Like the majority of the world, Los Angeles is currently in lockdown. From Downtown to Silver Lake, locals are holed up inside their homes finding ways to keep busy and inspired. For couple James Michael Juarez (photographer) and Sarah Rockwood (writer), this need for creative energy resulted in a visual diary documenting their friends and locals across LA.
“LA is so sprawling in every sense of the word, it’s easy to get lost in self-isolation and feel disconnected from everything and everyone you know,” James tells us of his experience. “It was already an isolating place pre-Covid between full-time jobs and side gigs, endless rush hour traffic, and friends scattered all across town. All we hoped for was to put together a portrait of our community, and that’s what makes this a deeply personal project. It’s a map of everyone we know, a document of our time in quarantine.”
As James captured stripped-back portraits of individuals and families at their homes, Sarah translated their trips and interactions into prose, creating a Beat-like insight into one of the strangest and most disorientating periods in their lives – with the couple’s young son Wolfe in tow. Here, we preview five interactions from the piece.
LA is a resilient and tough town, and it was still shining bright that day. Every flowering plant we passed was bursting in full bloom. At one point we passed a memorial mural honoring Kobe Bryant and remarked that his passing already feels like a lifetime ago. One thing about LA is that its beauty can feel garish when you’re not in a great place – I’ve had many days where I’ve felt absolutely awful and the sunshine radiating off of the sidewalks feels vulgar and dirty. So there’s a bit of that to grapple with as the news feels continually bleak. I love this city and was so grateful so spend that day traveling through it.” – Sarah Rockwood
“At Vinny’s fading yellow house in Frogtown, the wheels of his skateboard loudly click as he rolls up and down homemade ramps. I think of Aladdin on his magic carpet rolling over sandy dunes.
I’m overcome with the urge to drink a cold glass of champagne—just one. It practically brings me to my knees. I haven’t had a drink in years. Vinny’s skateboard crashes, loud. I’m brought back to Earth. A fly lands on my foot.”
“At Alannah and Rio’s house in Atwater Village, the mood feels different, somber. They meet us at the gate, a hard lace border between us.
Alannah is a nurse in the emergency room of a local hospital. It’s her day off. She’s so beautiful. When we arrive, her long brown hair is wet from the shower. Her babies climb all over her. She’s a willow. Her husband Rio is impossibly tall, gentle, kind.
She tells us how some deaths at the hospital have been traded for others—drunk driving accidents have decreased drastically for example. She tells us how decimated local nursing homes have been—one case turning into ten over the course of a single day. She tells us that old people are dying alone in the hospital. My breath catches in my throat. It’s so sad.
Her six year old climbs their gate, perches. Spider-Man.”
“At Staz’s house in Highland Park, a blinding white new build crammed onto a narrow winding road, I introduce myself. I wave. I’ve never met her – she’s a friend of my husband’s, a relic from his days photographing screaming punk bands. She sings in a band, The Paranoyds. The quintessential LA Cool Girl.
Before we leave, “wait!” she says. She grabs an orange picker, reaches up high into a lush tree in her front yard. She carefully carries her bounty to us, dropping big juicy oranges into my husband’s hands. We all laugh. I like her, I decide.”
“We stop at Oscar’s. Oscar is my ex boyfriend – the last person I dated before I met my husband. Our relationship was explosive, lots of thick cold IPAs and screaming fights outside of his old apartment on Rowena. We’re friends now. We shout from across the street, asking about each other’s siblings. Wolfe waves his soft fat arms as fast as he can, a windmill.
Work is good and he’s busier than ever, Oscar tells us.”
“Our last stop is Jeanette, my best friend. We’re more like sisters than anything else. Jeanette is beautiful, floating and ethereal. She’s an artist—a painter. I’m so tired at this point I can hardly see. Jeanette’s face feels like home.
For her portrait she leans out her second-story window, Echo Park’s own Juliet.
“We got it!” James says.
It’s over. Our last shot. We wave goodbye, buckle in, head home.”