American photographer Steve Kahn is part of a generation of artists that emerged in Los Angeles in the 1970s, including Robert Heinecken and Lewis Baltz, who deconstructed the medium with a conceptual and abstract approach. Juxtaposing nudes and seascapes with architectural interiors, The Hollywood Suites, his enigmatic series of images made between 1974 and 1978, is currently on view at Howard Greenberg Gallery in New York.
Kahn created this body of work in rent-by-the-day rooms of an old tenement building in a run-down section of Hollywood, California. Looking to create work that spoke of containment and isolation, Kahn began photographing professional bondage models using a Polaroid camera. Later, in his studio, he would copy the Polaroids with 35 mm film, documenting the events he had orchestrated, and initiating a formal process of reproductions and generations. As Kahn notes, “These were situations entered into without a plan, full of anxiety, in the hope of producing some document of the experience that was explicit, visually powerful, yet went beyond what it was.”
One day, the model didn’t show up, and Kahn found that he could explore the same provocative and haunting issues by photographing the room itself. This led to stark images of the walls, windows, mirrors, doors and hallways, which evolved into studies of defined space that became abstract in triptychs and quadrants. Except for certain interventions – adding graphic elements to a few doors with tape, rope, and black yarn – rarely did he manipulate the rooms.
As Kahn wrote, “All of this work was process oriented, having started off as pull-and-peel Polaroids. The work was concerned with formal issues including generations, re-iterations, sequences, and multiple image presentations.” Ultimately Kahn notes, “I took the space apart and reconstructed it. I ended up creating an existential situation for myself.”
The series will also be the subject of an upcoming exhibition at the de Young Museum in San Francisco opening on September 29, 2018.