Karen Halverson – Mulholland

Review by Wayne Swanson •

It starts a ways up Pacific Coast Highway from Malibu and ends 50 miles to the east, a bit past the HOLLYWOOD sign. It’s Mulholland Highway in the west and Mulholland Drive in the east, with a dirt path in the middle. But it’s all simply Mulholland in the mythology of Los Angeles.

Named after water baron William Mulholland, the man behind construction of the aqueduct that resulted in a metropolis of 12 million people sprouting from arid land, this 2-lane road meanders through the Santa Monica Mountains, looking down on the urban clutter below. “Ironically, the road named for the man who enabled the city’s development is a ribbon of wildness above what is now a vast urban landscape,” Karen Halverson writes.

Movies like Roman Polanski’s Chinatown and David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, along with David Hockney’s 20-foot-long painting Mulholland Drive: The Road to the Studio, have made it a popular culture star as well. New York photographer Halverson became entranced by the idea of Mulholland when she saw Hockney’s painting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. So when she moved to LA in 1991 she began to document the road. 

The result is Mulholland, a collection of 41 panoramic images that take us on a road trip from the mostly uninhabited west end to the increasingly developed east. “Cruising Mulholland, you take it all in, rugged mountains rising up form the sea, mansions perched on hilltops, giant succulents like saxophones, and the vast grid of the city spread out below,” Halverson writes.

The images, taken with a Fuji 6 x 17 cm panoramic camera, are reproduced at a width of nearly 2 feet, filling each spread in the book. They deftly capture both the myth and the messy reality of the road. These are not picture postcard views. Rather, they are warts-and-all reflections of this urban wilderness.

Along the road we see shots of lush green mountain vistas taken during the rainy season, as well as the browned-out hills of summer and fall. We also see the inevitable incursions of urban life: high-tension lines, non-native landscaping, chain-link fences, blank walls, standpipes, dumpsters, tract homes, and mansions. Many images have a washed-out look that accurately captures LA’s typical hazy summer sunshine. And the long-exposure blur of automobiles rushing by reminds us of the road’s purpose.

Any driver who has dodged the motorcyclist screaming through the curves of western Mulholland, or wondered if a movie star is behind the wheel of that exotic sports car at the Hollywood end, will recognize the intersection of fantasy and reality that this singular road represents. Mulholland effectively captures the road’s appeal as an inviting escape from the urban cacophony below.

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Contributing Editor Wayne Swanson is a San Diego-based fine art photographer and writer.

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Mulholland, Karen Halverson

Photographer: Karen Halverson, born Syracuse, New York, resides North Chatham, New York 

Publisher: MW Editions (New York, NY, USA, copyright 2021)  

Preface: Karen Halverson, Foreword: David Kipen

Text: English

Hardcover book, sewn binding, four-color lithography, 12 x 8.25 in., 104 pages, list of photographs, biography, selected exhibition history, printed in Singapore

Photobook designer: Takaaki Matsumoto

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Articles & 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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