Nicolas Silberfaden’s undercover Los Angeles: “A city of ultimate futility”

Reading Time: 2 minutes

To what extent is the photo-based book a viable or effective way to express photographic practice? This is the question Nicolas Silberfaden was asked to consider while studying for his MFA at the University of Hartford in Connecticut. He responded with 738, a project exploring the city.

“We were pushed to think about photography, and to work on personal projects that not only meant something to us, but that could also communicate something further, some interaction with the world,” the 32-year-old explains. “738 is the result of this process of thinking and practising photography.”

The project’s title refers to the number of the building he was living in – “the starting point to my daily photographic excursions,” he says. Exploring the tension between wanting to belong and actually belonging, he adds, focusing on the texture of a city perched on top of the San Andreas Fault. It is, he says, “as if we live in a city of ultimate futility, carrying with it the eerie possibility that it might vanish as quickly as it appeared”. By breaking the city into parts, the “buildings, walls, streets and freeways become representations of an emotional space”.

Silberfaden, who is now based in Paris, worked on the series for about three years, using a 5×4 camera and shooting early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Using large format meant he had to be slower and more precise, he says, which suited the mood he was looking for. “I used to work with faster and more agile camera systems, but I thought the slow process of looking and photographing would create a more subtle image.”

Los Angeles’ cinematic heritage also played into his thinking, adding something of a filmic quality to his images. “In a way, Los Angeles stood there like a stand-in to another place, one mapped in reality but inhabited only in our imagination,” he says. “738 deals not only with the occupation of space, but with the space itself, and the idea that it is possible to allude to a deeper social meaning by describing the surface of things.”

See more of Nicolas’ work here.