In the Confluence (Or, on Seeing the Future in the Past)

As a photographer, I’ve spent the last 15 years documenting the pervasive (and often peculiar) impact that human activities have on the land and the environment more generally. The impact is obviously physical. But it’s also social. When we decide to remake the land in our own image, we’re saying something significant about who we are.

Browsing the LA Public Library’s incredible archive of historical photos—especially the photos of the LA River before it was encased in concrete by the Army Corps of Engineers, a process that began in 1938—I was amazed to recognize many of the spots that I’ve photographed over the years, but lined with soil, trees and water instead of the perfect grey trapezoid of the concrete channel that’s become sort of iconic but mostly symbolizes a long string of mistakes that, finally, LA is beginning to undo.

When I saw these old pictures I had a thought: wouldn’t it be tremendous if someone 75 years from now sees one of my photos of today’s industrialized LA River and regards it with the same kind of wonder I and others feel when we see pictures of the river in its pre-concreted state. Because by then, the river will have been made new again—thanks in no small part to the city’s LA River Revitalization Master Plan. It may never again be a “natural” riparian ecosystem, but won’t it be something when everyday Angelenos once again flock by the thousands to its banks to play?

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