LOS ANGELES – Once America’s most popular sport, horse racing has seen a sharp decline. When photographer Michele Asselin heard about Hollywood Park closing its doors for good, she decided to document the last days. Originally, she set out to capture the architecture, but she quickly realized her project was more about the people than the place.
“I realized at some point in time that I couldn't photograph Hollywood Park without photographing its community and all of the personal narratives and the stories and the details in any one given guest or staff member or waiter or groom or jockey was as valuable as any of the stories that the architecture and the design of the place would tell,” said Asselin.
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One couple had been coming for decades and decided to celebrate one of the last races by dressing in black tie.
Asselin has shot for The New Yorker, Fortune and Time. After a career working for advertising and magazines, she wanted to return to longform projects specifically for exhibition. So she moved back to L.A. 10 years ago and opened a studio in Inglewood.
“The thing about Hollywood Park is because of how it was built and all of the redevelopment efforts, you had all of these design influences in the architecture, in the color palettes, in what was there and so you saw the layers. You almost had a visual timeline of what had happened at the park,” said Asselin.
After seven years, 400 portraits and countless photos, Asselin's project is now a book. Published by Angel City Press, Clubhouse Turn tells the story of the people of the famed racetrack with stories and interviews by those who lived it.
“In the end, it wasn’t about the horses,” said Asselin. “The work was about the place and it was about the people and it was about these final moments and creating an experiential understanding of a time and place that wasn’t going to be there anymore.”
Parks may come and go, but these photos will continue to tell the story.