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"To Protect and Serve: The L.A.P.D. Archives - One Hundred Years of Photography"
2001-09-01 until 2001-09-30
Los Angeles, CA, USA United States of America

During the last hundred years, the Los Angeles Police Department has stored tens of thousands of negatives and prints taken by police photographers. The images of crime scenes, training aides and ceremonial events have been stored in locked steel case file cabinets, and in the back rooms and basements of the city archives. Most have never been published or even viewed by anyone outside of the police department. Still, shown together, they are immediately familiar as the out-of-the-margins face of Los Angeles.

In September, Fototeka Gallery will present To Protect and Serve: The LAPD Archives - One Hundred Years of Photography, guest curated by Tim Wride, associate curator of photography from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). The exhibition will be the first public showing ever mounted from these rare archives. It will include images dating from the late 1800ís to the 1970s.

Recognizable in the many of the black and white police archive prints is the world of James Ellroy and Raymond Chandler as well as innocence and formality that no longer seems to exist in representations of the LAPD.

Two of the selections in The LAPD Archives show elaborately staged crime scenes, meant originally for training purposes, but which now look like still lives. In 1953 photograph, a woman in evening dress and pearls lies dead. She is surrounded by clues, which lie on the ground in a loose circle around her: a camera, turkey carving knife, purse, trunk, gloves, frying pan, overturned vase with flowers, a length of rope, hat and a bound volume with gold-tipped pages.

Other crime scenes show Police Officers interacting with suspects or with the public: one series of photographs, taken in daylight, shows a young white patrolman smiling and conversing with three Latino children, two girls and a boy, all of whom wear Halloween masks. Perhaps incidentally, the sky is threateningly dark; it looks as though a tornado is about to tear through the city while the children are trick-or-treating.

In many ways, police work is -- or should be -- the antithesis of theater, a job that deals with reality at its hardest, trying always to get behind the appearance of things, to reveal the truth. In these photographs, the very nature of the subject -- the LAPD documenting its own methods and values -- adds a layer of complexity and shadow to these images charged with history. It could be said that the artist who produced the archives is the city of Los Angeles.

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