Posts tagged Los Angeles River

 

Image Collage: credits for photos are as shown in this post.

This is the second part of my coverage of Perceptions of the Los Angeles River, which is a photography exhibition by AHBE colleagues and friends. See part one for an introduction and a selection of photographs from the collection. I chose another set for this week and share the story behind each work, as told by the individual photographer.

credit: “James” by Andrea Klein

photo by Calvin R. Abe

Title of Work: “James”
Photographer: Andrea Klein (shown at right)
Artist’s Statement:  James is a plein air painter who I met while visiting the Los Angeles River in Glendale Narrows. He was focused on a landscape scene on the opposite bank of the river. Although people, like myself, stopped to chat with him, he remained single minded in capturing the view on his canvas. As I looked over his shoulder, I realized my attention was not focused on his painting but on his act of interpreting the context of the river. I took my photo at that moment of realization. I removed the image’s color component to draw the focus away from his canvas and underscore the moment of observation and perception.

 

credit: “Emergence” by Jessica Roberts

photo by Sahar Coston-Hardy

Title of Work: “Emergence”
Photographer: Jessica Roberts (shown at right)
Artist’s Statement:  I wrote at length about “Emergence” in an earlier post and share my thoughts again in this synopsis. By dividing the picture plane evenly in two, I hope viewers will focus on the horizon line and interpret its meaning in relationship to everything else they observe. 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.

Being in the LA River reminds me of being out in the middle of a desert, except sunken down further into the earth. The experience is different from 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.

credit: “iAguas!” by Darren Shirai

photo by Sahar Coston-Hardy

Title of Work: “iAguas!”
Photographer: Darren Shirai (shown at right)
Artist’s Statement:  The word aguas can mean different things in Mexican Spanish. It can mean ‘waters’, as seen flowing in the river channel on the right side of my photo or used as a warning in situations like the scene depicted on the left, where its meaning in American English is “Watch it!” or “Heads up!”.

Like the word aguas, this photo has a double meaning that conveys my perception of the Los Angeles River. I captured this “LA moment” along a stretch of the river in the Glendale Narrows. It represents the promise of an optimistic future where the river corridor and the landscape along it banks revitalize and reconnect people and communities – spiritually, socially, ecologically and economically. However, this scene also reminds me of the need for vigilance when our profession assesses the broader contextual impacts of a proposed landscape design, and the integrity required to creatively overcome impending design challenges in equitable and meaningful ways. iAguas!

credit: “Weedy Foreground” by Jenni Zell

photo by Sahar Coston-Hardy

Title of Work: “Weedy Foreground”
Photographer: Jenni Zell (shown at right) 
Artist’s Statement:  I took this photo in the channel of the Los Angeles River and was initially captivated by the audacity of this species to set up life in such a hostile place. Positioning my camera with plants in the foreground and middle ground creates the illusion of a future takeover of vegetative growth in the channel of the Los Angeles River. Takeover is unlikely, and the species pictured in the foreground is Plantago lanceolate, a noxious invasive plant. At closer inspection, Weedy Foreground crushes any dreamy vision of a restored native riparian landscape and instead predicts a future where only the most noxious and invasive species survive.

 

Perceptions of the Los Angeles River features the works of: Calvin Abe, Cristhian Barajas, Wendy Chan, Chuan Ding, Andrea Klein, Clarence Lacy, Brett Miller, Susan Miller, Jessica Roberts, Jennifer Salazar, Darren Shirai, Morgan Thompson, Yiran Wang, Mateo Yang, and Jenni Zell. You may recognize some of the names as regular contributors to AHBE Lab. The LA River is a subject of ongoing research and exploration for our staff, many of whom share their thoughts and discoveries through AHBE Lab.

Image by AHBE Landscape Architects

Perceptions of the Los Angeles River is a group exhibition featuring photographs by Calvin Abe, Cristhian Barajas, Wendy Chan, Chuan Ding, Andrea Klein, Clarence Lacy, Brett Miller, Susan Miller, Jessica Roberts, Jennifer Salazar, Darren Shirai, Morgan Thompson, Yiran Wang, Mateo Yang, and Jennifer Zell. On view at AHBE’s design studio, the collection conveys our photographers’ multiple points of view about the Los Angeles River’s identity and sense of place. Through their work, they challenge viewers to think about the LA River in ways they did not imagine.

Landscape architect, Wendy Chan, came up with the exhibition’s concept theme and curated the show. As she describes,

“Each participant was asked to submit a photo representing his or her perception of the L.A. River. As we started to lay out the photos in our gallery space, we were fascinated by the range and diversity of the images. A few photographers captured the river as a beautiful art piece. Some people focused on the river’s wildlife and habitats. Others explored its urban context and role as urban infrastructure. Interactions between people and animals resulted in a surprising scene of disruption in one work and peaceful serenity in another. Overall, the collection truly represents how the L.A. River inspires beauty, dreams, and possibilities for Angelenos.” – Wendy Chan

A selection of images from the exhibition are presented here.

 

Title of Work: “Layers”
Photographer: Wendy Chan 
Artist’s Statement:  My photograph was taken at the North Broadway Bridge, in the neighborhood of Lincoln Heights. When I was a child, I would cross the North Broadway Bridge frequently on my way to Chinatown and observed the river’s seasonal transformations from a trickling stream to a powerful torrent. Although the river was visually close from where I stood, getting to it was difficult. I felt the river was a world away. My photograph represents the multiple layers of roadway, fencing, railroad tracks, and walls blocking my access to nature within my city.

 

Title of Work:  “Do you feel the river tonight?”
Photographer: Chuan Ding 
Artist’s Statement:   

Nobody knows Los Angeles without knowing its river.” – Joan Didion

However, nobody truly knows the LA River without seeing it at night. When the sun goes down and the last light of day gives way to the night, the river and city take on an amazing filtered quality. Walking along the 7th Street Bridge on a winter night in 2017, I paused to admire the scene. In my mind’s eye, night turns down the city’s heat, chaos, and noise. Layers of railroad tracks were lined up in front of me; empty trains moved back and forth as tracks and rail cars were tested after-hours. Ahead, the glory of downtown shined and then faded away. Time seemed frozen. All I felt at that moment was the night, myself and the LA River, which became the witness to my love story.

 

Title of Work:  “Break”
Photographer: Clarence Lacy 
Artist’s Statement: As I traveled all along the lower portion of the Los Angeles River, I discovered spaces created by various planes of concrete. The multiple grounds are perfect settings for observing the play of light and shadows. At one point, I remember feeling as if I was in a middle ground, standing one plane above the base of the river but below the surrounding city. I was inspired by the overwhelming scale and its beauty.

BREAKby Clarence Lacy

This river does not feel urban.
I look up, I don’t see a city;
a blue expanse disorients me.

Where am I?

An altered state of urbanity,
strolling on foot,
along the river bottom.

A break in the expanse;
a hint of a city around.

I feel enclosed, not trapped.
This is only a short break.

 

Featured photographers (left to right, above): Chuan Ding, Clarence Lacy, Wendy Chan. Photos by Linda Daley.

Perceptions of the Los Angeles River is on view, for a limited time, inside the AHBE studio.

 

Photo by Jessica Roberts

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.

Photos by Wendy Chan

After reading my colleague’s thoughts about the plans to revitalize the Los Angeles River, I was left with an overwhelming sense of sadness of its current state, emotions eventually counterbalanced with hopes of the river’s proposed future.

Growing up in Los Angeles, I regularly witnessed the river’s transformation from a gentle trickle in the summer into a powerful torrent during the fall and winter after a storm – its raw power sometimes barely contained within the concrete channel built to direct the flow safely out to the ocean. I remember  watching on the news swift water rescue teams pulling out people overcome by the river’s strong currents every year, caught by its surprising strength. Occasionally these stories would end tragically.

Memories like these embedded the idea the river was a dangerous place to be avoided – an unpleasant section of Los Angeles where drug deals happened, trash piled up, and graffiti covered its embankments. Why would anyone want to visit such a place?

But as a little kid, I didn’t understand the L.A River’s past before it was channelized, nor pondered the potential of its future. I simply thought of the stretch of concrete as a flood channel, not as a river. I remember when I first experienced a river as an adult; I thought of the flow of water back at home, suddenly realizing and recognizing the potential of the L.A River.

“The L.A. River could represent the identity of Los Angeles!”

The inklings of the river as a connection and artery between humans and local wildlife began to flow, and my thoughts about the river began to change. No longer was it an off-limits and dangerous place, but the opportunity to offer communities accessibility to nature, alongside a feature connecting all of the communities of Los Angeles it flows across.

The Lower Los Angeles River Revitalization plan is truly a community driven vision, one outlining strategies to turn a dream of a better Los Angeles River into becoming a reality. I’m inspired imagining a city of tomorrow not be defined by its freeways, but instead by the tributary whose history spans long before there was even a Los Angeles.

Photos by Calvin Abe

I get a good look at the Lower Los Angeles River (LLAR) and Compton Creek during my daily commute on the Metro Blue Line Train. Depending on the vegetation management activities of the Flood Control District and the season, what I see can be either hopeful or bleak.

In the summer, after a season of growth where sediment, vegetation, and wildlife establish their territory within both the soft bottom and concrete-lined waterways, I feel an optimistic hope that nature based infrastructure solutions can be restored to the region. Now, at the beginning of the rainy season when vegetation has been removed from the channel and replaced with high volumes of water flowing with suspended trash, pollutants, and dangerous levels of bacteria, it seems as if the ecological destruction caused by paving our watershed will never be mitigated.

However bleak my views about the river have become lately, there remains genuine reason for hope. In December of 2017, the Draft Lower Los Angeles River Revitalization Plan was released to the public, an important document outlining opportunities and constraints for significant future LLAR projects from Vernon to Long Beach. The plan can be viewed here.

The first pages of the document offer an eye opening assessment about the community living within the river corridor:

  • Poor (64.1% of households are considered low income and an estimated 2,500 homeless people live along the river)
  • Ethnically diverse (93% non-white)
  • Hot (only 2% of the watershed is covered by shade trees)
  • Without sufficient access to parks (1/3 of the people living within the river adjacent communities have 1/3 the park space than the current LA County average).

This Draft Lower Los Angeles River Revitalization Plan gets into the weeds in addressing site-specific revitalization project for 146 locations throughout the river corridor. The draft also proposes a Community Stabilization Toolkit to help ensure the community living and working within the river corridor is the same population that benefits from planned projects and programs when they’re implemented. The impressive analytics provided in the report will be valuable to the communities that will ultimately take the lead in realizing these efforts.

While many of the opportunities identified in the plan are sandwiched between the channel of the river and the 710 Freeway in the upper river segments, and do not restore the natural hydraulic and ecological functions of the river and flood plain, the middle and lower segments propose spreading basins, wetlands parks, and habitat corridors. Taken in aggregate, these river adjacent projects can have a significant positive impact on water quality.

It is disappointing removing concrete from the river channel is not considered feasible in this plan (except alternate configuration 3 at the Rio Hondo Confluence). However, the most significant impact of this plan may be in the tenacity the plan commits to finding buildable opportunities along the river corridor, combined with the proposed policies and programs for community stabilization. Taken together, this sober plan proposes an authentic vision of the Lower Los Angeles River that is a cleaner, healthier and better-connected version of its current state.

This vision of tomorrow’s river system does not displace people, funnel profits to private interests, or force an idealized version of another river from another place and time. Instead, the plan embraces the complex interweaving of natural and man-made systems representing the essential heritage of the Los Angeles River.