Posts from the Photography Category

The large urban parks around Los Angeles provide a chance to step into another world, and my favorite is Debs Park in Montecito Heights. The park’s network of trails wind up hillsides through black walnut groves and under large oak trees, some leading to rewarding views of Downtown Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Mountains. It is a 282-acre pocket of wild in the city, and I’ve encountered coyotes, bobcats, owls, and rabbits on my hikes. Becoming part of their world provides respite from my own.

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Adjusting my focus from the large vistas to the immediate setting, I started noticing patterns in the vegetation that were not of a human scale. Grass tunnels hinted at another creature’s experience of the open space, and the more I looked, the more I saw the park as a network of animal thoroughfares. I began photographing these routes as a way to actively observe and meditate on the sensitive connection between wildlife and our shared landscape.

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02040011As a designer, I know there is much to learn from adjusting my perspective and seeing the landscape from a different point of view. These photos are just a glimpse into another side of LA, and another experience of our environment.

All photos: Gregory Han

All photos: Gregory Han

Sixteen and a half hours is a long to time to be confined to a single seat, especially if the flight is for purposes of business, not leisure. A  person’s patience, alongside the fortitude of their bladder and their endurance for humanity in close proximity are all tested in the span of such a flight. Yet there I was, flying across the globe, crammed into the corner of a window seat, burrowing into the 14° incline seating like a rodent readying for hibernation, each attempt to find a comfortable position unfulfilled. It was the promise of exploring the Middle East for the first time that allowed coach fare discomforts to be endured.

Several single serving meals and not-so-critically-acclaimed films later, I landed in Dubai to attend Dubai Design Week. I unraveled my spine first, then turned to do the same with the city before me, a metropolis still very much in the midst of creating its own identity and history in parallel.

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The surrealism of Dubai is immediate – a gigantic Sim City development of competing corporate egos materialized into high rise forms. Edifices of metal and glass jut obscenely erect against the hazy-sandy canvas of a true desert sky, some notably unique, the majority indistinct. Their placement were planned years advance, but their presence seems to communicate a perpetual state of “…to be continued” in the sum of a city. The saline-perfumed Persian Gulf is temptingly nearby, but often forgotten, as if the city’s planners deemed the natural landscape insufficient an expression of their wealth and dreams, the haze of sand and urban pollution obscuring the view for miles. The sprawl of artifice this city lays out before the eyes an urban statement makes Los Angeles seem downright undeveloped country in comparison!

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At 125 floors above ground level, you might expect to feel dizzy or discombobulated. Instead, I found a strong desire to pinch to zoom.

Dubai is in beta stage, with countless experiments in the realm of architecture, landscape design, and infrastructure unfolding concurrently. Things happen here in real time, visibly and invisibly. One moment, I was surveying enormous construction vehicles slumbering across a dry canal bed from my hotel window; the next morning the same canal was opened with zero fanfare, with millions of gallons of sea water passing through the newly constructed thoroughfare where hours before wheels tracked across it (the canals were designed for solar-powered shipping boats). Where other cities plan, Dubai executes.

A scale model of Dubai Creek Harbour, currently being constructed. Upon completion, the development will be three times the size of Downtown Dubai and include the world’s tallest twin towers, alongside eight million square feet of retail space, 39,000 residential units, 3,664 office units, and 22 hotels with 4,400 rooms.

A scale model of Dubai Creek Harbour, currently being constructed. Upon completion, the development will be three times the size of Downtown Dubai and include the world’s tallest twin towers, alongside eight million square feet of retail space, 39,000 residential units, 3,664 office units, and 22 hotels with 4,400 rooms.

Later that same day, I was rocketing upward on an elevator traveling at 3 floors per second up to the highest observation deck inside the tallest building in the world. At 124-125 floors up the landscape below takes on a whole new persona, one more akin to computer game simulation or real time strategy level rather than the reality of life unfolding below. The urban landscape of yet-to-be-finished developments, sprawling shopping centers, checkerboards of pools glistening aqua, and large squares and strips of lands still left barren, all intersected by freeways as busy as Los Angeles and trains as perfunctory as Paris are revealed. The view is so unrealistic, the mind is lulled into disbelief rather than vertigo.

As the sun began to set, the desert landscape ignited in a spectacular display of reds, oranges, and yellows.

As the sun began to set, the desert landscape ignited in a spectacular display of reds, oranges, and yellows.

Only a few days later I was boarding onto an Emirates flight to make the same 8,000+ mile trip back to Los Angeles. Besides the complete open row of seats – the best surprise ever – I found one last surprise awaited.

About a half an hour into the flight a desert landscape never seen before revealed itself below – an arid realm I had only seen in science fiction movies…or dreams. The land appeared shaped by the nocturnal kicking of once slumbering, long forgotten titans, like bedding kicked into folds and piles. A range of mountains, dunes, and other indescribable geological formations stretched for hundreds of miles without the sight of habitation.

“Where am I?!”

I was flying over Iran – the modern lands of the ancient Persian Empire.

In realizing the plane was traveling over a country I was very unlikely ever to set foot upon in my lifetime, a tingle of excitement shot through my body. I was flying over a forbidden landscape, and everything laid before me was stunning. For those several minutes, with nose pressed against glass, my coach fare felt like first class.

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All photos by Wendy Chan

I grew up living in Los Angeles, but I hardly ever ventured into Downtown LA while growing up. I remember visiting the Central Public Library, being in awe by the architecture. I also remember taking the bus with my mom to the Fashion District to get fabric. So when our office moved into Downtown Los Angeles on 7th and Hope over 2 years ago, I was surprised by the walkability and energy that Downtown offered.

I decided to take my camera and walk straight down 7th Street as far as my one hour of lunch allowed to document my experience. I chose 7th Street because it takes you through various neighborhoods and districts within Downtown – from the jewelry, theatre, fashion districts, then finally to the Los Angeles Flower Market before turning back. There are some great finds and artifacts along the way that deserves a double take.

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All photos: Calvin Abe

All photos: Calvin Abe

Growing up in a small farming community east of Sacramento, my father use to take my brothers and me to a small river inlet which we called the “Sloughhouse”. What I remember most wasn’t the muddy river that we played in, but the surrounding fields of hop vines (Google “hop field” and you will see an amazing structured network of vertical vines). Apparently, beer hops were once the largest agricultural crops in Northern California before Prohibition all through the 1950’s.

Recently, I had the opportunity to redesign the gardens for an old vineyard in Sonoma County near the Russian River that was once a premiere hop farm called Walter Ranch Hop Kiln. I spent two days wandering the site to take in the history and natural ecology of the region. Being at the site from sunrise through sunset reminded me of those childhood days at the slough. Here are a few photographs of the main focal point of the vineyard, the Hop Kiln.

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Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, where the mouth of the Los Angeles River meets the Pacific. All photos by Calvin Abe

Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, where the mouth of the Los Angeles River meets the Pacific. All photos by Calvin Abe.

Few Los Angeles area landscapes have been transformed as dramatically within the past century as the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Recently, Calvin Abe flew over the ports in a helicopter, capturing these stunning images of the port from an unusual perspective. Calvin’s images bring into sharp relief the massive physical form of progress, and compared with historical images (see here for comparison), the photos illustrate a rapidly evolving historic record.

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Massive mountains of containers cover port real estate.

One of the casualties of progress in the port’s history is the Lost Village of Terminal Island.  Located on the southern edge of the port of Los Angeles, this piece of land was once a mudflat and coastal marsh within the Los Angeles River estuary, then later a fishing village for thousands of first and second generation Japanese immigrant families. The land is currently used as a shipping container processing station and a Federal Penitentiary.

Before WWII Terminal Island was an idyllic village of Japanese and Japanese American families that made a living working for the fishing and canning industries in the port area. According to “Furusato: The Lost Village of Terminal Island” the landscape provided a backdrop for the children growing up in the community who were allowed to explore the island and dive for abalone off the nearby beach.

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The Evergreen shipping cranes with the Ports O’ Call Village in the background.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, many of the men of the village were incarcerated, and all of the Japanese-American families were sent to internment camps. While the residents were away, the village was razed by the United States Navy. Today, all that is left  is a small memorial dedicated to the lost community, a few of the remaining building sites with National Trust for Historic Preservation designations, and the fading memories of a generation that once called Terminal Island “home”.