The Story in a Snapshot

A LITTLE over a week ago, I received word that a collaborator, confidant and friend Carolyn Kozo Cole had passed away. Carolyn was the head of the Los Angeles Public Library’s photo collection for nearly 20 years and through her creativity, focus and imagination she was able to help us all see Los Angeles in a more complete and inclusive way.

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from LAPL’S Shades of L.A. Collection

I met Carolyn in the early 90s when I arrived at one of the branch libraries in South Los Angeles  do a story for L.A. Style magazine on the then-nascent photo collection project, “Shades of L.A.”  “Shades” was Carolyn’s brainchild: Her plan set-in-motion was to collect snapshots from diverse family albums from across the Southland to fill in the library’s holdings. This she knew would mean an active search for images that would tell us a deeper and more complex story about the region — photos beyond ribbon cuttings, and landmark buildings and new parkways.

The photo below, of a garden wedding in Watts has stayed with me for decades now. It is from the book, Shades of L.A. a brief compendium that samples some of the project’s key finds. This photo is meaningful because in certain ways it was the very absence of quotidian images like this that sent Carolyn on her journey.  “What did Watts look like before the uprisings of 1965? The houses, the streets, the businesses?” “How and where did people celebrate milestone moments in their lives?” she wondered.  The library didn’t have anything beyond a photo of the old railroad depot. Surely there was more.  Those, she realized, would be part of family collections. They would be the photographs that chronicled the everyday.

I wrote an appreciation about Carolyn that will appear in  Sunday’s Los Angeles Times  you can read it here online.

I miss her emailed anecdotes and her phone calls and her little stack of special finds just for me. But every time I happen upon a photo like the one above from the online Shades archive, I know that she has truly given us so much that we will be using to understand Los Angeles and tell better stories about it for generations to come.

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