Meandering across 51-miles of Los Angeles County and beyond, the Los Angeles River can be a difficult thing to grasp. It ducks underneath bridges, swerves alongside freeways and hides behind industrial facilities. In a new exhibition opened last week at Woodbury University's WUHO Gallery in Hollywood, architectural photographer Lane Barden unveils a Los Angeles River many Angelenos have yet to see -- a river seen from above.
"I was teaching a studio class at SCI-Arc about the Los Angeles River and we were having such a difficult time visualizing it," says Barden. "You couldn't really see it in the landscape. You had to be on top to really appreciate it."
Armed with a small grant from the Art Center College of Design, where he was an erstwhile teacher, he commandeered a helicopter, flew about 500 feet into the air and photographed the entire Los Angeles River. Famed photographer Iwan Baan used the same technique to capture the now iconic Hurricane Sandy-struck photograph of Manhattan for New York Magazine.
In order to photograph the river, the helicopter had to hover about each location with its door open while Barden took out his camera and trained his lenses out to the landscape. "It was the first I had done it," says Barden, "It was difficult to say the least, but I got used to it."
Barden's images produced a dramatic rendering of the Los Angeles River and showcases just how much the waterway weaves in and out of residents' lives, mostly without their knowledge. At the river's source in Bell Creek and Calabasas Wash in Canoga Park, Barden's photograph shows a playing field smack in the middle where the confluence of the two waterways form the start of the Los Angeles River. Almost no other green area is visible in the photograph as the river is hemmed in between anonymous buildings. This concrete cast stands in sharp contrast to the lush surroundings of the river as it enters the Sepulveda Basin. The photographs abruptly turn gray and cream as the Barden's lens captures the river's path in South Los Angeles. Muddy soil, expansive industrial roof buildings and the pops of color from shipping crates disturb the monochromatic scene. Barden's photographs take viewers all the way to Long Beach, where the river empties toward the ocean. The river is bookended by yachts moored in a marina and the Queen Mary on the right.
"Everything surprised me and nothing did," says Barden of the experience, "I had studied it enough to know exactly what I was going to photograph but I had no idea how amazing it would look."
Though it isn't the same experience as riding the Los Angeles River on kayaks, Barden's photographs reveal a river that is still inherently alive. It swings, bends, dips as it encounters the built world of Los Angeles.
Presented by the Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Design, the exhibition strives to introduce the built Los Angeles to its residents. Apart from the photographs of the Los Angeles River, Barden also executed similar photographs for the Alameda Corridor railroad trench and the Wilshire corridor. It also features, the Big Atlas of L.A. Pools, which compiles the shape, location, and other information on more than 43,000 pools in Los Angeles in an atlas. The project is a work of designer Benedikt Groß of Stuttgart, Germany and geographer Joseph K. Lee from the Bay Area.
The exhibition runs until Sunday, August 3. More information here.