Los Angeles: songs, sagas and whole industries have been built within the city. It’s no mean feat to document the self-proclaimed “city of angels” through the landscapes of two-dimensional print, but graphic designer Stefanie Tam achieves this in the form of three books centred around a personal love letter to the city.
The triptych of books records the fashion, flower and toy districts of downtown LA respectively. Each publication features a photo essay of the location, presenting the people and textures of the district as photographed by Stefanie herself. Cheerfully-bright photographs capture the warm glow of the Californian sun, a distant memory to those of us facing the depths of winter. The vivid photographs are complimentarily embedded within Stefanie’s lighthearted graphic design. “I needed design decisions such as colourful coils, full bleed colour spreads, bold typography and various formats to demonstrate the textural and lush ephemera of downtown LA,” she tells It’s Nice That.
Accompanied by essays that discuss the districts’ historical backgrounds, economic impact and social demographics, the books offer an alternative panorama of LA. A far cry from its stereotypical Hollywood glamour, A Love Letter to Los Angeles sheds light on the multicultural downtown districts that add character and diversity to the city. Stefanie goes on to say, “the series is a translation of the energy and liveliness unique to these areas. It also functions as an information guide to promote LA’s mom-and-pop shops largely run by immigrant families.”
The idea for the project came from Stefanie’s appreciation for the industrial parts of the city. After living in Los Angeles for four years, she grew frustrated with the obvious connotations of the city’s elitist areas — Santa Monica, Beverly Hills and Hollywood — creating the triptych as a way to showcase the alternative areas of the city that “fuel vibrancy and life” into LA. In comparison with the infamous star-studded parts, that Stefanie assesses as places "overlooking the multiculturalism and diversity of LA”, through joyful art direction she shines a light on the beauty of the overlooked industry-led areas. At one point, all of these districts were or are, the largest wholesale distributors of their respective industries. The fashion district, in particular, became a catalyst for the rise of fashion in LA while immigrant-run businesses encouraged other settlers to establish their own companies, contributing to the “abundant diversity within the city”.
For three months towards the latter end of last year, Stefanie explored, photographed and met the people in downtown LA’s communities. In her personal love letter, she evaluates this experience: “I began to understand the dynamics between humanism and industry, materialism and pursuit, environmentalism and sustainability of the individual… From here, I write my love letter to you, Los Angeles. For your rawness and shamelessness of yourself. For your diversity of people, perceptions of the world, and social systems that face the attentive observer with the harsh complexities, and sometimes polarising, important subject matters.”