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Arts and Entertainment

Photographer Captures American Apparel Ads In Their Gritty Natural Environment

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One of the most ubiquitous sights in Los Angeles is the American Apparel billboard. They are mostly small signs, found in strategic neighborhoods such as Silverlake and Echo Park and featuring a young, attractive women in Dov Charney's products. The billboards reflect a vintage softcore aesthetic that make the ads nearly unmissable.

Los Angeles-based artist Thomas Alleman set out to capture these tiny billboards in their natural environment. The end result is "The American Apparel," a gritty look at the role these ads play in the streets of Los Angeles. There are billboards overlooking homeless squats, perching over a street corner, hiding behind buildings and looking down on alleyways.

Alleman explains his work:

American Apparel is an L.A.-based clothing manufacturer specializing in basic knit sportswear for moneyed young hipsters. AA’s controversial marketing campaign unfolds on smallish, five-foot-by-nine-foot billboards, often poised just above eye level. These signs don't live in a blue, uncluttered sky; they hunker down amongst the storefronts and cyclone fences and parking lots, interacting directly with an environment that's as visually chaotic as those ads are simple and banal and difficult to ignore. And, just as those billboards are quite literally "in your face," so, too, are AA’s promotions: in photographs that often appear defiantly amateur in technique, young women lounge in provocative, sometimes bizarre poses, barely wearing AA’s bland fashions, looking at the viewer with doleful boredom. Sometimes the models are known porn stars who stare into the landscape with a confident languor, but often the models are startlingly plain, and one wonders if AA’s visual agenda is subversive, democratic and groundbreaking, or just plain weird. Is it genius or drek? Is it exploitative, or a sly comment on exploitation elsewhere? In either case, passions are aroused by the debut of each new billboard, which change by the week and are different from block to block.

Of course, my essential subject and muse is still and always the social and urban landscape of Los Angeles - that ridiculous, spectacular place - but the American Apparel billboards raise specific questions about very visible aspects of that built environment: how do corporate forces and pop-culture tastemakers interject their "brands" and messages into the cavalcade of pastel stucco, telephone poles, barbed wire, errant signage, desert foliage and omnipresent automobiles that comprise LA’s bizarre and roiling social landscape? Like this silly, spectacular town, the evidence fascinates even as it confounds.

More of Alleman's work can be found
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LAist writer Greg Katz contributed to this post.

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