Framing Famed Faces at the Sunset Marquis

Opening this week, the Morrison Hotel Gallery drops L.A.’s paparazzi frenzy for fine art pedigree.

Sitting at the epicenter of celebrity fandom, L.A. doesn’t have much need for another showcase of famous faces. But according to Timothy White, veteran photographer and co-owner of the Morrison Hotel Gallery opening this week inside the Sunset Marquis, there’s plenty left to appreciate in the well-known shots of pop culture’s past.

“I think there are moments in your life that are affected either by a song or the music you hear,” White says. His gallery will blend candid portraits of music’s greats with images of heart-stopping moments in sports, the kind that land players in the Hall of Fame. “Seeing those images again sort of resonates emotionally for you.”

The idea behind White’s L.A. exhibition grew from a long-time working relationship with the partners behind Morrison Hotel Gallery in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood. The Sunset Marquis, his home away from home while commuting between New York and L.A. for more than a decade, was his ideal location for a west coast outpost. “I’ve shot so many famous people who stayed here,” White says. “I used the hotel as my backdrop. I even did ad campaigns for the hotel in the ‘90s.”

As his beloved hotel was undergoing renovations last summer, White saw potential.

“I would sit and have breakfast with the owner of the hotel and just say, ‘I love what you’re doing, but I think it could be better. I think it should be the most iconic pictures, the best pictures by the best photographers of the biggest stars.’ “

White’s own work will be featured prominently in the gallery and throughout the hotel alongside photography by Neal Preston, Julian Lennon, and Henry Diltz. The hotel’s decor will also reflect its Hollywood locale, becoming an ever-evolving shrine to Jimmy Page, Ray Charles, Jimi Hendrix, and the artists who shaped modern music.  

“History in general is a big part of why I do what I do. It’s an experience for me more than a job,” White says. “I feel I’m documenting a part of Hollywood history. To work with these people whose work I so respect is such a thrill.”

While in residence at the Sunset Marquis — literally taking his work home with him — White will continue to curate the exhibition. “From a design perspective, it’s about what looks right on the wall, to work with positive and negative space,” he says. “Even though it’s a lot of photographs around, it’s setting the decor for the space. There are places where it shouldn’t be as bold.”

Much of White’s photography is just that — big and bold. But he doesn’t want his work to dominate the exhibition. He’s more concerned about what he hopes gallery-goers think of the showcase as a whole: “First, that it’s beautiful. Second, that it’s an experience, something that takes you along a road. In Hollywood, people come here from all over the world to see the Whisky A Go Go, to see different sort of landmarks. I think this could easily become that (kind of) destination.”