Brian O’Neill is an Illinois-based sociologist and photographer whose work looks at the human condition and society’s relationship to nature. He investigates the various meanings of “industry” and how it affects local communities and environments. Beach Boulevard, his first photographic publication, is a small spiral-bound book in a small edition of 100. Rather than probing the typical documentary question “what’s going on here” it delves deeper and wonders how we actually got to our current state and why.
"This book is a visual diary of sorts — out of the past, and through the present.
Pink hues begin to meld with the sea haze along the beach as the sun sets over the site of the old high school, now replaced by common establishments. Two young women wait for a young man, circling a street corner on their bikes as another day begins to pass tonight along the beach.”
As a sociologist, O’Neill is trained to classify and document the world. Beach Boulevard, however, attempts discovery instead. As the eponymous boulevard, the 50 mile stretch between the Pacific Ocean and the San Gabriel Mountains, was a fully unknown land to the photographer, he used it as a central axis for his project. He would encounter low-rise apartments, condos, strip malls, fast-food eateries, and highways piling up to the ocean. O’Neil remains completely fascinated by this region and calls it a phenomenon of historical condition. The photographs we see here look almost idyllic — sandy beaches, families having fun in the sea, green leaves, golden hour and blue skies. The photographer uses his camera as a tool, almost a permission to get to know an area of interest that has so far been a mystery to him.
“This area was once orange groves and oil fields as far as the eye could see. What now fills the horizon? Further inland, homes hide behind ten-foot brick walls, trying to remain in the shade. And, at the end of a long day of walking the hot pavement and breathing the fumes of individual liberty, a rare young man tells the tale of his false imprisonment and asks where the pier is — so that he can retrieve his backpack and dog. I tell him, follow along Beach Boulevard.”
— foreword by Zak R. Dimitrov
As a sociologist, I am trained to classify and to document the world – to distinguish between types, and to apprehend the logic of the inhabitants of a differentiated, unequal world. On the minimal adventures that constituted the basis for Beach Boulevard though, my aim was more like discovery. Indeed, Beach Boulevard itself – that 50 mile stretch of pavement between the Pacific Ocean and the San Gabriel Mountains was a veritable foreign land to me, having grown up in the great industrial pasture called “the Midwest.”
Hence, beach boulevard served as my central axis of orientation in this place without a center. And along the main artery of the great superorganism of Southern California, I encountered its many capillaries of low-rise apartments, condos, strip malls, fast food eateries, and highways piling up to the ocean. As Kem Nunn wrote, one desert confronts another, the “city” squats “at the edge of the sea…dwarfed by the immense thing that lay before it.”
I was, and remain, completely fascinated by this region, as a phenomenon and historical condition.