Photo diary series adds Hillcrest to the mix

Posted: August 9th, 2012 | Top Story | No Comments

Local publisher chooses independent, ‘brick and mortar’ stores to help celebrate the neighborhood

Local Hillcrest personality and business owner, Babette Schwartz, as featured in “Hillcrest / 92103” (Photo by Thomas Graff)

By Morgan M. Hurley | GSD Assistant Editor

“Hillcrest / 92103” is a recently published coffee-table book that toasts the very neighborhood the community will be celebrating Aug. 12 at this year’s CityFest, which has sparked a resurgence of interest in the local publisher and his collection of books focusing on different neighborhoods in San Diego County.

The series is called “37,” with Hillcrest being the second featured neighborhood. It was conceptualized by French expatriate and La Jolla, Calif. resident Olivier Dalle, an artist who founded En Ville Publishing to facilitate the project.

Dalle chose to name the series 37 for various reasons, he said, which included a mixed bag of religion, numerology and chance.

Each of Dalle’s books feature 37 pieces, consisting of both text and photographs of the subject-neighborhood’s “residents, oddities, public places and local artists,” the company’s website states. The first book in the series is “La Jolla / 92037,” and Dalle said he already has two more neighborhoods, Tijuana and North Park, in the works.

“I have always wanted to create a book collection about cities, mostly focused on culture and local life,” Dalle said, adding that he previously published books about large cities in the Middle East, including Cairo, Egypt and Beirut, Lebanon.

“When I came to San Diego in 2003, I quickly realized that people in Southern [California] were more interested and attached to their neighborhoods than they were to their [cities] as a whole, and from there grew the idea of a collection on the neighborhoods, using the zip codes as a way to encompass the geographical area,” he said.

The Hillcrest book was photographed by then-resident Thomas Graff, who said he was enlisted for the project after responding to an advertisement on Craig’s List. Graff has since relocated to New York City.

After leaving Illinois in 2010 where he was attending college, Graff said he “immediately moved to Hillcrest for its diversity, creativity, great restaurants and eccentric vibe. It was very fitting that Olivier [Dalle] and I started working together, since I was living, and constantly out and about, in Hillcrest.”

Next on board was Kelly Metz-Matthews, a North County resident, full-time copywriter and mother of two, who met Dalle in one of his French-language classes.

Author Kelly Metz-Matthews (Courtesy En Ville Publishing)

“I was already spending a pretty decent amount of time in Hillcrest,” Metz-Matthews said. “Like most, I loved the restaurants, the shopping and, of course, the nightlife. Writing the book gave me an insight into Hillcrest that was much deeper, much more profound. I learned to see [it] through the eyes of long-term residents.”

The three began sharing ideas and got to work. While Graff and Dalle focused on the creative aspects of the project, Metz-Matthews said she and Graff focused on the subject matter, often conducting interviews at the time of the photo shoots, while other times independently.

“It was important to us to showcase Hillcrest in a specific way that didn’t make the reader feel as though they were reading a tourist book,” Graff said. “We wanted it to have a very community vibe about it, and so picking the subject matter for the stories and photographs was both a challenge and a delight.”

Support from local organizations, such as the Hillcrest Business Association, Hillcrest Town Council and the Hillcrest History Guild was also key, Metz-Matthews said. “We inundated them with questions throughout the process and they never wavered in their support, direction and incredible fact-finding abilities.”

With the book’s numerical theme playing a prominent role, it has no page numbers or chapters. Instead, it relies on working downward from 37 and layering each descending piece in a way that is relevant. Metz-Matthews said the process was challenging and a little painful.

“We worried constantly that we were leaving something out and, you know what, we probably did,” she said. “We like to think of the book as a slice of Hillcrest. We know we couldn’t capture it all, but we wanted to give the world a taste. I hope we succeeded in that.”

The book focuses its lens on the diverse cultural aspects of Hillcrest and, in doing so, Graff and Metz-Matthews adhered to Dalle’s original artistic vision for the series. Several commercial businesses are included, but it is the people and the culture surrounding those businesses that is highlighted.

Photographer Thomas Graff (Courtesy En Ville Publishing)

“One of the major challenges in producing a book like this is getting people to believe that the project is not a scheme or gimmick from the start,” Graff said.

Not everyone they reached out to for inclusion in the book responded, he said, so they kept moving forward accordingly. “We made certain, though, to include a wide enough range of material that truly captivated Hillcrest’s vibe and made newcomers and residents feel curious and proud of the area.”

Other subjects profiled included random street artists; local craftsmen and artisans; community and business controversies; colorful residents, performers, business owners and visitors to the area; and even a bit of neighborhood history.

“Hillcrest / 92103” is available at select local businesses. Dalle said that as a small, independent publishing company, he is not using mainstream distribution to sell this series, instead opting to support independent “brick and mortar” businesses.

The books are sold in Hillcrest at Bluestocking Books, Babette Schwartz, Cathedral and Bread & Cie, as well as Warwicks in La Jolla. For more information visit

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