Special Event Alert – Melrose Then/Now – Saturday, August 27 @ New Profanity

Special Event Alert – Melrose Then/Now – Saturday, August 27 @ New Profanity


Thirty-three years ago, a guy with a camera hung out on Melrose, taking pictures of the unique community. On Saturday, August 27, New Profanity is hosting a special first-time-ever showing of these pictures. But that’s not all! Here’s the story:

Ralph Hattenbach had studied photography in Rochester before moving to Los Angeles in 1977. Being in his early 20s, Ralph found the vibe of Melrose in the ‘80s to be perfect for what we now call “street photography.” Ralph took it one step further, though: he bought a 3D camera. Called a NIMSLO, the camera facilitated pictures that had dimension without needing 3D glasses to see it.

Melrose 2

“I liked her shirt and the way she posed.”

For a couple of months in 1983, Ralph hung out on Melrose Avenue, finding the most interesting people on the street – locals, shop owners, their hangout friends. All were in their teens and 20s, mad for alt fashion, and willing to pose for Ralph. (Remember, kids, in the ‘80s no one was carrying a camera around every day.)

The NIMSLO had four lenses which allowed for the capture of dimension, but it wasn’t infallible; you needed to have some skills. “It was a combination of the process and the people,” explained Ralph. “Two dimensions wouldn’t do these people justice.” But he needed to be up-close, and have something going on in the background.

Melrose 3

The photographer’s favorite, with perfectly positioned clown eyes.

The film had to be sent out of state for developing. Ralph ordered two copies of each, and would return to Melrose and offer a print to the subject (if he could find them). He never knew their names, or stories. He just had a cool camera that could bring life to the characters on Melrose.

The camera was only manufactured for a year. Ralph moved on with his life. The photos wound up in a desk drawer.

Earlier this year, Ralph decided it was time to publicly debut the 3D time captures. While scouting venues on Melrose, found a new shop that sits on one of the blocks he frequented during the shoot sessions.

New Profanity is a colorful and irreverent gift shop run by the fiercely independent spirit, Natasha Polhemus. Ralph knew this was the place!  What he didn’t know is that Natasha has a long and emotional history with Melrose Avenue. From the time she was 13 years old, she went shopping for school clothes with her mom on the street. She bought her goth prom dress on Melrose. Owning her own shop on this important and historically relevant street is a big deal for Natasha.

Turns out, Natasha’s husband Douglas Edward is also a photographer. The clever trio thought it would be cool to do a comparison shoot, so Doug set out to visually document the new generation of Melrose denizens.

NEW PROFANITY - This is my wife leaning against our store - It means a lot to me because sometimes I still can't believe we own a store on Melrose

“This is my wife leaning against our store. Sometimes I still can’t believe we own a store on Melrose!”

“I tried to replicate Ralph’s methodology, with looks and compositions,” said Doug. They’ll be printed in the same format as well. Owners and employees of Calicut, Forgotten Saints, Hollywood Villains, Lenceria Boutique, and Monster-a-GoGo are some of the shops represented. “The young people today dress very much like the young people then, but not all the store owners do,” noticed Doug.

AMERICAN REBEL - I loved shooting him because he had an authenticity that encompassed both the past and present of Melrose

“He had an authenticity that encompassed both the past and present of Melrose.”

This Saturday, Ralph’s slice of history and Doug’s new reflection of it will be displayed at New Profanity for the first time.

Natasha’s been casting a wide net to find some of the 1983 models. Some are no longer with us, but some have been found and will be attending the exhibit party! Ralph will be seeing these people for the first time in 22 years. “I’ll never forget them because I shot them. This is coming full circle,” he said.

The Melrose: Then & Now photograph tribute is free and open to the public. There will be wine and snacks. And the ‘80s cover band, Three Card Monty, will perform. Prints will not be for sale, so this is a one-time chance to see amazing portraits of the phenomenon of Melrose Avenue. Click for more information https://www.facebook.com/events/1025938527520388/?active_tab=posts

Natasha summed it up perfectly: “Melrose is so iconic to the city of Los Angeles. So I think it’s important to remember where it started and appreciate where it’s going.”

About Deborah Brosseau

Deborah Brosseau provides audience development services to arts & entertainment, lifestyle, and non-profit clients. She is a freelance writer, providing anything from local listicles to corporate profiles for various online publications. Having first experienced Melrose in the '80s, she enjoys writing about the old school creatives as well as the progressive new ones.