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65,000 photos of Sunset Boulevard: Take the ultimate road trip with Ed Ruscha

The Los Angeles Times

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…

The first database, a “Research Collections Viewer,” is for “hardcore researchers,” Perchuk says. It’s searchable by latitude or longitude points. One research team with members from University of Pennsylvania, Swarthmore College and Harvard University is pulling tax assessor data for all the buildings to tell the story of gentrification and greater economic and social change in L.A.

The data visualization experts of Bay Area-based Stamen Design built “12 Sunsets,” the second database, for the general public. “It’s really designed to invite curiosity and exploration without any technical know-how whatsoever,” Perchuk says. “It’s just fun.”