You can find them on just about any street in every city come trash day. Each one a unique piece of home decor. Once the centerpiece chosen to define our communal spaces, now an abandoned remnant of our disposable lives left curbside. I call it a couch, you may call it a davenport, chesterfield, or lounge. Andrew Ward calls it a sofa and he has been photographing everyone he comes across around Los Angeles for the last five years. What started out as an odd fascination quickly grew into the personal project Ward calls “Sofas of L.A.”
Sofas have so many uses, each one full of stories from our lives. We relax on them, fall asleep on them, our children play, and yes sometimes are conceived on them. They can be hand crafted sculptures or works of fine art placed in museums. We search for just the right one to be an extension of our personality and then one day we put it out on the sidewalk, to be forgotten. Ward sees this as a reflection on the transient nature of L.A.'s residents and our consumer driven lives.
What was once the centerpiece of someone’s home now sits abandoned on a city sidewalk. They have become part of the fabric of L.A.
I think a lot of people are drawn to curbside sofas and other abandoned items. A quick image search brings up thousands of pictures being shared. Maybe it's the glimpse into something that was once kind of private or just how a lot of times they don't seem that out of place on the street. Having taken 1000’s of photos of sofas, Ward says how “some of the sofas blend in with their new unintended environments. The sofas look more at home and fit their new location better than they would have ever looked in somebody’s living room.”
Personal projects often start off as simple whims or an exploration of one’s own interests. This is probably part of why they often seem to become a passionate endeavor that leads to something bigger for an artist. What is often something that we think might only interest ourselves can quickly snowball once we unleash it to the masses. This is what has happened for “Sofas of L.A.” After several successful shows Ward feels “the project has really come into focus and found it’s voice…” He mentions at a recent exhibit there was a large print made to almost scale of a sofa which received a fair amount of feedback inspiring how the project might evolve in the long term.
The project is a typology and with a book it is the best way to give your audience the ability to make comparisons between each of the subjects…
There is also a book in the works that Ward is excited to be working on. Even in the beginning it seems the idea of a book existed and after capturing 1000’s of sofas he has begun to cull down to a more manageable amount. The trick he says “is finding a narrative and flow to the book that gives each individual sofa it’s own identity but at the same time related to each other photograph in the book.”
I have to admit I have always been drawn to out of place sofas. In college I had this great floral print couch I always dreamed of taking all over the country photographing it in different places. Clearly I’m not alone in that dream as I’ve seen others attempt similar projects. Seeing Ward's images printed on a gallery wall brings me back to that dream and what made it seem special. There is something endearing about the symmetry of a sofa worn down and placed amongst unusual backdrops. The variety of locations juxtaposed with the consistency at which the images are shot takes a little work to organize. If the sofa is found in a manner that does not fit with the narrative Ward will align it with the curb always shooting from the same perspective low to the ground in the center of the street. This obviously sometimes draws puzzled encounters from neighbors asking “if it’s my job or do I work for the city and get paid to do this?” to which Ward always replies “this is an obsession for me - I photograph every abandoned sofa I see that is discarded on a city street.” If a sofa is overturned or blocked behind a car or some other obstruction. It is often necessary to do several drive bys until it's possible to get the scene just right.
So what is the future of “Sofas of L.A.?” After five years and 1000’s of photos has Ward finally had enough of discarded sofas? Apparently not at all, telling me, “Just this evening on the drive home from work - I saw an abandoned sofa drove past it and thought, I’ll keep driving, but, it’s like a voice or force inside me made me circle the block and come back around to photograph it.” So it looks like for now the people of L.A. can continue to watch and see if their old discarded sofas show up on Ward’s Instagram account.
All images used with permission of Andrew Ward