What Traveling Through LAX Looked Like in the '80s


If they had to choose where to have their portrait taken for an art photography book, few people would choose the airport, as they wait for flights or rides home. But in the ‘80s, that’s where photographer John Brian King found his subjects—at the Los Angeles International Airport.

John Brian King was born and raised near LAX, an airport currently classified as the nation’s second busiest. As a young photographer, he rode his motorcycle over to the airport and shot people coming in and out of the terminals, trying out what he calls in the book’s afterward “an assaultive form of photography—flash, wide-angle lens, hit and run, no permission asked.” 

After art school, King moved on to other pursuits, like design and filmmaking. His LAX portraits sat as negatives in a box for three decades. Now, as he picks photography back up again, he’s published his airport images in LAX: Photographs of Los Angeles 1980–84. His black-and-white images capture the bleak boredom of airports, the grungy surfaces so common in public spaces, and some great early ‘80s fashion. A lot of things about airports have changed in the last 30 years—the numerous payphones, and the lack of TSA agents on hand to arrest anyone photographing in the terminal—but the haggard looks of irritated travelers have not. 

LAX: Photographs of Los Angeles 1980-1984

is available from SPURL EDITIONS for $35. 

All images by John Brian King, courtesy of SPURL EDITIONS