LAX: Photographs of Los Angeles 1980–84 is John Brian King’s portrait of a bygone Los Angeles.

Air Travel at LAX in the 1980s Was a Nightmare

Air Travel at LAX in the 1980s Was a Nightmare

Behold
The Photo Blog
Nov. 30 2015 10:02 AM

Air Travel at LAX in the 1980s Was a Nightmare

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From John Brian King’s book, LAX: Photographs of Los Angeles 1980–84.

Copyright John Brian King

John Brian King was 18 when he first started making photos at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). It was 1980, and only a year earlier he’d purchased his first photography book by Weegee, who is famous for his flash-heavy, black-and-white photos of urban life. The influence is clear in King’s series, “LAX,” which appears, along with another series, “LA,” in LAX: Photographs of Los Angeles 1980–84, published by Spurl this month.  

“I think the photographs in my book stand out as documents of a disappeared time—for me and my subjects—and a visual commentary of how I perceived humanity in my youth,” King said via email.

LAX_043
From John Brian King’s book, LAX: Photographs of Los Angeles 1980–84.

Copyright John Brian King

LAX_050
From John Brian King’s book, LAX: Photographs of Los Angeles 1980–84.

Copyright John Brian King

LAX_003
From John Brian King’s book, LAX: Photographs of Los Angeles 1980–84.

Copyright John Brian King

King photographed at the airport’s arrival area for two years, looking for people who were “lost, scared, bored, exhausted, or bemused.” He sometimes shot in the afternoon, but typically got his best results at night when the airport was busiest. 

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“I had to get very close to people to get what I wanted, but then I quickly moved on (or, in many instances, they moved on, in their rush to flee the airport). I was polite but determined; I didn’t have any altercations with anyone, but they were usually too stunned to realize what had happened when I walked away,” he said.

LAX_018
From John Brian King’s book, LAX: Photographs of Los Angeles 1980–84.

Copyright John Brian King

LAX_037
From John Brian King’s book, LAX: Photographs of Los Angeles 1980–84.

Copyright John Brian King

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From John Brian King’s book, LAX: Photographs of Los Angeles 1980–84.

Copyright John Brian King

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From John Brian King’s book, LAX: Photographs of Los Angeles 1980–84.

Copyright John Brian King

King now lives in Palm Springs, California, and he says the airport there is “open and intimate,” starkly different from LAX, which, in the 1980s, was undergoing a hectic renovation in preparation for the 1984 Olympics. Today, he says, the airport strikes him as “just another architecturally dull, security-driven nightmare.” Back in the day, he says, it wasn’t much to look at either, but it created an atmosphere that was fun to photograph. 

“I loved photographing these travelers arriving at the airport, brutally assaulted by this sea of ugliness, attempting to cope. I wanted to show, through the stark art of black-and-white photography, the dry vulnerability and humor of these people.”

LAX_030
From John Brian King’s book, LAX: Photographs of Los Angeles 1980–84.

Copyright John Brian King

LAX_048
From John Brian King’s book, LAX: Photographs of Los Angeles 1980–84.

Copyright John Brian King

LAX_031
From John Brian King’s book, LAX: Photographs of Los Angeles 1980–84.

Copyright John Brian King

Jordan G. Teicher is the associate editor of Slates Behold blog. Follow him on Twitter.