gelaat geven. Haar foto's geven een beeld van een situatie die ze niet naïef benadert maar toch betrokken. Ze toont openbare ruimten vanuit een vogelperspectief, kijkt naar geschonden gevels van woningblokken en geeft een kijk op de manier waarop die dompelaars van de straat hun "home" hebben gemaakt. En dan zijn er de portretten die in losse bladen in het boek liggen. Vrijwel altijd tonen die de "bewoners" in al hun armoede maar met een waardigheid die men niet zou verwachten. Het worden archetypes van een wereld die men niet vermoed maar die door de portretten werkelijkheid zijn geworden. Het is het verbazende werk van een buitenstaander die zich in het leven van deze outcasts heeft trachten in te werken en daarin voorbeeldig geslaagd is.
10x10 Photobooks, Sabrina Mandacini - July 2016
"Skid Row" by Désirée van Hoek (self-published, 2015), large format and beautifully printed, is a compelling photo-essay of the infamous Los Angeles neighborhood and its people.
Jury report, The Best Book Designs from The Netherlands and Flanders 2015
With its dayglow pink and screaming lettering the cover of Skid Row looks like a relic from the age of punk. Have Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious made a comeback? At the same time this large-format book has the impact of a trendy fashion magazine. Are we in for something gritty? Leafing through the book we then find ourselves surveying the peak of wretchedness, as one panel member so expressively put it. But still trough the eyes of a fashion photographer.
Amsterdam photographer Désirée van Hoek spent eight years working on her Skid Row project. From 2007 to 2015 she regularly immersed herself in the poorest neighbourhood of Los Angeles, home to some 15.000 homeless or formerly homeless people. Skid Row, in the heart of Downtown LA, has been there well over a hundred years. In her book, former fashion photographer Van Hoek shows us the human face of Skid Row, creating portraits of the local people. These are inserted loose between the leaves, printed in dense glowing colours, and zooming in on their possessions and clothing and the buildings and other structures that constitute their world.
In this way Van Hoek builds up what is still a slightly massaged picture of a raw neighbourhood where beauty sometimes nestles between the dirt and the cracks in the road. She captures all this in a boldly conceived book of her own making. It really catches you out. You fail to see what you’re looking at. The rhythm and the sharp colours drive you onwards. A viewing experience without parallel – in your face and, moreover, couched in a misleading mould. The panel judged this a photo book that far transcended its subject, as well as having a considerable courage in departing from the beaten track.
Met zijn fluorescerende roze omslag en schreeuwerige belettering lijkt de cover van Skid Row een reliek uit het punktijdperk. Zijn Johnny Rotten en Sid Vicious terug van weggeweest? Tegelijk heeft dit boek de kracht van een trendy modemagazine. Gaat er toch iets ruigs gebeuren? Wie in dit groot-formaat boek bladert, stuit vervolgens op ellende ten top, zoals een jurylid het plastisch uitdrukte. Maar wel met het oog van een modefotograaf.
Acht jaar lang werkte de Amsterdamse fotografe Désirée van Hoek aan haar Skid Row-project. Van 2007 tot 2015 dompelde ze zich onder in de straatarme buurt in Los Angeles, waar zo’n 15.000 (voormalige) daklozen wonen. Skid Row, gelegen in het hart van Downtown LA, bestaat als ruim honderd jaar. In haar boek laat voormalig modefotograaf Van Hoek het menselijke gezicht van Skid Row zien. Ze maakte portretten van de bewoners die als losse bijlagen in het boek gestoken zitten en gedrukt zijn in aangezette fluorachtige kleuren. Ze zoomt in op hun bezittingen en kleding, en de gebouwen en structuren die hun leefomgeving vormen.
Zo ontstaat een toch enigszins bijgestuurd beeld van een rauwe buurt, waar de schoonheid soms tussen het vuil en de straatkieren schuilt. Dat heeft Van Hoek in een gedurfd boek in eigen beheer gevat. Het zet je op het goede foute been, je ziet niet wat je ziet – het ritme en de felle kleuren stuwen je vooruit. Een kijkervaring zonder weerga, in your face, bovendien ondergebracht in een misleidende ‘vorm’. De jury vond dit een fotoboek dat zijn thema ver oversteeg én de gebaande paden met veel lef verliet.
LA Review Of Books, Michael Kurcfeld - June 2016
The closest to a Cinderella real-estate tale in Los Angeles has been the renaissance that is unfolding in its historic downtown district. The art world, and the developers who follow, continue to transform the once bleak and crime-ridden neighborhood into a vibrant cultural hub (and some of the priciest rentals in town). Meanwhile, the collision of that gentrifying wave with the hardcore homeless and transients that have occupied Skid Row remains an intractable problem. Not a random collection of the psychotic and the down-and-out, it is a community unto itself with complicated relations to even the most well-intentioned programs for improving their lot.
As with most real-life plights, a fresh pair of eyes can be useful. In 2007, Dutch photographer Désirée van Hoek visited Los Angeles and stumbled upon Skid Row with no prior notion of it. Fascinated, she made it her project to create an ongoing portrait of it as habitat and as loosely woven tribe. It became a self-published book that combined views that were at once anthropological, aesthetic, and diaristic. Skid Row documents a wide range of squalor, privation, and human resilience in its large-format pages — while also serving as a typology of ad hoc shelter design. Van Hoek’s background in fashion photography brought particular attention to the coding to be found in details of her subjects’ attire and body language.
Van Hoek decided not to shoot anything at first, but simply to spend time among the area’s denizens until they felt comfortable with her presence. Eventually, she shot not just the people she came to know as individuals but also details of their lives, their possessions, and the surrounding cityscape. She employed a range of perspectives, from close-ups of hands and faces to distant aerial views of streets and rooftops. Her mission was to capture the texture and rhythm of a dynamic neighborhood beset by drugs, gang rivalries, health problems, psychological damage, and the incursions of both urban activists and profit-seeking business interests. Though van Hoek’s work belongs to a long line of socially conscious photography (reaching back to Lewis Hine, Dorothea Lange, and Walker Evans), she is adamant about not assuming any position on local political debates about this most vulnerable zone of human calamity. She takes it as her job to simply create, with what Paul Strand called “sympathetic perception,” her tautly composed, unflinching images of these particular facets of Los Angeles’s dizzying mutations. It is, finally, a vivid record of a fragile world by an unlikely outsider.
DAZED/Last Shot, Amy Newson - January 2016
Decorating your home on the streets of Los Angeles.
Désirée van Hoek began photographing LA’s homeless population in 2007 when a man’s 'home' caught her eye while she was walking on Sunset Boulevard. After passing it regularly and seeing it in varying states of extremely tidy or extremely messy, the photographer was drawn to capture it in a photo that would later turn into a large-scale project. Soon after, a neighbour pointed her in the direction of Skid Row, a notorious area rife with drug addiction and mental health issues and home to one of the largest populations of homeless people in north America.
After visiting the community and getting to know some of the residents better, van Hoek decided to return the following year for a longer period of time and has done every year since, eventually turning her photographs into a self-published book titled Skid Row.
Feeling optimistic when last September the LA city council pledged $100 million to fight the ‘emergency’ of over 25,000 homeless in the city by creating affordable housing, improving shelter conditions and short-term rental subsidies, van Hoek hopes that her project will help LA realise how serious these issues are and the dire need to change them. Here, the Amsterdam-based photographer harks back to the first image she took on Sunset Boulevard and discusses how it developed into a decade-long project.
“This was the first picture I took that I really liked and it got me thinking of doing a series about people living on the streets.
This person was living on Sunset Boulevard – I walked by him many times and sometimes his place was very neat, like in the picture, but sometimes it was really messy. I went by often and most of the time he wasn't there. He lived alone in front of a huge parking lot by a busy highway. It's Sunset so there're only cars, you have no people walking past and there were no other homeless people in the area. You can get lonely in LA, very easily, because everyone drives around in a car and they’re oblivious to the homeless situation because they hardly see what happens on the pavement.
What I really liked about this photograph was the lamp. There are no electricity sources on the street, so some people would take it from the streetlights, but I don’t think there was a streetlight close by so it was just for decoration. There's also a skateboard, a carpet, a bowl with bright colours and a tile on one of the smaller boxes, so he was using these to decorate the place. One of the cardboard boxes is like a wardrobe and the other one is a like a table and there are food cans too. It all just feels a little bit homely – I can imagine if you're living on the streets and you have a very chaotic life with no privacy that you’d try to make the place as homely as possible. I think the way you arrange things says something about the person who lives there – how they add structure to their life, despite their situation.
“What intrigues me is human behaviour because these people are so strong” – Désirée van Hoek
I was staying in Hollywood when I took this photo and I talked about it with my neighbour and he asked me if I’d ever been to Skid Row. I had never been but I had seen all the Dorothea Lange pictures of Skid Row from the 30s but at this time I didn't even know where it was in Los Angeles! So I went and saw all these people living on the street and I decided to go back the next year and stay for six weeks. When I went back I met a lot of people – that's where the project started. In Holland, we have this word for homeless people, 'zwerver', which doesn't only mean ‘homeless’ but ‘wanderer’ too. What I noticed in Los Angeles was that people don’t roam around but instead stay in one place where they build a home – that really struck me.
I love walking around LA and you see all the concrete – LA is all grey concrete – so you're walking and then in the horizon you see all these bright colours in the distance and it looks very happy and then you get closer and you see that it's a home and it's a very sad situation. What intrigues me is human behaviour because these people are so strong.
On Skid Row, the police are always harrassing the residents because they want to clean the place up or they arrest them. Sometimes they go in and arrest a lot of people at once so there are fewer people in the area because the gentrification in Downtown LA is huge – they try to move the homeless to other places. The street cleaners used to sweep the streets and take away all the homeless people’s belongings, it really was a huge problem because they took away stuff that was very valuable to the homeless, but doesn’t look like much to others. The homeless went to court and they won, so the street cleaners can’t take away their belongings anymore – now they have to warn the people before cleaning.
Sometimes I had a terrible time and sometimes I had a wonderful time on Skid Row, but I learned so much and that's why I cherish this picture because it was the start of my adventures and to something I really enjoyed – working on Skid Row and on the book. I'm really trying to show the world the struggles these people face, so I really hope that people see the project so they can witness another side of Skid Row and then the problem will start to improve.”
Los Angeles Times, Gale Holland - October 2014
Hitting the skids for art
Some European tourists spend their vacations at Yosemite or Big Sur. Désirée van Hoek takes hers on skid row.
For the last five years, the Dutch photographer has dedicated much of the summer to shooting what she describes as the beauty and humor beneath the grit and misery of the 50-block downtown homeless enclave.
"I'm a little bit hooked on skid row right now," Van Hoek said recently.
Maybe it's the Lambruscos and ethnic cafes that are bringing the hipsters of downtown Los Angeles face to face with skid row's street encampments. Or a renewed local and national focus on the homeless crisis. But what was once a no-man's land is alive with documentary filmmakers, artists and even a comic, seeking their canvas, or a muse, amid the tarps and cardboard boxes.
An installation by Los Angeles Poverty Department, a 30-year-old skid row theater troupe, was part of the late artist Mike Kelley's show this summer at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA.
"All of a sudden it became a thing to make your own portrait or caricature of skid row," said skid row activist Kevin Michael Key.
Some of those who work with the homeless, such as Ann-Sophie Morrissette of the Downtown Women's Center, call some of the art "poverty porn."
Drive-by videos of needles, filth and vermin — shot from car windows by kids with their faces hidden by blankets, and set to dirge-like soundtracks — invite viewers to gawk at homeless people without context or understanding, critics say. Other projects are dismissed as the naive work of newbies who think they'll be the first to expose skid row — or save it.
Some artists find the atmosphere less than welcoming. Shanks Rajendran, an Australian filmmaker, said he was robbed this summer during the making of "Los Scandalous — Skid Row." Rajendran described the documentary as the story of "the true gutter life in Los Angeles; from prostitution, homelessness, hard addiction, the drug dealers' perspective, police corruption and the system designed to keep them all there."
For a series called "Life Line Booth," Toronto filmmaker Ryan Oksenberg and friends installed a table, chairs, water, donated clothing and a bulletin board in front of a bank of sidewalk pay phones.
"We're using the metaphor of the phone: At the other end of the line is me, whoever is watching at home," said Oksenberg, whose five-part show aired in February on Pivot, Participant Media's cable network for millennials. "We're giving the homeless an opportunity to share their wisdom."
Someone with the nearby mission tore the booth down. "It looked like a bunch of clutter in front of our building," said Gabriel Wang, director of Azusa Lighthouse Mission on East 5th Street.
Wang said distributing donations on skid row streets without a permit could generate trash or lead to fights.
"Perhaps [they] felt some sort of competition," Oksenberg said.
A homeless man named Spyder said he wanted to stop robbing people and open a recycling business. When Oksenberg tried to raise the money, Spyder backed out, the filmmaker said.
"That was a failed episode," Oksenberg said. "I understand I was making a pact with someone who could use the money I give them for drugs, but that's all part of the improvisational series."
Kristina Wong, a stereotype-busting comic who has crashed Miss Chinatown pageants as a cigar-chewing, whiskey-swilling contestant, received a city grant to launch a skid row improv and storytelling project.
Wong said she was inspired by accounts of "hilarious" skid row talent shows.
"I'm not interested in framing it as, 'OK, poor people, tell me about being poor,'" said Wong, who is still setting dates for the workshops. "It seems like the community is so brimming with experience."
Van Hoek, a former fashion photographer, stumbled on her project during a 2007 visit to Hollywood. The apartment next door burned down, revealing a child's skateboard left behind by a homeless family who had been living in a crack between the two buildings.
Van Hoek says artifacts like the skateboard are part of the "material culture" of homelessness that she seeks to capture. Her work focuses on the often fantastical interiors and clothing people conjure out of castoffs.
"It makes them feel human," said Van Hoek, who subsidizes her work by teaching and the occasional magazine assignment.
One hot summer day, she walked the streets of skid row, pausing by a man in scarlet snakeskin boots who peddled worn shoes and porn videos arrayed on a card table.
Around the corner, she snapped a shot of a vacuum cleaner incongruously perched on top of a red carpet.
"Every block is different," Van Hoek said.
One man asked her to pay to photograph him, but others encouraged her. "It will shame the U.S.," said Stephanie Wiley, 37, a recent arrival from Las Vegas. "This is what your people are actually experiencing."
Some Europeans cite skid row as evidence of Western capitalism in its death throes, but Van Hoek says she doesn't judge. She still hasn't figured out the place.
"Last year I saw new buildings, and thought maybe in a few years all the people will be off the streets," she said. "But now I come back and find … even more camps than last year."
She said she had forged friendships with homeless people like Anthony, an Army veteran she's known for years. Dressed in an apricot embroidered vest, he had packed his cart and belongings with military precision in a crevice between buildings.
"I didn't want to do sensational pictures of people with needles in their arms," she said.
At 5th Street and Stanford Avenue, a homeless man had created a sidewalk collage by stuffing items into a chain-link fence. His art — a kaleidoscopic tableau of Capri Sun wrappers, Cheerios box fronts, a stack of lottery tickets and a drawing of the risen Christ — became part of her art.
"In the misery they are so strong, still making fun and having really good friends," said Van Hoek, who plans to wrap up this year and show her work in Los Angeles and abroad. "Everybody
Ingalill Wahlroos Ritter - Director WUHO Woodbury University Hollywood Outpost - October 2015
We are honored to be hosting the first public exhibition of Désirée’s photographs in Los Angeles. Formerly a fashion photographer, Désirée spent six summers photographing Los Angeles’ Skid Row. Many of the ingredients you might find in fashion photography are here: colorful fabrics, incongruous textures, and especially people who, without assistants, producers or directors, have managed to convert found assemblages into outfits and environments full of power and character.
These photographs have made me fall in love with my city all over again. Désirée has managed to capture a part of our city that we, as the citizens of Los Angeles, too often overlook or ignore. She has done so with very great respect for her subjects and with an eye for hidden beauty. My colleague, architect Barbara Bestor likes to remind us that “everyone should experience strange beauty every day”. I’m glad to see that there is strange beauty in Skid Row too.
These photographs also make me think differently about the architecture of our city. Of course I know that Architecture does not simply consist of buildings by notable architects. But here Désirée shows us: for the people of Skid Row, architecture, essentially that which protects and shelters, can be a shopping cart, a blanket, the sidewalk, a headscarf, a fence that acts as a hanging device for all of my belongings, and cardboard signs that communicate as well as shield us from the sun and rain. It’s a good reminder to all of us of what, to millions of people across the globe, actually constitutes architecture.
Let me end with a personal anecdote. Just this morning in the graduate studio I teach, two of my students began debating this exhibition. One student expressed her desire to see photographs of a part of her city she had never seen first-hand. The other student expressed concern that a photographer was capitalizing on the pain of others. Désirée herself challenges this reproach head-on in the introduction to her book, which I encourage all of you to buy! For me, however, the conversation alone meant that Désirée has succeeded. She has succeeded in encouraging two thoughtful people to discuss homelessness and its costs. More importantly, she is helping these young designers begin a conversation about the potential that art and architecture have for social change.
Thank you, Désirée, for this extraordinarily haunting portrait of our city. Thank you for exposing what many of us never see. Thank you for making us think and care.
WUHO: ‘Skid Row LA’ by Dutch Photographer Désirée van Hoek
With homelessness in Los Angeles now atop the public agenda, esteemed Dutch photographer Désirée van Hoek is poised to present a stunning visual record of life on L.A.’s Skid Row. Her exhibit, at the WUHO Gallery in Hollywood, opens on Thursday, October 8, at 6 pm, and will run until October 25.
From 2008 to 2014, van Hoek documented downtown L.A.’s Skid Row. With the goal of capturing the heartbeat of the neighborhood, van Hoek began to photograph inhabitants within their makeshift dwellings and amid their possessions. One of the inspirations for her series was a study by University of Indianapolis Professor Larry Zimmerman about the “material culture” of the homeless. Zimmerman maintains that personal items are deeply connected to a person’s identity. Van Hoek was intrigued by the thesis, which subsequently informed her six-year project.
“I am very excited to present my work in Los Angeles, a city I’ve come to love.”
To convey a sense of place, van Hoek photographed the streets, buildings and structures in the area. Many of her images show the decay of the neighborhood; others hint at recent gentrification. van Hoek’s photography also explores the relationship between an individual’s public and private life. Given that the homeless have virtually no spaces that they can call their own, her images chronicle the impact of this denial of access to public space.
On opening night, van Hoek will showcase her recently published book, Skid Row LA, designed by Amsterdam based graphic design studio Mevis and Van Deursen. With an introduction by Los Angeles Times reporter Gale Holland, who has covered Skid Row extensively, the book is a testament to the humanity behind the neighborhood’s seemingly soulless existence.
“I am very excited to present my work in Los Angeles, a city I’ve come to love,” van Hoek said, in anticipation of her exhibition. “I’m honored to be exhibiting at WUHO, a place where art and architecture as well as the human experience in today’s built environment is at the center of the artistic experience.”
Désirée van Hoek – Esteemed Photographer with a Passion for Architecture
Désirée van Hoek was educated at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague. She began her successful career in photography as a fashion photographer, working with both Dutch and international designers. Her work has been published in magazines like Style and the Family Tunes (Germany), Elle (Holland), Surface Magazine (US), Monitor Magazine (Russia), and Modem (France). Within the last decade, she has transitioned to documentary photography, focusing on human living conditions, architecture, public space, interiors, and material culture.
This exhibition is supported with grants by The Netherland-America Foundation and The Dutch Consulate in New York.