Cody James photographs the architecture of The Getty Center, offering a new perspective on the endless L.A. sun - Friends of Friends / Freunde von Freunden (FvF)

Cody James photographs the architecture of The Getty Center, offering a new perspective on the endless L.A. sun


Exploring the architecture just outside of Los Angeles, Cody James turns his focus on the Getty Center—a famed art museum and Richard Meier’s architectural landmark. In this series James uses the Getty Center’s distinctive structure to reframe that perpetual Cali gold.

James was born in a small town outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His photography has taken him all over the world—“Alaska, Hong Kong, Taipei, London,” are among his favorite places. Lately he’s been splitting his time between Los Angeles and New York, but it’s L.A. he calls home. “I love the natural environment that exists out here,” he says. “This area of the country has everything to offer, whether it’s mountains, desert, oceans or forest.” It is a territory which allows James to pursue his constant fascination with the relationship between nature and the man-made. “However, the consistent weather is a blessing and curse. Some people love the constant sunshine, but I think it can start to feel mundane.”

James’s new series captures the Getty Center, a landmark of contemporary modernist architecture. The building is situated on a hilltop in the Santa Monica mountains, with a view of Los Angeles spreading out against the San Bernardino and San Gabriel Mountains to the East and the Pacific Ocean laid flat along the western horizon. It’s here that he sees that mundane light of the Cali sun revitalized, the building’s curves and angles offering up those moments he searches for—when “both the synthetic and the natural world complement each other in way that is subtle,” he says. “Not one environment overbearing the other.”

“When you add that magical light to this complex, it creates something quite beautiful.”

As the sun crosses the sky, new perspectives present themselves to the camera; the sun slapping onto the flat paneled surfaces, curling gold round the pillars, cutting between the shadows of the white slats and twisting in the glass. “The way the light hits shapes of the structures is surreal,” James muses. “When you add that magical light to this complex, it creates something quite beautiful.”

The Getty Center’s galleries house hundreds of pre-20th century artworks and sculptures, alongside reams of photographs dating from 1830 to present. It is home to works valued upwards of $50 million—Van Gogh’s ‘Irises’ and Gauguin’s ‘Arii Matamoe’ are two of the collection’s more prominent pieces. Since it opened to the public in 1997 over 15 million people have taken the center’s hovertrain from Interstate 405 to witness its wealth of art; but it was the architecture that drew James there.

The building’s public opening came after significant renovations to the site by US abstract artist and architect Richard Meier, whose focus on geometric forms and neutral tones informed the building’s unmistakably modern aesthetic. Making use of concrete and steel for the structure Meier clad the building in 1.2 million square feet of travertine stone and hundreds of sheets of aluminium. The whole complex eventually ended up costing nearly one billion dollars over the $350 million predicted; in 2013, the entire complex was valued at over $3.8 billion. Speaking to Arch Daily in 2011 Meier describes it as his defining work, claiming that “nothing can or will ever equal getting to be the architect for the Getty Center.” It is a monument that transcends the outstanding legacy of modern architecture in Los Angeles, a guiding light of design—and it is to this light that James pays testament.

Thanks to Cody James for sharing his work with us—check out his website if you’d like to see what else he’s been up to.

Fancy having a bit more of a look around L.A.? Take a peek into a local artist’s home, in our interview with Brett Cody Rogers. Or if you’re interested in exploring a few more of our photo essays, why not have a look.

Text: Louis Harnett O’Meara
Photography: Cody James