Tony Kelly – Nowhere

Review by Wayne Swanson

The deprivation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic knows no bounds. Consider the plight of the Los Angeles jet set. Boutiques on Rodeo Drive shuttered. Beverly Hills Hotel and Chateau Marmont deserted. Even their jets at LAX grounded and shrink-wrapped for freshness until the crisis is over.

Those are the scenes captured by photographer Tony Kelly in Nowhere. At the height of the virus’s initial wave, when all of Los Angeles was locked down for the first time, he ventured out from his Sunset Strip home and studio to photograph the streets of Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, Hollywood, and other signature LA locations. The result is an eerie record of the familiar hallmarks of the LA good life when they were totally devoid of people, beautiful or otherwise.

Kelly is a fine art photographer known for his cinematic style and fascination with luxury and status. Yet his slick imagery, with its vibrant colors and glamorous subjects, has an edge to it. He is as likely to poke fun at the lifestyles of the rich and famous as celebrate them. There’s a wry attitude about luxury consumerism and accumulation in his work, which is certainly at play in this book.

Kelly captured a truly singular moment in time, when Los Angeles was completely deserted. A remarkable early image shows the perpetually gridlocked freeway interchange on the southwestern edge of downtown LA with not a vehicle to be seen in any direction. He then takes us on a tour of the city with no humans in sight. 

We see the alluring Rodeo Drive façades, but no shoppers. We look through the windows at the empty Chanel and Dior interiors. The turquoise swimming pools of The Beverly Hills Hotel have neither swimmers nor sunbathers. The only human presence in the book is an elegant faceless model. She is seen in set pieces interspersed throughout the book, dressed to shop but with nowhere to go. In some photos, her only concession to the pandemic is latex gloves on her perfectly manicured hands.

The book itself is richly produced, with a layout by renowned Dutch graphic designer -SYB- (Sybren Kuiper). Most images are presented as 2-page spreads measuring 12 x 17 inches. Several gatefolds and double gatefolds extend the frame even wider. The book’s open-spine design allows the images to lay flat to fully appreciate them. 

After cataloging the sites of the good life, Kelly ends the book with a dose of reality. He revisited those sites two months later to document the effects of the unrest that followed Black Lives Matter demonstrations. Boutique windows were boarded up or broken and graffiti marred the facades.

Altogether, the book presents a surreal world of opulence abandoned during the pandemic. While the imagery laments the impact on the 1%, Kelly’s heart is with the people who serve their needs. The only text in the book is a brief closing dedication to the hospitality workers of LA whose livelihoods have been jeopardized, everyone “who turns the cogs and puts the smile on the face of this town.”

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Nowhere, Tony Kelly

Photographer: Tony Kelly, born Dublin, Ireland, resides Los Angeles, California

Self-published, Los Angeles (copyright 2020) 

Text: English

Hardcover book with embossed text and tipped-in photo, sewn binding with open spine, four-color lithography, printed in The Netherlands.

Photobook designer: -SYB-

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Articles and photographs published on PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s).

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