Behind the Lens: Josh Robenstone
A picture may say a thousand words but sometimes, just sometimes, words can help round out an image. That’s what we think anyway. We caught up with Australian photographer, Josh Robenstone, to find out the story behind his photo series, In the Time of Hope. “I spent a lot of time backwards and forwards between the US,” says Robenstone, having spent six years roaming the streets of LA during the Obama era. He observed the city’s daily life and, more broadly, American society. Shot on film, capturing quintessential Americana – diners, fast food, motels – the series speaks to both past and present America, of a country, notes Robenstone, still grasping at “something that it can’t quite hold onto.”
A candid, nostalgic look at life on LA’s streets, In the Time of Hope is a time capsule that still resonates today, in an era where hope has been replaced by greater uncertainty and an even stronger desire to return to a supposedly once “great” America. Here Robenstone relays just how he came up with six of his most beautiful shots, and of finding hope under the City of Angels’ Golden Arches.
One of the most recognized icons of American culture is no doubt the diner. They have been the backdrop of some of the greatest scenes in cinema (Pulp Fiction, When Harry Met Sally, Easy Rider). In this case, it wasn’t the grander version, but a small fast food restaurant in a dodgy part of town that caught my attention. A symbol of the degradation of American cuisine. I came across it, empty with a beautiful morning light streaming in, as if on display, like a museum piece depicting all that had gone wrong.
Two guys taking time out at a farmers market in Los Feliz for a game of chess. I’m not exactly sure what they were selling but I’ve got a feeling it could have been oranges.
This moment struck me because they’re at battle with each other and in the context of the narrative they seem symbolic of America right now. White America at battle with itself. The small man in blue in the background, at odds with the others, is like the monkey on their shoulder or the voice in their head.
Coming across the Turf Motel while driving around Inglewood a few years ago, I was immediately struck by its presence. To me it typifies the classic Californian motel and, in a sense, embodies everything about that kind of place. Slightly seedy, it reminds me of a Tarantino film. The open door. It’s mysterious, in a part of town that I wasn’t familiar with. It’s personality is proud and strong, it has America written all over it but with a delusion of grandeur it seems flawed and grasping at something that it can’t quite hold onto.
Earlier in the morning I’d parked my car up on Sunset Blvd out of the front of a McDonalds and noticed it was under heavy renovation. All the signs were down, some were broken. It was all quite interesting. I took a few frames, went and grabbed a coffee (not from McDonalds) and then took off for the day shooting.
Later that same day I was driving along near by and noticed a couple of guys messing around out the front of a house with one of the signs, the Golden Arches. I pulled over got out and had a chat. They were planning to mount it on the garden wall next to an outdoor setting which all faced the street on the strange and exposed pie shaped corner that the house was on. It was all quite hilarious.
The next day I was driving past and there it was, mounted to the wall, grand and proud, selling itself like a bootleg version of the original. I took some more pictures but this one said the most.
I took this picture while walking into a Sunday market at Fairfax High School. A famous LA school with alumni from Anthony Kiedis, lead singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, actress Demi Moore, and guitarist Slash from Guns ‘N’ Roses. An iconic place to say the least.
Anyhow, not really looking for pictures at that stage, this one jumped out at me. The trash can made famous by Oscar the Grouch is perhaps the most ubiquitous ‘can’ in America, second only to Coca Cola, of course. Here, though, in a bright red baseball dugout no less, it’s beaten and out of shape. Like a portrait, I felt there was a personality to capture and a story to be told.
Homelessness is so rife in this city that sometimes you can’t believe your eyes. Old and young (some still look like they’re in their teens), often due to issues relating to drugs, have been abandoned by the system and left to fend for themselves. Skid Row is a place unlike any other in the world, but all over LA the brutal reality of this problem is ever-present.
Arby’s is a classic looking roast beef fast food restaurant. I keep coming back to it over and over again, only to photograph it, never to eat. This day the sun was setting over Sunset Blvd in the most cinematic of ways, and there was this man, barefooted, hair dreaded, pants shredded stumbling out into the glare like he’d just arrived on Earth or was looking into the sun for some kind of hope.
Sometimes you’ve just gotta see it to believe it.
To find out more visit www.joshrobenstone.com.