Tim Bradley earned his BFA and MFA degrees in photography from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. After Art Center he pursued dual interests as a photographer and teacher, exhibiting his work through the Jan Turner gallery in Los Angeles and joining the Visual Arts faculty at Cal State, Northridge. In 1991, Bradley was appointed chair of photography at Art Center. He served as chair until 2000, when he left to open a freelance studio where he completed projects for The Advocate, Esquire, Fortune, Oprah and other editorial clients. He is currently teaching in the new MFA program in photography at Brooks Institute and he also chairs the visual arts department at an independent high school outside of Los Angeles.
California Dwelling · 1978–1981
From 1978 to 1981, I photographed in a neighborhood that had an uncanny visual presence. The layering of ancient bungalows, postwar apartments, outdated cars, and contemporary suburban life made the place look like no one knew what decade it was. Sunlight burnished surfaces with a pastel vibrance and night brought out illuminated doorbells and impossible shadows, projecting a feeling of theatricality.
The view from the sidewalk could be disarming. It seemed that time was holding its breath to accommodate random arrangements in a fleeting tableau. Looking at the groundglass I often felt that I was engulfed in a virtual space rather than aiming at a subject, as if I had stumbled onto a stage set or into someone else’s memory.
For four years I looked and photographed. My interest was aesthetic at first, inspired by the color photography emerging during the 70s and the unexpected beauty of my surroundings. But I soon realized that I was also documenting a fragile corner of southern California that would soon be overwritten. I made prints from about one hundred negatives and put everything into storage for thirty years.
Days of Hands · Ongoing
We are hungry to touch, to hold things. Fingers seek out surfaces both welcoming and steely hard. Sometimes we draw the world to us in handfuls, altering it and leaving faint traces of ourselves behind. Things wear away. Faces and objects reveal their received marks.
Walking around with a camera satisfies a touching tic. It’s hard in the palm. If you like what you see then your finger can pinch it—shutter release. In this way you can navigate a city by touch and keep part of it for yourself.
After years of constructing and photographing little urban fragments I started walking the streets of Los Angeles with a roll film camera. But the desire to hand craft an image is hard to kill and eventually I took a scissor to the neat little negatives and began snipping them. It reactivates a past moment, disturbing its breathless universe. Sometimes I make things or travel to other cities and I cut those negatives as well.
It’s ongoing. The results remind me of T. S. Eliot’s elegant framing of things divided.
Tabletop Los Angeles · 1983
In the early 1980s I started collecting vintage postcards of Los Angeles landmarks. The buildings pictured still existed but the surroundings had changed over time. I found myself drawn to this irretrievable black and white world and the vague sense of loss it elicited.
I began wondering about a basic photographic premise: that light and dark tones on paper are sometimes enough to render a sense of place and invite our emotions into it. I wanted to explore the same dynamic without nostalgia or the passage of time—to create imagery of places that never really existed, places that could be contemplated in picture form only.
I began building scale model urban fragments from scratch. They were lit artificially, photographed, and then destroyed so that only the negatives and prints remained.
Remnants of Ancient LA · 1985
Imagine if Los Angeles had the same architectural heritage as an Umbrian hill town—our vast stucco and chickenwire metropolis punctuated with an occasional remnant from centuries past. Maybe CalTrans would find itself excavating a medieval wall from a freeway overpass, or you could stumble upon the ruin of a pagan temple in a Burbank backyard.
Inspired by a trip to Italy and the disposability of our local architecture, I fabricated and photographed tabletop sets that brought the two together.
Descent · 1988
I live in Pasadena on the upper rim of Los Angeles. The drive from here to LA sometimes feels like a slow descent, a coiling freeway ride from the base of the foothills into a patchwork basin. In spite of the insulating effect of a car, one can sense a swelling chaos as the lowest parts of the city draw near. It was more pronounced during the late 1980s when urban tensions and violence were reaching a crescendo—as though the underworld had broken through, revealing itself in an uneasy mixture of pride and insanity.
One day I found a fragment of graffiti that read “LA Chinadoll Dreamer.” I imagined an individual, perhaps lost in this big city, leaving traces on a journey into its deep center.
I used the first thirteen cantos of Dante’s Divine Comedy to set the fictional stage.
Remembering Sunlight · 1989
Consider a future where the natural world no longer exists or is no longer available to us. How would it be remembered? Would folk tales recounting the beauty of dappled sunlight and the phases of the moon be enough, or would there be a desperate attempt to replicate everyday phenomena using whatever materials were available?
Would people sojourn to distant sites where they could stand their children in front of a cobbled together sky? Or would we lack the courage to remember?