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Los Angeles: An exploration of nature and the city

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S: Los Angeles: An exploration of nature and the city

FC: Los Angeles: an exploration of nature and the city Laura Derby

1: CONTENTS Introduction Los Angeles River Downtown Los Angeles Ballona Wetlands Vista Hermosa Park Madrona Marsh Kenneth Hahn Park Whittier Greenway Coldwater Canyon Park Community

2: Introduction | Introduction | I began this project knowing only that I wanted to photograph the city and see it through the eyes of Walter Benjamin's flaneur - aesthetically attuned yet detached from my surroundings. I quickly focused on a theme on nature with the city and continued with that theme for many months. I have tied my pictures with sociological and environmental themes and quotes. My goal was to experience the aura of both nature and the city and to portray, as closely as one can, the realness of that experience in photographs and with the written word. The danger of photography is that it will only remain a pretty picture, detached from the real experience. In A Short history of Photography, Walter Benjamin wrote: "a photography which is able to relate a tin of canned food to the universe, yet cannot grasp a single one of the human connections in which that tin exists; a photography which even in its most dreamlike compositions is more concerned with eventual saleability than with understanding the true facts of this photographic creativity is the advertisement. . ." Whenever possible, I chose to portray the buildings and urban life that surrounded the areas of nature and to show their connection to and possible integration with the city. I also photographed images that reflected pollution, economic struggle, and other realities of Los Angeles. I grew up in the Midwest at the edge of a city, near prairies and a forest with a creek than ran through it. I remember lying down in fields of long grass and listening to the wind softly bend it, Summer evenings when the fireflies would put on their light show and beckon me to come out and capture a few of them. Living next to a forest taught me that life is fragile. Sometimes I would find cracked robin’s eggs, baby birds that died once they were kicked out of their nests, a dead insect caught in a spider’s web, or an empty cocoon. I learned that the cycle of nature is inevitable. Often, when I needed solace, I would walk deep into the forest. I would sit by the banks of the creek that ran through it and just listen.

3: I would hear the trees and water, the clatter of birds, insects, and other animals – and find peace. I understand the profound impact of nature in an urban setting. Years later, I attended a photography workshop at Yosemite National Park. The guide lead us through different areas of the park – some of which were the exact vantage points that Ansel Adams once used for his photographs. She mentioned Hetch Hetchy, an area of the park that used to be a beautiful valley, but has been a reservoir for many years. She said that without the photography of Ansel Adams much more of the park might have never been preserved. She urged us all to take pictures of nature so that others see them and long to keep it from being destroyed and would understand its value. Her words have stayed with me. One of the reasons why I want to capture places like the Ballona Wetlands or the green street in Sun Valley is so that others will know they exist and, hopefully, see their value and want to learn more about them. However, if we understand the ecology we live in, nature does not have to be somewhere that we travel to; it can be a part of our community. In my opinion, we are not separate from nature. My hope is that my pictures will reflect that and, also, send the message that if we make a conscious effort to be part of the environment and to honor it, we can create communities that are also honor and are directly connected with nature. Laura Derby

4: The Los Angeles River

6: "The river is one of the most basic natural facts of L.A.'s landscape. It's the central artery of the major watershed that L.A. inhabits. Its basic natural facts will shape the city profoundly - and will have huge consequences - and in fact, the L.A. River has always been central to the past, present and future of Los Angeles." - Jenny Price, writer | The L.A. Basin is located in a Mediterranean floodplain and its rivers used to meander, change course, and flood in the winter. The population in Los Angeles County increased from about 34,000 in 1880 - 4 years after the transcontinental railroad made the city accessible - to almost 3 million by 1940. Many settled near the river and entire communities were sometimes washed away by its floods. The U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers channelized and dammed the river. The river has also been polluted with sewage, agricultural and industrial waste. The City of Los Angeles and several environmental groups, such as FOLAR have began efforts to revitalize it. - Source: The Los Angeles River: Its Life, Death, and Possible Rebirth by Blake Gumprecht. | Arroyo Seco

7: "The conception that the natural environment is plastic and malleable has led to the use of rivers, lakes, and oceans as waste sinks and the atmosphere as a huge toxic emission chamber. . ." -Raymond Murphy, Sociologist | Sepulveda Dam | In Studio CIty | . . ."For space, no less than time, is artfully reorganized in cities: in boundary lines and silhouettes, in the fixing of horizontal planes and vertical peaks, in utilizing or denying the natural site, the city records the attitude of a culture and an epoch to the fundamental facts of its existence." - Lewis Mumford, from the "Introduction" to The Culture of Cities (1938)

8: "In Baxter's view, the care for external goods should only lie on the shoulders of the 'saint like a light cloak, which can be thrown aside at any moment'. But fate decreed that the cloak should become an iron cage." - Max Weber, Sociologist The above quote is a reminder of Los Angeles history. Due to development and urbanization, the river is unrecognizable from its historic roots. For years, it was made inaccessible by a chain link fence and barbed wire. In 1985, poet and activist Lewis MacAdams and his friends cut a hole in the fence and explored the river. A 40 year art movement to save the river was born. A seemingly unbreakable 'iron cage' was cut through and the river was freed. Source: The Los Angeles River: Its Life, Death, and Possible Rebirth by Blake Gumprecht. | Frogtown | The River Catz | Elysian Park was once called Frogtown because so many frogs thrived in the once murkier, more polluted water. There might be less of them today because cleaner, treated wastewater now runs through the river in that area. Source: The Los Angeles River: Its Life, Death, and Possible Rebirth by Blake Gumprecht. | For 35 years artist Leo Limón has painted cat faces on the storm drain covers. In my opinion, this is a great example on how one person can transform how we see the city.

9: The gate below (left) opens into a natural park. Several parks have been created a long the river as part of an effort to revitalize it, honor its history, and attract surrounding communities to the river. The Steelhead Trout is nearly extirpated in Southern California. As many as 46,000 adult steelheads once migrated from the ocean to inland watersheds. Their spawning population has dwindled to a mere 500 and no longer migrate within the L.A. River. - NOAA

11: The L.A. River can be read as a palimpsest or text. When I walk or bicycle along it, I find many layers of meaning. In the picture (left), the train and houses in the background are symbols of the transcontinental railroad that once encircled the city and the significant population growth its arrival triggered. The concrete wall is a symbol of the city's urbanization and focus on development. The shopping cart is both a symbol of the homeless and of commerce. Many homeless live along the river's bank and there is a huge disparity between rich and poor in this city. The trash that is caught in the trees tells me that I live in a city that does not understand or respect its natural beauty, where most things are seen as ephemeral and disposable. The untamed nature in the foreground and the birds that I saw in the river (while I took this picture) are reminders of the wild river that existed before it was dammed and channelized, but also of the hope many people here hold for a revitalized river. The river and the city will tell their story. All you have to do is observe and learn. | "The city itself is a representation." - Rob Shields, A Guide to Urban Representation and What to Do About It. . .

12: A variety of birds live around the river. I spotted many kinds of ducks such as Muscovy and Mallards, the Great Egret, and Sandpipers. When I took these pictures, I had never experienced the river before. Around Glendale Narrows, one of the rare soft-bottomed areas of the river, I saw the most diversity in life. In these pictures, I can picture the way the river once was. In a way, this area of the river is a representational space for what it can once again become. I have since visited the river and experienced it again.

13: The L.A. River is no longer alien to me. I was once one of the many that saw it as a flood control channel. Now, I have walked along its banks and ridden a bicycle along its pathways. I have learned how it was shortened from 52 to 51 miles and its course determined by concrete. I have seen the hope of a transformed river in the small native plant parks along its banks. Kevin Lynch was a Sociologist that believed we create maps beyond cartography - maps of our own paths, edges, districts, nodes, and landmarks. I have my own mental map of memories from the photographs I have taken and the experiences I have had there. Source: The Image of the City by Kevin Lynch

14: "Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race." ~H.G. Wells, writer

15: "Graffiti demonstrates the passage of time, the call and response of language and symbol being written over, the different cultures of the people within it, the aura or zeitgeist of the times, painted in layers and in a text that constantly changes and evolves. Marting Irvine describes this exchange: “Street art. . . assumes a foundational dialogism in which each new act of making a work and inserting it into a street context is a response, a reply, and engagement with prior works and the ongoing debate about the public visual surface of a city.” Source: “The Work on the Street: Street Art and Visual Culture.” | "Political tensions remain extreme over graffiti, and urban communities worldwide are conflicted about the reception of street art in the context of the graffiti and “broken windows” debates." In 1999, the Army Corps of Engineers white washed the graffiti on the river and a piece of its history. Then, in 2007, in an organized and fully licensed event, 10,000 square feet of the river was spray painted in Highland Park. Even though it was a legal event, the graffiti was, again, painted over. Source: “The Work on the Street: Street Art and Visual Culture.”

16: The first recorded account of the river can be found in a 1798 diary of Father Juan Crespi, a Spanish explorer: “The party. . . entered “a very lush green valley,” [expedition member Father Juan] Crespi wrote, where they found the river It was a “good sized, full flowing river,” about seven yards wide, he estimated, “with very good water, pure and fresh.” Just upstream from the point where they first saw the river, the explorers noticed another stream that emptied into its channel, but its large bed was dry on that late summer day. “The beds of both are very well lined with large trees, sycamores, willows, cottonwoods, and very large live oaks,” Crespi wrote. He noted the presence beside its channel of great thickets of brambles, abundant native grapevines, and wild roses in full bloom. Sage was plentiful near the river, and the calls of turtle doves, quail, and thrushes filled the air near the camp. It was “a very lush and pleasing spot, in every respect,” he wrote. “To (the) southward there is a great extent of soil, all very green, so that it can really be said to be a most beautiful garden ." -from The Los Angeles River: Its Life, Death, and Possible Rebirth by Blake Gumprecht.

17: In July 2010, the EPA declared the river navigable, which will allow it to have the protections offered by the Clean Water Act and helps expand its image from a trashed concrete ditch to a vital part of the Los Angeles environment.

19: Downtown Los Angeles

20: To me the photographs of this area represent many different things that have shaped the Los Angeles landscape – the end of the railway system, the gentrification of Downtown, and the obvious socio-economic disparities. | "The photographer is an armed version of the solitary walker reconnoitering, stalking, cruising the urban inferno, the voyeuristic stroller who discovers the city as a landscape of voluptuous extremes. Adept of the joys of watching, connoisseur of empathy, the flaneur finds the world ‘picturesque.’ " - Susan Sontag in On Photography. | Angel's Knoll Park

21: After an accident caused it to be closed for 9 years, Angels Flight Railway was reopened around March 2010. For me, Angel’s Flight, which first began operation in 1901, is a symbol of historical Los Angeles and its industrialization. The railway once lead past a Victorian mansion to a 100 foot observation tower the contained a camera obscura. The mansion became a lodge, then was torn down and replaced with rental units. Angels Flight was also eventually relocated a half block down from its original location. - Source: onbunkerhill.org

22: Frank Gehry Disney Building (on the right) | Los Angeles Historic Park at Sunset | "For it is another nature that speaks to the camera than to the eye: "other" in the sense that a space informed by human consciousness gives way to a space informed by the unconscious. . . Photography with its devices of slow motion and enlargement, reveals the secret. It is through photography that we first discover the existence of this optical unconscious, just as we discover the instinctual unconscious through psychoanalysis." - Benjamin Walter, Sociologist

24: Frank Gehry, the architect of this building, believes Los Angeles to be centerless. He wanted an iconic building to give it that center. I think that Los Angeles is far too vast, spread out and multi-faceted to ever have a traditional center. In fact, I would argue that it does not need a hub but, rather, a common thread or connection. This connection could be in the form of an extended metro system, bike paths, or more greenways and park corridors. Source: “Los Angeles with a Downtown? Gehry’s Vision.” nytimes.com

25: Henri Lefevbre said, "In order to understand the city, and its ceaseless contrapuntal rhythms, one must situate oneself simultaneously inside and outside of it." To me, photographing a place offers the ability to detach and be of but not completely enveloped by its aura. It allows me to step back and see the city through the lens of the flaneur, yet to absorb the details and see how I can become part of their rhythm. Source: Rhythmanalysis: space, time, and everyday life.

26: Ballona Wetlands

28: The Ballona Wetlands are part of the watershed that contains the L.A. River. Oil drilling, urban sprawl, development, and paving of the creeks that run into the estuary, have reduced it from 2,200 to below 200 acres. Source: Bay Restoration Commission. | Walter Benjamin wrote: "[E}very image of the past that is not recognized by the present as one of its own concerns threatens to disappear irretrievably." It is only in the context of the present that we can understand the past and, therefore, our understanding is limited. For this reason there is a risk, when viewing a photograph or an image of the past, to take it as an artifact or a commodity. I have photographed these places as a flaneur, as someone who is truly experiencing nature within the city. It is my belief that photography tells a story, but to truly experience that story others must venture to these places and be moved by them. In this way, photography can be a gateway to potential sustainability efforts and stewardship in places like the Ballona Wetlands. Perhaps, if more people had seen, then experienced its value and beauty, more of the wetlands would still remain. Source: Theses on the Philosophy of History by Walter Benjamin

29: Allan Schnaiberg and Kenneth Gould, Environmental Sociologists, wrote about the "Treadmill of Production". They believed that we are part of an institutional and social structure that is focused on production and consumption. According to them, this structure causes constant waste. Although population growth was seen by them is an obvious danger, they believed that it was globalization and the expansion of profits and surplus that are the root of environmental degradation. The Ballona Wetlands reflect this theory. The wetlands we see today exist because people fought against their development. Source: Environmental Sociology, from analysis to action by Leslie King and Deborah McCarty

32: "Even an entire society, a nation, or all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not owners of the earth. They are simply its possessors, its beneficiaries, and have to bequeath it in an improved state to succeeding generations. " -Karl Marx, Sociologist

33: The reddish color in this plant (Pickleweed) comes from the salt in the wetland marshes. | This is the "away" that some of our plastics and garbage go to - Urban runoff, then the storm drains, then to the ocean. An estimated 60-80% of marine debris found in our oceans is plastic. Source: Watershed Wonders: The Los Angeles RIver the Adventureses of the Cola Kayak

35: The lagoon next to the Ballona Wetlands (left) and Ballona Creek (upper pictures) | "Place images arise from mediated and direct experience. They are caught up in cycles that make the particular generic and the generic particular. . . The interactions between sender and receivers, image-makers and audiences are as much a part of the place image as the interactions between medium and content." - Paul C. Adams, The Place Image

36: Vista Hermosa Natural Park

39: "The city is a fact in nature, like a cave, a run of mackerel or an ant-heap. But it is also a conscious work of art, and it holds within its communal framework many simpler and more personal forms of art. Mind takes form in the city; and in turn, urban forms condition mind." -Lewis Mumford, Sociologist

44: Madrona Marsh

52: Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area

60: "Think of bicycles as rideable art that can just about save the world." - Grant Peterson, bicycle designer.

76: "Just as space, time and matter delineate and encompass the essential qualities of the physical world, spatiality, temporality, and social being can be seen as the abstract dimensions which together comprise all facets of human existence. More concretely specified, each of these abstract existential dimensions comes to life as a social construct which shapes empirical reality and is simultaneously shaped by it. Thus, the spatial order of human existence arises from the social production of space, the construction of human geographies that both reflect and configure being in the world". - Edward Soja, Geographer and Urban Planner. | Community

78: Suburbanization and the popularity of the automobile reduced Los Angeles from the biggest agricultural county to one of the smallest. - Source: Reinventing Los Angeles by Robert Gottlieb.

82: Bibliography Bay Restoration Commission. “Habitats – Wetlands and Riparian Corridors.” Santamonicabay.org, n.d. Web. Feb. 2011. < http://www.santamonicabay.org/ smbay/ProblemsSolutions/HabitatsLivingResources/WetlandsandRiparianCorridors/tabid/77/Default.aspx> Gumprecht, Blake. The Los Angeles River: It’s Life, Death, and Possible Rebirth. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001. Print. Irvine, Martin. “The Work on the Street: Street Art and Visual Culture.” ed. Barry Sandywell and Ian Heywood, The Handbook of Visual Culture. London: Berg/Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. Print. Mumford, Lewis. “Cities and the Crisis of Civilization” from the “Introduction to The Culture of Cities,. Wheeler, Stephen M. and Timothy Beatley. The Sustainable Urban Development Reader. 0-415-45382-8. New York: Routledge, 2009. Print. Murphy, Raymond. "Ecological Materialism and the Sociology of Max Weber". Sociological theory and the environment: classical foundations, contemporary insights. Riley E. Dunlap. Rowman & Littlefield, 2002. Google eBook. NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Service Southwest Regional Office). Southern California Steelhead Recovery Plan. Web. Jul. 2009. Web. 1. Dec. 2011. http://swr.nmfs.noaa.gov/recovery/So_Cal/Southern_California_Steelhead_Public_Draft_Recovery_Plan.pdf Price, Jenny. “Remaking American Environmentalism: On the Banks of the L.A. River”. Environmental History, 13(3):536-555. 2008. Print. Shields, Rob. “A Guide to Urban Representation and What to Do About it: Alternative Traditions of Urban Theory. Anthony D. King. Re-presenting the city: ethnicity, capital, and culture in the 21st century metropolis. Soja, Edward. History: Geography: Modernity. The Cultural Studies Reader, 1993. New York: Routledge. Print. Weber, Max. Iron cage. pgs 181 and 182 of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (Economy Editions) [Paperback]Max Weber (Author), Talcott Parsons (Translator), R.H. Tawney (Introduction)Publisher: Dover Publications (April 4, 2003)

83: Sontag, Susan. “On Photography”. Lynch, Kevin. Joint Center for Urban Studies. 1960. Severance, Piper. “Whitewashing the L.A. River”. http://saberone.com/blog/2009/09/09/whitewashing-the-la-river-2/ Benjamin, Walter. “The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction.” Jessica Evans and Stuart Hall, editors. Visual Culture: The Reader. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 1999. Print. Rhythmanalysis: space, time, and everyday life By Henri Lefebvre

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Laura Derby
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