Saturday, June 1, 2013

Palm Springs Photo Festival

Palm Springs City Hall

I spent the first week of May in Palm Springs for the annual Photo Festival. Each year in the spring, thousands of photographers - both amateurs and professionals - descend on this small desert city for the opportunity to eat, sleep, and play all things photography. For me, anyway, it's a rare opportunity to get to spend three or four days focused only on making photos, without having to worry about family or work obligations. 

Renowned photo professionals from all over the world take part and give lectures or teach workshops. This year, they included Vincent Laforet,  Roger Ballen, Frank Ockenfels III, and Ralph Gibson.    I've signed up for the architectural photography workshop for the past two years, which was given by architectural photographer to the starchitects, Tim Griffith.  

It's a great opportunity to meet other photographers and discuss techniques, while also getting some helpful critique of your own work. But it's also a great way to have access to properties to photograph that you wouldn't normally get a chance to visit. This year's list included the Albert Frey residence... 

Frey House II

Frey was a master at using simple materials in an elegant and understated way, and his own home truly blurs the lines between indoors and out - even incorporating the boulders that surround the home into the design. He used one of them as a room divider and headboard for his bed.

Frey House II

We were also able to visit the Desert Hot Springs Motel (now known as the Hotel Lautner). As its name suggests, this little boutique hotel was designed by the architect, John Lautner in 1947. Yes, that's right... in 1947!

Lautner in Color

You may notice that this place bears more than a passing resemblance to Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona. That's not just a coincidence. Lautner was one of Wright's most loyal and trusted apprentices, and spent a great deal of time at Taliesin West, helping to build it. He originally came to southern California to lead construction of several Wright projects in the area. 

The property was originally designed as a planned community of housing tracts, complete with stores, parks, and pools on 600 acres- a sort of desert utopia.  The client was the famous movie director Lucien Hubbard, the winner of the very first "Best Picture" Oscar for the silent movie "Wings". But only the first four prototypes were built before the project came to a halt. Hubbard and the Hollywood elite then used it as a hideaway. 

Desert Hot Springs Motel (aka Hotel Lautner)

Desert Hot Springs Motel (aka Hotel Lautner)

After Hubbard died in 1972, the place stood abandoned for many years. The Hollywood elite had moved on to more exotic locales by then, and Desert Hot Springs was considered far less desirable than Palm Springs (which had, itself, fallen out of favor with the Hollywood types. 

Desert Hot Springs Motel (aka Hotel Lautner)

The 600 acres were sold off and subdivided into drab tract housing. That explains the unusual location for this place, on a residential street, surrounded by completely unremarkable homes.  

Desert Hot Springs Motel (aka Hotel Lautner)
The current owners refurbished the hotel, trying to keep it as original as possible, and even replaced the redwood siding with new redwood (even though it's poorly adapted to the desert climate). It's now a four-unit hotel. 


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