Paul Jasmin: An LA Sort of Place

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Mary, Hollywood, CA, 1989
Mary, Hollywood, CA, 1989

As his retrospective opens in New York, AnOther considers the legendary photographer Paul Jasmin

Paul Jasmin has spent the last fifty years photographing LA’s young dreamers, creating images that eloquently mirror the mythology of the city in their vulnerablilty and intangible cool. His latest retrospective exhibition, An LA Sort of Place, opens this week at Casa de Costa, cataloguing the artist and educator’s legacy, from his early nudes in the late 80s to his prominent “Tarnished Angels” series, published in 2008. “Each one reminds me of a time in my life, a place or a person,” Jasmin explains. “The old and the new.”

Jasmin’s solitary, wistful portraits and sleepy landscapes are often erotically charged, but never contrived. He famously photographed a topless Sofia Coppola in 1994, strung with necklaces, after she was a student in one his classes at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. He takes the majority in his home, a sprawling apartment near the Hollywood Boulevard, stacked with artwork and books. “I love my books,” he says. “My photography books, art books, literature… I love a good biography. My favourite is Brando's Smile by Susan L Mizruchi.” People watching is also one of his favourite sports: “There is a café on Larchmont across from my favorite bookstore, Chevalier's. I'll have a cappuccino and just sit and watch people.”

“It's the people I photograph, not the clothes” — Paul Jasmin

Jasmin previously worked as an actor and painter: he was one of Andy Warhol’s Factory darlings in the 1970s and also the voice of Norman Bates’ mother in Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), along with a couple of small cameo roles in Midnight Cowboy (1969) and Adaptation (2002). His list of A-list friends is endless, ranging from Anjelica Huston to Richard Gere. He recounts the tale of a night spent on Diana Vreeland’s chaise longue, and most industry insiders refer to him fondly as Jazzy, a nickname he was first given by Bruce Weber, who encouraged him to first start taking photographs in the late '70s.

His photography however focuses on the unknowns, discovered out in the city. His subjects exude an air of old-school rebellion, dressed in dirty leather, denim and classic white T-shirts. “It's the people I photograph,” he says. “Not the clothes,” and in his pictures Jasmin paints a rare and unique vision of a city held up by its characters: the young, the beautiful and the lost, on the hunt for the American Dream.

An La Sort of Place is at the Casa de Costa gallery, New York, until October 23.

Text by Mhairi Graham