Los Angeles, CA — Alvin Burton began to seriously pursue photography in 1944, the year he graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School in Los Angeles.
The L.A. native started his journey with the now iconic Speed Graphic camera, the industry standard for press photographers for half a century.
Burton was initially drawn to this equipment because of its large 4 by 5 negative, which could easily be enlarged to an 8 by 10 format. By the early 1950s, he’d transitioned to the Rolleiflex, which eliminated the graininess associated with the earlier camera, then on to the 35mm SLR (Single Lens Reflex) in the ’60s and ’70s.
Regardless of the equipment used, Burton’s images were a living testament to the changing facade of the City of Angels, with Jefferson High at the outset being a launch pad for many of the most prominent figures in entertainment, politics, and sports. Although he regrets not covering the highlights of Central Avenue in its hey day, Burton’s pictures of sporting events, and the teenage curriculum of social dances, clubs and the like stand as a time capsule of one of the most significant urban areas of the Twentieth Century.
Although most of the photos displayed in the upcoming exhibit were made within the last decade, Burton personally rubbed shoulders in its hallways with such luminaries as Matthew (Stymie) Beard, the child actor associated with the Our Gang series of the Depression; Dorothy Dandridge, the mega-talented actress-dancer-singer, first Black woman nominated for an Academy Award and the recipient of a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame; and Mal Whitfield, multiple Olympic gold medalist middle distance runner an the late 1940s and early 1950s, and father of current CNN news anchor Fredricka Whitfield. As generations moved through its portals, the school has witnessed its neighborhood transition from being a haven for ethnic Caucasian groups including Italians and Jews, to being a way station for newly arrived Blacks from Louisiana, Texas, and the American South before their transition to L.A.’s Westside, and the area’s current incarnation with a student body dominated by Latinos from Mexico and Central America.
On Saturday, May 16, the L.A. Public Library’s Washington Irving branch will host an exhibition of photographs by Burton from Noon to 4 p.m.