into the center of it

get shot

LAST SUNDAY, I drove into Watts pulled by something larger than an anniversary.

I’ve been back and forth a great deal in recent years, months, weeks — for work and personal visits — but this journey felt more like flipping back to the opening pages of a book, to re-orient myself in a story that didn’t move the way I had expected.

I’ve been swimming through all the coverage today — and in the weeks leading up to — this 50-year anniversary of a what began as a traffic stop and then exploded into an italicized exclamation. One that now echoes across decades.

Like so many, I’ve been revisiting photos and essays and spoken testimonials that so freshly recall that stretch of hot August days. I’ve been talking to old friends and old colleagues. I stare deep into the frames of these grainy newspaper images of collapsed buildings, piles of wood, the silhouettes of storefronts, fancy blade-signs and realize — once again — that so many never re-opened. The story finished there. Full stop.

wattsam

As a small child, I felt some foreign emotion creep in, take up real space; a feeling related to the noise, the smoke, the tanks, men in uniforms and guns at the market — where we bought our milk and fruit — the strange measure of days that hemmed us in within our own home: That new word “curfew” flashed in my brain like neon.

August 1965 was the summer my grandfather visited from New Orleans to take the first, in-person glimpse of his infant grandson. The two-pronged reality of that visit: the first bloom of the new family branch, strikingly backdropped by the racial inequity and violence not at all foreign to this quiet and proud Southern-born man — just Southern-California style. Early the next morning he woke before the rest of us, disappeared. We later learned, through his detailed stories, he’d wandered off, to find the hot center of it. To know the story better.

How — he must have reasoned — could you be so close and not try?

The journalist that I would become understands.

Now, as an adult, I realize the emotion I must have been trying to sort through was the very same that might accompany the instant when a table might be upturned and there’s a moment — long, protracted out-of-real time — where everything was still in the air. The finish yet to be determined. Ruin or reclamation? It was all still up for grabs.

50 years.

So fast. So long.

And yet.

Noah Purifoy–Junk Dada

  
POWERFUL RETROSPECTIVE up at LACMA of Noah Purifoy‘s assemblage work — “Junk Dada.”

My day coincidentally began in Watts where Purifoy was the co-founder of the Watts Towers  Art Center. Serendipitously I photographed a garden this morning that is most likely the front yard of the house in the center photo of this grid.

For more information about the LACMA show click here.

I’m still processing it all….more later.

 

photo collage: l.g.

The Spirits of the City

“Figueroa Spectres, 1935-1997,” a photo montage by Philip J. Ethington. via USC Dornsife

A FEW weeks ago I spoke with Philip Ethington, a professor of history and political science at USC Dornsife, about his 15-years-in-the making project, Ghost Metropolis. Due out next year, the multimedia “book” explores layers of Los Angeles — its history, its built environment, its contested territories, its major arteries and industries — in hopes of examining and cataloging the distinguishing details of Los Angeles, past and present.

“I see myself making ghosts visible,” he explained.

Those pieces of from the past that so many Angelenoes consider to be razed or lost, haven’t been entirely erased, they are often, Ethington points out, just hiding in plain sight.

The project — which assembles a series of essays, interactive maps, photographs (his own set alongside archival images) and video — will tell a 4D story about the region across epochs.

From the piece:

“I just want to tell a great story about a great city. Great in a massive sense, but also in a creative sense. Because it’s not all about the bad guys and the injustices and the oppressions. I also want achieve accountability. That’s a real big goal.”

To read the piece and see some of time images and maps, click over to USC Dornsife’s site here.

Post-Script

How Los Angeles Looked, 1850s | Photo courtesy LA Public Library via KCET | Departures

IT WAS great to see D.J. Waldie’s thoughtful consideration of our online conversation.

Some of his musings:

We haven’t yet learned to speak the language of the Los Angeles that is coming. It’s a post-sprawl city, where “sprawl” had been the clichéd label for the city’s multi-centered urban form. It’s a post-diversity city, where “diversity” talk is both a sign of Anglo anxiety about the new people living next door and a word of self-congratulation about not being too anxious. Los Angeles is post “middle-class” as well, having been made into a city of struggling working-class aspirants below and a crust of oblivious wealth above.

You can catch the rest here at KCET Departures