As I was documenting the parking lot vegetable garden I wrote about on Wednesday, I looked up and noticed a decorative garden kept by another Chinatown resident. While I could only gain glimpses of the gardens located on the upper story, these planters located outside their front door at street-level offer a taste of what one might see above.
I have been having a hard time editing down the images for this post, so I’ve decided to make it a two-parter based on subject. This first post documents another Chinatown vegetable garden, and the second, will document a decorative one.
I have already written once about how much I enjoy observing shifts and changes in the garden tended right outside our studio door. For me that narrow strip of vegetables has become an inspiring reminder that one can bring beauty and productivity to an otherwise disused and overlooked place.
The patch pictured is located at the back of a parking lot. Until last week, the thriving garden had escaped my notice. This relative isolation also protects it from pedestrian looters, dogs and traffic, however, giving the growers reason to invest more time in infrastructure. These support systems—and the materials and methods used to make them—are the subject of many of my images.
There are moments where one finds it difficult to distinguish between nature and intervention, such as the similarity between a squash blossom and plastic tie.
Or between the pre-existing and the adaptation.
For me, green spaces like this one become a metaphor about life in Los Angeles. What is “beautiful” here defies convention and appears in the most unlikely places.
I know that’s not how the saying goes but, for me, there is something alluring about mistakes. Errors—whether purposeful or due to a lack of skill—are a much-mined subject. Consider designers' obsession with vernacular signage, the datamoshing trend in music videos (via www.kottke.org) or this book.
Photography with toy cameras has been my method of introducing unpredictability into the image-making process, but I have always heavily edited the results, casting aside prints with flaws I considered “too overt” or “too messy”. After a second look, however, I offer up these idiosyncratic and potentially impenetrable photographs taken over the years with my plastic Diana.
Several months ago, I made my first trip out to Catalina Island. I am not much of a travel or destination researcher, so I knew little of what to expect. I tend to prefer getting to know a place through direct—rather than virtual—exploration and observation.
Today, I rediscovered some photographs I took of the Catalina Casino while on that visit, evidence of my exploration and observation of the Art Deco building’s exterior. The Casino features painted murals of sea life by John Gabriel Beckman. A little research tells me Beckman originally intended the murals to be executed in Catalina tile, but instead they were painted directly onto the building’s concrete to make the grand opening deadline.
When I visited, it was nearing sunset and the lighting within the structure’s nooks and crannies was inconsistent, so I cannot vouch for the color accuracy of these images. I have decided not to color correct them, though, forgoing accuracy because I already like what I see.
Recently, I inherited a collection of cocktail rings from a great aunt. I decided to document them using my scanner, because although I lack any context or knowledge of each piece’s history I find them interesting both as individual objects and as a group. In the collective, they tell me Great Aunt Kay was a daring lady, who bought jewelry during her many travels, loved black onyx and turquoise and noticed small details. Sadly, I feel like I know Great Aunt Kay better now, after having documented her collection, than I did when she was alive.
There is a humble garden outside of our studio space in Chinatown. I remember when it was just a patch of gravel and dirt next to a busy stretch of Hill Street, right off the freeway. A few ladies in the neighborhood saw something else—potential.
A little less than a year ago, I began to notice changes to the sliver of land abutting the chain link fence. First, in one corner a small compost pile appeared. Over time it got bigger and over time it smelled less like rotting things and more like earth. The ladies tended to this earth, turning over the soil, adding compost, turning over the soil again. Soon large sheets of cardboard, held down by heavy rocks, appeared on top of the soil. Presumably underneath them, seeds were germinating because within weeks the cardboard disappeared and the garden contained its first seedlings.
At first glance, this garden may not seem like much. Yet, because I have the opportunity to see this patch of green each day I begin to notice and engage with the garden’s details. Here is some of what I see.
Here are more scans of analog photos, this time, Chinatown in Los Angeles as seen through the tremendously unpredictable Nickelodeon Photoblaster. Even after years of using this camera, I still don't always get the best 4-up results, so I've separated each of the images from the rest of their set. I just discovered the Photoblaster Flickr pool (Where have I been?) with examples of prints made from the 4-up negatives.
My favorite thing about taking photos with any of my toy/plastic lens/cult cameras (I have a lomo, photoblaster, diana and holga) is the surprising, uncontrollable results. It makes picking up the developed film excruciating and delightful all at once. Excruciating, if I want the images to turn out a specific way or was trying to document some important moment or person. Then the light leaks passing through the center of the image or the under- or overexposure of the negative are more annoyance than welcome surprise. Most often I liken reviewing the developed results, though, to opening a series of well-intentioned presents. Some are perfect and others...well, they're images I never thought I wanted, but now can't imagine wishing for anything else.
Lawn ornament displays have always fascinated me, a fascination not dissimilar to my interest in odd window displays. I suppose, like ubiquitous pieces of flair, lawn ornaments give homeowners a chance to communicate something about themselves to their neighbors and passers-by. I'm just not sure what that message, in this case, is....This photo was captured with my Nickelodeon Photoblaster.
I just scanned a bunch of negatives from an urban hike I took through Los Angeles' Chinatown. These photos are from my Diana toy camera. The plastic lens creates unexpected light leaks and a soft focus.
A few weeks ago, I attended a gala concert at the Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena. Built in 1974, the hall has an incredibly decadent interior with crystal chandeliers and fixtures, rich wood paneling and brightly patterned wool carpets. I overheard a conversation at intermission regarding the carpets; according to legend, the crystalline pattern comes directly from the cast of refracted sunlight through the crystals in the chandelier onto the floor. Whether this is true or not, I captured it for posterity with my iphone.
Besides the Art Deco Wiltern Theater, I found strong diagonals and modernist volumes during my Koreatown walk last weekend.
Here are some photos of the Art Deco-era theater The Wiltern located in Koreatown.
Today, another excursion. This time, to Galco's Soda Pop Stop in Highland Park. I have been wanting to go there for a while, ever since I read about it somewhere, but I was afraid it might be kind of a scene, some incredibly self-conscious, pristine kind of "high design" business. My fears were immediately put to rest when greeted with this weathered, hand painted window lettering. It reminded me of the Red Owl grocery of my childhood. And it lived up to its claims on the website; over 450 sodas from all over the world.
I was in visual overload mode. The light was not great, so I only took a few photos as I prowled the aisles for what I would bring home.
So what did I bring home? First, here is my criteria. I couldn't choose something I've already tasted—which was easy because I don't normally drink soda—and it either needed to be unique packaging or sound so tasty and/or interesting that I couldn't pass it up. The soda I am most excited about drinking is the sweet blossom, it is a Galco's exclusive made with pressed rose petals. It sounds refreshing in this heat.
Well, I'm off to a bit of slow start here, and I was worried for a minute that maybe I was already running out of things to write about. Then, when I least expected it, I happened upon the most amazing "light show" (pictured above).
I had headed downtown to for lunch at the Farmers Market. The Aon building is undergoing a facelift of sorts and has been enshrouded by the worst scaffolding I've ever seen. But much to my delight, on this particular day, at this particular time, the sun and that ugly scaffolding were creating these graphic patterns across the sidewalk and stairs.
It was lunch time and people were pouring steadily out from the building. I thought twice about trying to capture the spectacle, thinking I could come back later when it wasn't so busy and people wouldn't give me such dirty looks for standing in the entrance with my camera. Instead, I took some time to document what I saw. I'm glad I did, because when I came back through an hour later, the show was over.
Like many people, I cannot help but photograph windows, but even more, I can't help but photograph unusual window displays. The weirder the better. The photos are rather old, but they're so good I had to share.
The photo from San Francisco was this AMAZING STORE in the Mission District called Paxton Gate. It was basically one giant cabinet of curiosities with carnivorous plants, little rodent skulls, lots of drawers of tiny things, knick knacks and the like.
And the other photo is a window display from a trimmings shop in the Fashion District. Whenever I'm looking for a little visual overload, I head downtown and step into one of these shops. I end up wanting to buy everything shiny or brightly colored in the store (and of course anything rainbow just puts me over the edge). Then comes the reality check—my gigantic collection of vintage rick rack sitting at home and only used to trim one skirt.