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.

Voice (30)

Westside

“West Side” — image by Lynell George

Grocery on Venice Beach
by Denis Johnson 

Thank you salesperson I see your heart

quivering redly in its gossamer

I with this fiery  whirling atomic

symbol where I used to have a stomach

lighting my dead shoes

down the aisle

Briefly the gauzy but legible

future veils the place and is beheld

I can talk inside the mind

of my great-grandchild Oh unconceived

monster hurting your teeth on our dead Disneylands

we were here we touched this radioactive food

We didn’t have the claws and then something in our hearts sufficed

We didn’t have X-ray eyes we knew what was inside of everything

Descendants

I have paid and I have left

walked out of the little store onto a white beach

the light declining and lavender

walked past two women

as they knelt covered with gooseflesh

beside the Tarot dealer

past a man pretending to be a machine in a circle

of laughter

alongside but not too close

to people who no longer

live indoors or hide their thoughts

past the child

born in a towaway zone

the mother’s eyes like

a creek

numbers

and curses going by in the water

I leave you this record

of an invisible monstrosity and this

report of sadness

a semi-truck against the bruised roses

of sunset

emeralds in the velvet wound

the lights

of Malibu the cold

small lights

from –The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly — Poems Collected and New

Denis Johnson, 67

Natalie Cole, 65

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Natalie, Nat and Carole Cole

SOME POIGNANT New Years Day news.  Like many, I woke to hear of the passing of Natalie Cole.

For me it was a layered loss. I’d done some work for Carole Cole for a box set of her father’s work that came out about a decade ago. I’d felt lucky that I had been trusted write liner notes that would look at not just  her father’s musical arc but the family’s history in Los Angeles.  Like so many I grew up with stacks of Nat Cole records leaning against the hi-fi. On top of that, simply put, the Coles were L.A. royalty.

It fell to Carole in later years to keep watch over the estate and the music rights and through it was in consult with Natalie. Together they protected that story, the legacy. Every anecdote, every date, every memory was checked and double-checked. Legacy was as important to them as was his burnished voice.

Looking at the photo above, it’s impossible to wrap my brain around the fact that they are all gone. What’s hit me more than anything is that the season started officially — as always for me – on Christmas Eve when I first heard Nat Cole’s “The Christmas Song.” And the season ended upon hearing the news of Natalie’s New Years Eve passing.

Some sad  magic symmetry.

 

Ornette Coleman, 85

ornette

Though his early work— a kind of personal answer to his fellow alto saxophonist and innovator Charlie Parker— lay right within jazz — and generated a handful of standards among jazz musicians of the last half-century — he later challenged assumptions about jazz from top to bottom, bringing in his own ideas about instrumentation, process and technical expertise.

— Ben Ratliff via The New York Times

He was always free. Now fly high. Farewell, Ornette.