Between Hollywood, the geographical reality, and “Hollywood,” the dream capital of the American imagination, lies an uncertain distance. People come to Los Angeles for many reasons, but almost all have to do with escape and ambition, with the desire to close the gap between who they are and who they might become. Penny Wolin’s GUEST REGISTER (Crazy Woman Creek Press, 88 pp., $125) takes as its subject the residents of the St. Francis Hotel on Hollywood Boulevard, a once-elegant establishment that, by the time the author moved into it in the spring of 1975, had fallen into disrepair. Wolin’s photographs depict her neighbors with an uncanny, and unexpected, tenderness. In lieu of the starker revelations of, say, a Nan Goldin, we find warmth and invitation, a genuine sweetness in the presence of her subjects, who include a Vietnam veteran, a retired set designer, a former child actor, an ex-rodeo rider and just about every other sort of person in between. What makes “Guest Register” so remarkable is not just its gentle spirit, nor even its democratic reach, but rather the expansiveness that grows out of these things together. Captioned in a way that is at once playful and exacting, and coupled with a brief essay that collapses the space between what Wolin calls “existential Hollywood” and the actual place, these portraits show the opposite of what you might expect: a world in which dreams may be diminished but their originators, these noble occupants of the St. Francis Hotel, are radiant, beautiful, timelessly alive.
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