With its dayglow pink and screaming lettering the cover of Skid Row looks like a relic from the age of punk. Have Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious made a comeback? At the same time this large-format book has the impact of a trendy fashion magazine. Are we in for something gritty? Leafing through the book we then find ourselves surveying ‘the peak of wretchedness’, as one panel member so expressively put it. ‘But still through the eyes of a fashion photographer.’
Amsterdam photographer Désirée van Hoek spent eight years working on her Skid Row project. From 2007 to 2015 she regularly immersed herself in the poorest neighbourhood of Los Angeles, home to some fifteen thousand homeless or formerly homeless people. Skid Row, in the heart of downtown LA, has been there for well over a hundred years. In her book, former fashion photographer van Hoek shows us the human face of Skid Row, creating portraits of the local people. These are inserted loose between the leaves, printed in dense glowing colours, and zooming in on their possessions and clothing and the buildings and other structures that constitute their world.
In this way van Hoek builds up what is still a slightly massaged picture of a raw neighbourhood where beauty sometimes nestles between the dirt and the cracks in the road. She captures all this in a boldly conceived book of her own making. ‘It really catches you out.’ ‘You fail to see what you’re looking at.’ The rhythm and the sharp colours drive you onwards. A viewing experience without parallel – in your face and, moreover, couched in a misleading mould. The panel judged this a photo book that far transcended its subject, as well as having considerable courage in departing from the beaten track.