the gangsters and millionaires of la's runyon canyon
Boulevards, freeways and valets: yes car life is a firm fixture of LA, but so are the dusty hiking trails of Runyon Canyon, where Taylor Swift treks backwards Justin Bieber bares his soul to strangers and The Game works up a sweat Now two Brits who were taken in by its charms have created CANYON, a beautiful book of portraits, landscapes and stories, published by Dalston's Ditto Press. Photographer Dan Wilton and writer Josh Jones met plenty of characters when working on the project, "from Mulholland Drive millionaires, to gangsters and hustlers from Downtown. From Hollywood fitness freaks to postal workers from south LA." Here i-D takes and exclusive look at the images and find out more about the project.
Why did you decide to chronicle the canyon through your book?
Dan: Me and Josh have been friends for years and have always wanted to collaborate on a book together. We happened to be in LA at the same time earlier this year and ended up renting a place close to Runyon for a week. One morning we took a walk to the top, just to check it out. I was sat at the top, people-watching, thinking what an amazing mix of people when along walked Michelle and Haylee. They had matching outfits, matching sunny dispositions and matching dip dyed toy dogs. There's nothing like matching dip dyed dogs to pique my interest…
How much time did you spend there?
Josh: We went up there maybe four or five times in total. We mixed it up between weekends and weekdays and stayed way too long for our communion wafer-like skin to deal with in the Californian sun.
What was the oddest thing that happened?
Josh: There was one girl who didn't make the final cut of the book whose mum was hellbent on her becoming a model. And not just a model: as soon as she became a model, the mum had plans to create a programme about her model daughter and live in a model house surrounded by other models and then the mum would be like the momma to all these models. She literally pushed her around the canyon peak to get different angles and tried to art direct. She was resplendent in a pink velour tracksuit and had bags of hustle and enthusiasm but unfortunately, I don't think her daughter will become a model (that's what Dan said).
Dan: Don't forget Joel too! Joel was this amazing old dude clutching the oldest and smallest poodle I've ever seen. I mean, it literally had one tooth and none of its legs worked. But according to Joel, it'd been raised by feral wild cats. One day a travelling band of Sikhs found him and rescued him from where the cats lived, deep within the canyon. The Sikhs took it back to their temple but when they realised they didn't have room they gave him to Joel, who'd just happened to bump into them whilst on the way back from a Pagan festival. I liked Joel a lot.
What was the most beautiful time to be there?
Josh: According to some of the people we met, 1978! But for us it had to be when we went up to catch the sunrise over the city. We even went to bed early and got up there for 5.45am. It was a weekday so the place was silent and, all cynicism aside, standing there seeing the sunbeams light up the city like Pleasantville as it came to life was actually pretty breath-taking.
What is the most beautiful thing about the canyon?
Dan: I mean, physically it's not that much to look at - it's pretty dusty and there are just scrubby bushes about, so the view's the big prize. To be a bit more spiritual there's definitely a sense of majesty of nature there - that's probably because it's juxtaposed so closely with one of the most urban places on earth. To be even more spiritual, the reason why we did the book is that absolutely everyone from all walks of life bonded, talked and got on while they were up there, before walking out of each other's lives and back into their own as they left the park.
It's become quite a celeb rite of passage to go on the trails there. Do you think this could spoil it?
Josh: I don't think so - it's in Hollywood and they're used to seeing James Franco on any street corner. Also The Game does a hiking club up there sometimes and so many celebs go for a hike I think people don't notice. And it's pretty steep and hot so I'd imagine Taylor Swift is the only person on earth who wouldn't be an unrecognisable sweaty mess at the top -and she hikes backwards. The main thing that will spoil it is the fact a million people a year go up there and there's no infrastructure in the park. The Friends Of Runyon Canyon Foundation are trying to raise funds to shore up areas that are starting to fall apart and want to get a ranger station up there.