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Once a prince of Manhattan, artist-musician Moby has since found himself a new castle, quite literally. Wolf’s Lair — a replica of a Norman castle, built in 1927 by real estate developer Milton Wolf, and now annexed to a John Lautner house that Moby uses as his studio — caps its sweeping view of the Hollywood Reservoir with actual turrets.
It’s a fitting setting for the artist’s romance with Los Angeles. The city — for all its sublime surroundings and sordid histories — inspired Moby’s most recent album, Innocents, a set of 12 sun-baked spirituals, released in October 2013. Now he’s set to debut a new series of photographs of the same name, on view beginning Friday, Feb. 21, at Hollywood’s Project Gallery.
In a recent column for Creative Time Reports — tellingly titled: “Los Angeles, the First City of the Apocalypse” — Moby lauds L.A.’s singular preapocalyptic strangeness: “It seems equally baffled and baffling, with urban and suburban and wilderness existing in fantastic chaos just inches away from one another.” Los Angeles, he concludes, “captures that strange, exciting and at times delusional American notion of magical self-invention.”
Perhaps this is why the city has been such a ripe setting for apocalyptic visions. After all, alongside its celebrities and refugees, the Hollywood Hills have been home to many a cult. The dark history of what otherwise looks like paradise fascinated Moby. “I was really thinking a lot about this around the time of the Mayan apocalypse of 2012,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter, “when you had the supposed end of the world, and then it didn’t happen. It got me thinking, what if the apocalypse has already happened and we just didn’t realize it? What if the world we’re living in is not pre- but postapocalyptic?“
The premise behind Innocents is that the Mayan apocalypse did indeed occur as predicted, it just wasn’t recognized as such. The photographs thus imagine “a cult for the postapocalyptic world.” The images are both compelling and unsettling, with a sumptuous, slippery beauty that testifies to the photographer’s eye for composition and color. Strategically deployed overexposure harnesses the California sun at its most spectacular and most sinister, as it bounces off the white robes of the cult initiates, who hide the shame of their humanity under cheap plastic animal masks. These characters carry out their “mute and somber penitence” within electrified landscapes, saturated with all the colors of an alternative reality. A chimpanzee-faced figure stands at odds with the products of a supermarket aisle, a brown-bear huddles in a chartreuse-colored car tunnel and a nymph is shown submerged in a swimming pool, long legs kicking, ape-mask barely skimming the surface of the water. While there is certainly some technical wizardry going on, what resounds is the simplicity and power of each image.
While better known for his musical endeavors, Moby has been taking photographs since childhood. An earlier body of work — Destroyed — presented crowd portraits shot from the stage. “Someone gave me a really good piece of advice, which was, if you’re going to take photos, take photos of the things you can see, which no one else can,” Moby recalls. “I realized that what for me is a common sight — these thousands of fans, all crammed in a stadium, staring right at me — is something only a minute percentage of the world has experienced.”
Innocents may be a departure into fantasy, but it’s a fantasy of what could have been, what still might be or what could be going on at this very moment. Its core, however, remains in the Hollywood Hills, where Moby enjoys a singular view — one only a minute percentage of the world can claim.
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