The art of the abandoned sofa

Story highlights

  • Andrew Ward photographs the castaway sofas he often sees on Los Angeles streets
  • His "Sofas of LA" project has earned him a small but fervent social-media following

(CNN)You see a sofa abandoned on the side of a Los Angeles street. Andrew Ward sees art.

Well, Ward sees an abandoned sofa, too. But he sees it as part of a larger picture -- one that's symbolic of modern society, and Los Angeles in particular.
He sees the city's transient population. He sees the disposable nature of consumer products. He sees the scavengers, who gut the sofas, and the homeless, who use them for refuge.
He also sees color and beauty and absurdity.
So he photographs them.
The images are part of a project called "The Sofas of LA," and they are collected on a Tumblr account and on Ward's website. (He also posts to Instagram and Twitter.) Through Ward's lens, the sofas become more than a cast-off piece of furniture. They are indicative of the Los Angeles landscape.
Photographer Andrew Ward
"With the sofa, it's designed to be in somebody's living room. It's never really meant to be a piece of street furniture," said Ward, a Dublin, Ireland, native who works as an assistant director for motion pictures such as "Ted" and "White House Down." "But how some of those sofas end up on the sidewalks, and the backgrounds they find themselves against, they look almost like they were meant to be more on the street than in someone's living room."
It often makes him wonder, he says, what those living rooms look like.
One sofa looks like a giant pair of red lips. Another, a pink floral model, was in front of a pink-and-white house.
Then there was the sofa with missing legs and torn cushions. He thought it looked drunk, an opinion a social-media follower agreed with.
"Someone said, 'That sofa looks like it's had a few too many,' " he said.
Ward does little with the sofas before he centers them in his frame. He'll sometimes move them slightly or turn them over, but he figures the majority are "untouched." That's good, because some are infested with bedbugs and other insects.
"Frankly, 90% of what I find, you wouldn't touch it," he said.
Which brings up one of Ward's deeper points: There's also something sad or even menacing about these pieces of furniture.
The project began because Ward, who lives in L.A.'s Highland Park neighborhood, started noticing them on his rides to work. He believes a strain on city resources prompted a cutback in picking them up promptly, and soon they were mushrooming on city streets. (In recent months, the city has gotten better at removing them, he said.)
"It's like the broken-windows effect," he said, referring to the theory that disorder breeds disorder. Moreover, a lot of charitable organizations won't take most sofas because of the insect issue.

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Ward's photos have earned him a small but fervent social-media following, including recognition among some of the A-listers he's worked with. ("They're always kind of amazed -- 'Oh, you're the guy who does the sofa project,' " he said.) He hopes to turn the project into a book.
Meanwhile, there's always another sofa to be photographed. Most never get beyond his camera lens, but there have been a couple that seemed worth saving, Ward said. He brought them home and had them redone.
"I've actually found two really good sofas on the street," he said. "Much to my wife's absolute total and utter horror."