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John Humble's photographs of Los Angeles

Photographer John Humble has been documenting the Los Angeles landscape since the 1970s. All images ©John Humble, courtesy the Jan Kesner Gallery. Created by Getty Museum.

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Video transcript

- [voiceover] I don't see my work as political in some ways and I do in others. I think that there is a huge disparity in Los Angeles as there is in the US in general between the wealthy and the not so wealthy, the haves and the have nots. And so in many of the areas in which I photograph are areas where there are the have nots. And those are the vast areas of Los Angeles. The places like Pacific Palisades, and Santa Monica, and Beverly Hills, those kinds of areas are actually a very, very tiny part of Los Angeles. Many people think of those areas when they think of Los Angeles, but in fact they represent a very, very small percentage of what Los Angeles is. And the landscape that I photograph represents, for the most part, the majority of what there is in Los Angeles. Los Angeles is huge, it spreads over a vast area and almost all of it looks the way my photographs look. So in that way the work is somewhat political. I don't go out purposefully to make political photographs, but I think because of my own orientation, because of my way of thinking about things, I think they probably take on some kind of political tone. I think they're beautiful. I find there's a kind of poignancy about the pictures, especially as time goes on. For example that Thrift Store picture that you see on the wall is gone. That's another place entirely now, there's no more Thrift Store there. So it seems to me that there's not only an irony in the photographs, but there's also this also this kind of subtle beauty that if you look at it in a certain way you see it. Most people don't I think. Most people would drive down the street and think this is a pretty ugly part of town. But I don't see it that way. The reason Los Angeles exists here today is because of the Los Angeles River. When the first European settlers came to this area they found that the Indians were living all along the banks of the river. And that was their sustenance, they fished there, they caught game, they used the water for crops, all of that sort of thing. When the early settlers were here it wasn't an issue when the river flooded, but the more people came here it because an issue. On several occasions the river overran its banks and caused huge swaths of destruction and finally in 1938 the decision was made by the Corps of Engineers to encase that river in concrete. And it's been very successful. The river does not overflow and cause damage anymore. But it's not really a river anymore, that's what most people don't understand about the LA River. It used to be a river, essentially it was exploited to extinction. Mostly what the Los Angeles River is today is a storm drain, so that when we have rains it takes the water and runs it out to the ocean, and it also is a conduit for waste water from the Glendale Reclamation Plant. And so when you see water in the river today you're either looking at storm water or treated waste water. I like the river just the way it is frankly. It does just what's supposed to do and maybe it's not very pretty, but it's a functional river. I mean, it's a functional storm drain and waste water conduit now. And while I think the plans to revitalize the river are all well and good, I think the money could be better put into solving homeless problems in Los Angeles and some of the other social problems that we have here.