The Los Angeles River runs for over fifty miles through a metropolitan area of more than ten million people. Most of them ignore it. For much of its length it doesn’t seem like a river at all, more a concrete channel hidden behind industrial settings. Slowly though, things are changing as redevelopment reshapes the banks and LA slowly awakens to the rich resource in its midst.
Now seven photographers have mounted an ambitious show that focuses on the unseen water in our midst; The Los Angeles River – A City Runs Through It. It is a wonderful show that belies the exclusively urban reputation of the water and shows us a much more complex river, a place where Blue Herons and Canadian Geese rest in the reeds as well as the river with the dark concrete channels so beloved of filmmakers for car commercials, chase scenes and gritty danger.
A City Runs Through It is running at the soon to be closed Keystone Gallery a well-conceived room for showing pictures. Situated in a large commercial space with four free standing walls in the center of a larger room, the design provides ample space for the display of many pictures and at the same time creates a number of separated spaces, ideal for a show with seven artists.
The artists in this case are Peter Bennett, Diane Pirie Cockerill, Maureen Haldeman, Mark Indig, Sal Taylor Kydd, Kevin McCollister and Keith Skelton. Each brings their own viewpoint to the river and the variety of views and viewpoints makes for a very entertaining show. There is more than entertainment to it however as the artists statement makes clear, “in a place where water is precious, hardly any of those millions know its history, where it begins or ends, its current function or have ever put even their pinky toes in its water. In fact, the patchwork of governments and agencies that control the river have made it almost impossible to access without trespassing. No other American city has so completely turned its back on such a resource. Most see it (if they notice it at all) as a hideous scar on the landscape; a polluted dystopian highway through the heart of urban darkness almost devoid of human presence. Yet it is also a rich cultural canvas of striking visuals and unlimited potentials. Los Angeles could not have evolved in its current form without the river as culvert but it cannot fully thrive without at least its partial restoration; the designs and funding of which are being debated currently.
The images in the show were taken of the river and within 100 yards of its "banks” from 2008 to the present. This represents a fascinating period for the river; having gone during that time from an ignored visual and environmental embarrassment to a newsworthy tabula rasa for artists, activists, developers and city planners.”
My guess is these pictures will only gain in relevance as the river is reshaped. They form a big and beautiful scrapbook of the river right now as Los Angeles awakens to the treasure it surrounds.
Whenever I do a story I end up shooting more pictures then I can use. A story develops as you experience it. It's hard to know until you start writing and editing pictures exactly the story they will tell. This means I often end up with pictures that are good but don't fit the story. So here's my selects for the Los Angeles River - A City Runs Through it story, plus some pictures that won't run with the story for space reasons or for not being germane to the story. Not used but representative of the moment nonetheless.