Stereotypical ideas about the residents of Los Angeles, in usually sunny Southern California, often revolve around the concept of fun in the sun had by vapid, shallow people who are always smiling. Occupying the upper echelon of this social landscape is Rodeo Drive, the famed designer shopping area in Beverly Hills, one of the poshest enclaves in Los Angeles. A Los Angeles native, photographer Anthony Hernandez picked Rodeo Drive as the subject of his very first color photography project, after shooting black-and-white street scenes in his native Los Angeles. The photos are collected in Rodeo Drive, 1984, published by Mack Books 27 years after they were made.
While photos, fashion, and any sort of look back to the questionably-styled 1980s have become popular, this particular project rises above the surface appeal of big hair, amusing fashion, and awkward poses. And while it’s absolutely possible to appreciate this project in a surface way, the real appeal of Hernandez’s Rodeo Drive is that it’s a greater commentary on this social landscape, as well as the interaction between watcher and watched. Promenaders on Rodeo Drive, locals and tourists alike from all ends of the socio-economic spectrum, know they’ll be on a sort of pedestrian catwalk when walking these high-rent streets. As a result, people who go to Rodeo Drive consciously attire themselves—it’s not a place you go to be invisible, and none of the subjects he’s captured could be accused of looking relaxed. Despite the sunshine and glitz, the Rodeo Drive Hernandez captured is, interestingly so, a rather grim one. In the book, the only half-smiles are in the cover photo—and one could hardly describe it as joyful—and in the reflection of the woman applying makeup in the Bellini’s plaque. The more overarching feelings are stress and self-consciousness, and perhaps the complete inability to relax when one feels one is on display.