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14 Pictures From The Last Bohemian Paradise In America

"The more you learn about the people who live here, the more you’ll actually begin to learn about yourself."

Posted on August 9, 2018, at 5:58 p.m. ET

Dotan Saguy

Jenna carefully watches two giant boa constrictors that their owner — a street performer she barely knows — entrusted her with. She is careful to keep the one snake wrapped around exercise bars to prevent a wound in the animal’s mouth from touching the sand and getting infected.

In the early 1900s, an outspoken and eccentric millionaire named Abbot Kinney had a peculiar vision for a stretch of shoreline in western Los Angeles County. The idea was to bring the glory and grandeur of Venice, Italy, to the United States by developing the area into a network of Venice-like canals, boardwalks, and an entertainment mecca that would rival its European predecessor. The city — in a move that was not that original — would be known as Venice, California.

By the late 1920s, many of the canals had been paved over with concrete and the independent California city of Venice was acquired by Los Angeles. It soon became a favorite gathering place for the Beat generation and by the 1960s, musicians like Jim Morrison and his band, the Doors, had solidified and proven that Venice has a bohemian paradise.

Today, Venice Beach is once more in a state of flux as new business and higher rents are forcing a shift in the culture of the LA neighborhood. Taking note of this change, photographer Dotan Saguy's new book Venice Beach: The Last Days of a Bohemian Paradise, aims to capture the spirit of Venice before it's gone forever. Here, Saguy shares with BuzzFeed News a selection of images from the book and his unbinding love for Venice Beach.

I’ve been working on the book for the last two or three years now and really wanted to show Venice Beach as a timeless place, which is why the book is entirely photographed in black and white. When people look at the images, I don't want them to think that this is from 2016, but that any of the pictures could be from the ‘70s or the ‘80s.

Other than an occasional fashion detail here and there, you really wouldn’t know when these were shot — and that was my intention. As I dug deeper into the cultures of Venice Beach, I began to take note of the effects of gentrification in the area. It wasn’t something that I went in looking for, but it was very visible. I saw that the area was changing and felt like it was time to freeze it in a state that was recognizable as the Venice Beach of the past 30 or 40 years. Black and white helped me do that.

The reality is that gentrification in Venice Beach has been happening for a long time now, since around the 1980s. What you see now is that during the week, the boardwalk is essentially empty of those cultures you’d expect to find there. On the weekends, Venice is basically on fire again and people return with a "we used to live here" sentiment, while during the week all you’ll see are the newcomers who just bought their $3 million condos, carrying their surfboards to the beach.

Dotan Saguy

Today’s incarnation of the Neptune Parade is inspired by the Venice Mardi Gras, celebrated for the first time in August 1935 with three days of parades and festivities.

Dotan Saguy

A little boy who came with his family to paint on the Venice Public Art Walls mischievously peeks at two teenage girls on roller skates posing for pictures.

Dotan Saguy

An oiled-up bodybuilder wearing nothing but a speedo enters the stage of the Mr. and Mrs. Muscle Beach contest.

I’m a transplant, like many people in LA. I was born in Israel, grew up in France, and moved to LA after living in New York City for some time. I’ve been in LA for 15 years now, but there’s always some aspects of the city that I just can’t relate to. I’m talking about the Beverly Hills, glitzy, consumerist parts of LA, whereas Venice Beach, to me, feels like the complete opposite of that. People who live there seem free-spirited and in touch with themselves. These are people who are pursuing things that satisfy them emotionally and spiritually.

The other thing about Venice is that you have 20 to 30 different cultures crammed into two miles of boardwalk. You can go from the bodybuilders to the surfers to the skateboarders to the hippies and so on — I could keep going!

The remarkable thing is that everyone gets along quite nicely too — you kind of have to when you move from one world to the other by just taking a few steps.

Dotan Saguy

King and Queen Neptune frolic in the Pacific Ocean, celebrating the start of summer with the yearly Neptune Parade.

Dotan Saguy

A skateboarder jumps high over the Venice Skate Park, briefly letting his lone shadow imprint the bottom of the pool.

Dotan Saguy

A bodybuilder practices a pose backstage at the Mr. and Mrs. Muscle Beach contest as a group of wary competitors watch him.

I think people who have spent a day in Venice as a tourist leave with that sort of circus-like impression of the neighborhood. For some, they might take notice of the exhibitionism, the poverty, and the homelessness; it might even come across as miserable and a little bit dark. But as these pictures show, if you go beyond the surface and spend time with the place, you’ll find a lot of joy.

Dotan Saguy

Two young locals flout the law by smoking marijuana in front of the House of Ink tattoo parlor on Horizon Avenue. The two are partners in a startup T-shirt business they launched out of a small retail booth adjacent to the boardwalk.

Dotan Saguy

This photo is somewhat of a mystery. The older man, who goes by the name "Jingles" has been preaching for animal rights and a vegan lifestyle for many years from his booth on the Venice Boardwalk. Perhaps he is giving this young mother-to-be a paper flower as some sort of a blessing. Your guess is as good as mine!

Dotan Saguy

A young woman dances to the entrancing rhythms at the Venice Beach Drum Circle as the sun sets over the ocean on a warm summer evening.

Dotan Saguy

A group of young hippies sings on a bench across from Muscle Beach gym. The boardwalk is deserted by tourists on this rainy spring day.

Dotan Saguy

After an exhausting but satisfying surfing lesson on a stormy spring afternoon, a group of teens on a class trip walks back from the ocean carrying their surfboards on their heads.

Dotan Saguy

On March 3, 2017 — the day Snapchat goes public on the Nasdaq — Venice residents organized a protest in front of Snapchat’s Market Street headquarters.

Dotan Saguy

Two dogs — taking an afternoon stroll on the boardwalk with their respective owners — seem quite surprised to stumble upon a provocative creation made from recycled materials by a local street artist.

To learn more about Venice Beach: The Last Days of a Bohemian Paradise and to pick up your copy, visit

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.