The photographer Theonepointeight‘s moniker is a reference to his first camera lens. His background in photography stems from his interest in graffiti and street art. He photographed folks like JR, Shepard Fairey (Obey), the Seventh Letter Crew and Anthony Lister around the time the “Art in the Streets” exhibition opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles in 2011, but he’s recently expanded his repertoire and his personal work. “It was a fun time, but I felt like I was repeating myself, so I moved on to other genres,” he told PDN.
A few months ago, Theonepointeight photographed an abandoned mall south of Los Angeles. Having seen photos of the space online, his original idea was to photograph musicians there, but shooting inside meant that he’d have to sneak in. “The last thing I wanted was to get anyone arrested for trespassing. So the next best idea for the project would be to shoot the place on my own and shoot the portraits separately,” he recalls. We asked the photographer to tell us more about his personal project.
Photo District News: What can you tell us about the former Hawthorne Plaza Shopping Center?
Theonepointeight: The mall opened back in the 1970s but went into decline in the late ’80s and early ’90s due to the economic decline in the surrounding communities. This was due to the fact that there were major cutbacks in the aerospace community. By the late ’90s, the major portions of the mall were completely abandoned and they still are. There have been plans to renovate it over the years but it’s never come to fruition.
PDN: Did you shoot everything in one day or make multiple visits?
TOPE: I shot everything in one day. I would say that I spent about five or six hours in there just exploring and shooting. I wasn’t escorted inside but once I snuck into the parking structure, there were a few teens on skateboards that pointed me in the right direction. Without their guidance, there’s no way I would’ve found a way in. The place is simply too massive. In fact, as the daylight was fading I almost got trapped inside since I couldn’t find my way out.
PDN: What kinds of gear/equipment did you bring with you?
TOPE: Just my Canon 6D and Tamron 24-70mm 2.8 lens. I didn’t bring a flash with me because I wanted to capture the place with as much natural light as possible.
PDN: What do you plan to do with the work?
TOPE: Although the project began as an experimental portrait idea, it grew into shooting other “deserted landscapes.” I also shot Bombay Beach out by the Salton Sea, and I’ve been doing some urban photography with the same mindset of just finding and capturing places that are completely barren and desolate, which can be hard to find in a city like Los Angeles or anywhere nearby. But hopefully [the project] keeps growing and spreading into other cities and places.
PDN: What are you doing when you’re not making personal work?
TOPE: I’m shooting a lot of music content. Concert photography, behind the scenes work, etc. I’ve been making a good deal of work for Rolling Stone, which is great because they’re an awesome publication to work with and the access is quite amazing sometimes. I’ve also been shooting a few things for Vice, which is nice because it allows me to change genres and do more straight photojournalism. I also do some work for publications like Hypetrak/Hypebeast, and a few others. I’m just trying to do as much as possible and not necessarily sticking to one certain area.
PDN: Could you be more specific about what you’re working towards photographically?
TOPE: I’d like to do more serious photojournalism. I did a project late last year documenting the L.A./Ferguson protests, and it’s some of the best work I’ve done. I’d like to pursue more work that focuses on human issues. As much as I like shooting art and music, it’s always great for your work to have the power to affect people’s lives. On the other hand, I want to do work that’s more on the creative side, perhaps music videos or more experimental photography work. I just want to be able to switch genres easily. I don’t like the concept of repeating myself.