Step in through AHBE’s office front door and visitors are greeted with an ever-changing makeshift gallery space. Currently on display is a photo series dedicated to the Los Angeles River, inviting all to leave the office for the experience of our city’s river. After looking through previous photos of the river I had taken, I selected an image for the exhibition that wasn’t chosen for its dynamic composition, but for the way it helped me understand what it is about the river I find so unique.
My entry, entitled “Emergence”, is a meditation on experiencing landscape in relationship to the horizon, highlighting the moment when the plane and the horizon interact. The horizon line is a visual component that gives perspective to a landscape, and its quality is arguably the most defining element of a place.
In landscape painting the position of the horizon is critical. If depicted too high or too low, the horizon can draw the viewer’s attention too soon before establishing its relation with the rest of the image. By dividing the picture plane evenly in two, rather than using the rule of thirds for example, the viewer is invited to spend time to interpret and question the intention of the perspective, giving meaning to the horizon line and its relationship to everything else. Similarly, the L.A. River is a horizon-spanning mega-infrastructure that has a sense of place that is all-consuming.
Walking around the channelized landscape of the river, with its concrete underfoot and the harsh sun beating down, one feels a strong sense of self in relation to its expanse. A strong sense of the relationship to others is also felt as people pass by on foot or by bike. Conversely, the river can evoke feelings of isolation unlike anywhere else I’ve ever experienced. Gazing ever further out, the canopy of trees establish everything in relationship to the river, and as part of something bigger. The solid concrete below the horizon defines, positions, and intensifies everything, from what grows above to what travels through.
Being in the L.A. River reminds me of being out in the middle of a desert, except sunken down further into the earth, where any entity interrupting the relentless horizontal stands at once as an individual and in relationship to everything else. It is different than the layered nature of a forest or the density of buildings in a city. The sensation can feel as disorienting and isolating as standing in the middle of a prairie, without even the sway of the grasses to distract attention. It is an uncommon urban experience. The horizon line is commanding and the scale of the built infrastructure makes it seem as though the concrete channel was a natural occurrence, unique to the people who have lived and evolved along side it, unfolding and reordering the human from the natural. The Los Angeles River is a place that cannot be prescribed or repeated again, a feature of the city capable of speaking to the human experience while also testing our capacity to see ourselves in relationship to nature.