George Byrne arrived in the City of Angels three years ago from Australia and immediately began capturing his very distinct Los Angeles street scenes – bright colours, sharp edges, crisp afternoon shadows. But it was only a year ago when he got his first iPhone that he started to use Instagram as a tool for his images. “I wasn't thinking much of it initially then I realised it was incredible,” says Byrne. “Suddenly I had a decent little camera on me at all times, this was a massive breakthrough as I've always taken pictures but never ever enjoyed lugging my cameras about.” At the same time, via his phone, Byrne had access to this beautifully simple online platform to upload his photos in real time and get instant feedback, while the imitations of the phone and the app, and the 2.5 inch backlit format, also had a really interesting effect on what he was shooting. “It's like everyone is now walking around with a little camera/light box set up,” he says.
So on a typical day in LA, Byrne would drive around the city doing his thing, estimating that most people are able to do 3-5 things before 4pm when the traffic gets miserable. “For instance I'll be on my way to the dry cleaner at 11.34am and I'll see a situation on the street…I'll make a split decision as to whether it’s worth getting out (usually I don't really want to ‘cos it's a pain in the ass) and then act on it. If I do stop and get out what usually happens is that on my way to the thing I saw I'll see something else and shoot that, and the thing I stopped to shoot ends up being less interesting.”
"When I first arrived in LA it felt to me like the wild west. Kind of lawless" — George Byrne
In LA – this rough, sprawling, dirty underdog of a city, home to both extreme wealth and poverty, crazily diverse architecture and framed by exquisite natural bush, mountains and ocean – there’s never a dull moment for this photographer. “When I first arrived from Sydney it felt to me like the wild west,” Byrne says of LA. “Kind of lawless. Big wide dilapidated streets with massive decaying megastores painted in faded pastels. It still gets me.”
Often drawn to the lone human subjects on the street, there is a very distinct feel to the street life in the city, and subsequently captured in Byrne’s often banal scenes. There is a kind of desolate beauty and an abstract nature to them that causes some shots to look quite painterly. And while Byrne cites photographers such as William Eggleston, Stephen Shore and Gursky as influences, he also references painters Jeffrey Smart, RB Kitaj, David Hockney and Mondrian. “I think I’m actually a closet painter waiting to come out!”
Text by Caroline Clements