Los Angeles-based photographer Pamela Littky has been a force behind the lens for more than a decade. When she isn’t busy photographing celebrities and rock stars, Littky turns her lens on the people and places that aren’t memorialized in glossy magazines. From expansive and barren desert landscapes to intimate portraits, Littky’s photographs shine a light on aspects of the world that are mundane and rarely celebrated, though in many ways are more recognizable than the scenes plastered on billboards and bus stops.
Littky’s portraits illustrate the notion that each of us is the protagonist of our own constructed narrative. In her work, she is able to gracefully capture the qualities within each of her subjects that make them most human — the vulnerable, raw side that provokes empathy and understanding. Littky began her career taking pictures of rock musicians, but was quick to shift gears for one of her earlier series, Accountants. She explains that Accountants was an exercise in getting out of the rock-star rhythm and challenging herself to spotlight an archetype antithetical to that of the musician. Some of the accountants portrayed, like Gary, manage in their own way to embody a rock-star persona; slightly disheveled, relaxed, brooding. Others, like Larry, could have been pulled from central casting; they play to the accountant archetype with a candid sincerity. Where rock musicians are often depicted and treated as demigods, these accountants, mere mortals, are elevated to a similar pedestal. However, it’s not a perfect physique or unmatched poetry that elevates them, but instead, a quality within each that is relatable, recognizably human.
For the series Vacancy, Littky immersed herself in the worlds of two cities located on opposite sides of the Mojave Desert. She recalled that everyone in both Beatty, Nevada, and Baker, California appealed to her as subjects. She would photograph anyone who let her. For Littky, it’s all about a spur-of-the- moment subjective “it-factor.” “If I see someone that has an interesting face or something interesting about them, I want to photograph them,” Littky said in an interview with Fabrik. “If I’m driving down the street and see something interesting, nine times out of 10, I will pull over to shoot, even if it’s only with an iPhone.”
Many of Littky’s portraits capture the rawest, most vulnerable side of her subjects, unavailable in celebrity photographs. “It’s such a different thing,” she says of her personal projects,“to ask a group of people that may not be comfortable in front of the camera to take the spotlight. There is a candid nature to the photograph, an unabashed raw quality to the image that is so powerful and real.” Often, an image will change shape throughout the shoot as a subject becomes more comfortable in front of the camera, a phenomenon Littky encourages as part of her process. “A lot of people ask me about the image of the husband and wife on the bed, where the man lies asleep and the woman sits in her bra and underwear. After a bit of shooting her sitting there wearing a robe, I asked her if she’d be comfortable taking the robe off and she said she was. I loved how raw it was with her just being in her underwear.”
For her most recent project, the book Villa Bonita, Littky photographed every resident of a historic Hollywood apartment complex. She speaks fondly of her shoots. “Each of my encounters [and my] time spent with each resident was special in different ways. So much magic came out of there.” The building itself, veiled in ivy and decorated with an extravagant cursive typeface, epitomizes old Hollywood, replete with allusions to “Sunset Boulevard” and “Singin’ in the Rain.”
The Villa’s current residents, however, are varied and contemporary, dreaming dreams not confined to the realm of the silver screen. Villa Bonita romantically documents the lives of a group of people, diverse in age and background, their most notable commonalities the roof under which they live and a shared desire to follow their individual passions. Littky captures the Bonita dreamers and dwellers in the midst of the seemingly mundane activities that constitute their routine, although aspects of their daily practices are often weighted with inspiration. It is those moments, straddling the boundaries of the commonplace and the exceptional, that Littky aimed to capture. When she asked Josh, the photographer/bartender, what he did in his apartment, he said he took three showers a day, because that’s where he did his best thinking and came up with his best ideas. “So obviously,” said Littky, “I had to photograph him in the shower.”
Littky’s next LA show — at the De Re Gallery West Hollywood in Spring, 2018 — will feature a new series, American Fair, her survey of state and county fairs and fair-goers across the country. Vulnerable and layered, Littky’s images are rich in texture and emotion. She conveys the qualities of her subjects that make them most real and relatable, in the midst of quotidian but often striking moments. Her work is empathetic, loaded with the common thread that runs through our individual and collective experience of what it means to be human.