Diane Cockerill Always Gets Her Shot
Written by Genie Davis
As self-effacing as she is prolific and profound, photographic artist Diane Cockerill creates amazing images that juxtapose visual poetry with thematic elements from cityscapes to desert vistas.
Cockerill creates primarily people-less images that evoke a sense of mystery, whether it is through the darkened portals of doors or from the view of a rain-run window. She takes images of street art and homeless encampments, derelict structures bathed in dawn light, street corners, curbs, and even mannequin heads and imbues them with a quality that can only be considered magical.
She’s been a photographic artist since her childhood, but her foray into twice a week scheduled shooting sessions, and the documenting of images daily, is a more recent undertaking.
“I started to do photography on my 10th birthday, when I was given my first camera, a Brownie Star; I got my first film camera right out of college but it was an expensive undertaking,” she says. “Digital has been my dream come true.”
As a child, her parents would take her family on a two-week vacation every summer. “I was given one role of film per trip as a child.” It was difficult for her to limit herself.
“With digital I can dig so much deeper. Moving to downtown Los Angeles three years ago was enormously beneficial. I ran out of things to photograph on the west side. There are only so many flowers and sunsets,” she laughs. “Anyone can do a sunset, it’s like shooting fish in barrel. I probably I have a million on file.”
Her former apartment had a pool, and was located near the Santa Monica hills. “We would get a lot of bugs floating in the pool, some I’d never seen before. I did a series of photographs of them, usually in color, focusing on the bugs against the bright turquoise blue of the pool.”
Now residing in the heart of the city, Cockerill and spouse Bruce Cockerill go out to shoot together early on Sunday mornings. While he also photographs, he focuses on supporting her with printing and framing, as well as accompanying her explorations of the city. “It’s absolutely empty then, like a dream. The graffiti and street art, the alleys and parking lots, they’re beautiful in the sunrise light.”
She says the couple is never bothered on their early morning wanderings; Cockerill primarily shoots in the arts district, and in and around Vernon. “All week long, I always have my camera by my side,” she attests.
The third-generation Los Angeles native has some favorite locations to shoot: “The Los Angeles River for one. It’s funny, because when I was a child, my father used to joke about it, and about it being buried in concrete, and nothing being there. But it’s fascinating, you can see greenery and birds; I’ve encountered people who live near the river, including a man who used to be a gospel singer who sang to us. Then of course there are the bridges, and the 6th Street bridge going up.”
Another favorite subject is “Holly,” a mannequin head. “I loved her eyes, she has such interesting eyes, and she has the word ‘Hollywood’ etched on her chest. She came from Hollywood Props, and was once used as a model at Metropolis for Wigs in Hollywood.”
And then there are windows – including a beautiful series taken in a wide range of weather and times from a window in her own studio complex. It looks out on Santa Fe Avenue, and she discovered it the day the couple moved in.
“I love to shoot windows, I’m attracted to beat-up windows, and part of the attraction is dirt, grime, water, but I am also looking in them from the outside. My favorite things to shoot besides windows? Old brick buildings, a surprising piece of street art, and I like to find words with images.”
Her favorite shooting experience? At least recently, she notes “Early one New Year’s we drove on the Los Angeles River. It was the most magical, best shoot ever,” she enthuses. And then there was a recent trip out to the Salton Sea. “I’m also very drawn to shadows, and there were plenty of those, and beautiful images of decay.” Best of all was a surprising shot she just happened to catch: while shooting out over the sea, her husband told her to “turn around – and I did, and there was the perfect shot.” It is an image of purple light infusing the raw desert mountains over an abandoned building. The photograph reveals the quick-to-capture serendipity of many of Cockerill’s images; it is both haunting and lustrous.
Shooting on a newer model Sony digital or Nikon, Cockerill says simply “You have to shoot the minute you see something or the image is gone.” She is forever turning around, looking at details, capturing and preserving unexpected beauty, humor, and moments, as fleeting as a breath.