On Wednesday the Getty Research Institute announced the premiere of “12 Sunsets: Exploring Ed Ruscha’s Archive,” an interactive database of more than 65,000 Ruscha photographs taken along Sunset Boulevard during 12 road trips between 1965 and 2007. The project uses optical character recognition software, which reads signs in the photographs, and computer vision technology, which tags images. Users can languidly “drive” along a Google-like map of Sunset, with panoramic imagery on both sides of the street or search for locations or objects, such as “Chateau Marmont” or “palm trees.” Scroll east or west on the map or back and forth in time. It’s not dissimilar from Google Street View, but Ruscha, 82, was doing it before the internet was invented — and with the eye of an artist.
“12 Sunsets” grew out of a larger Ruscha photo archive. In 2012 the GRI acquired Ruscha’s “Streets of Los Angeles” archive, more than half a million photographs of L.A.’s seemingly infinite avenues, streets and boulevards — including Hollywood, Melrose, Beverly, Third and Sepulveda — that the artist painstakingly started documenting in 1965 and which is still ongoing. The most recent shoot, along Pacific Coast Highway, was in March 2019. About 90% of the photographs in the archive hadn’t been printed or seen publicly before, says GRI Deputy Director Andrew Perchuk. His team digitized and cataloged images straight from the film negatives and contact sheets.