August 31, 2015

A Picture of Compton, Beyond the Gang Lore

When I started taking photos and publishing them online, it was really just to illustrate my writing—to make large blocks of text look more interesting.

I never thought that some people might be more interested in my photography than in my writing.

But trust me, I'll take it.

Like writing, taking photos is a way of documenting the world as I see it. I can't tell you how many times I've stuck my camera in front of something, and someone nearby has asked, "What are you taking a picture of that for?"

I usually say something like, "Just wait til you see it," and then I show them the screen on my camera. Most of them say, "I would've never thought to look at it like that."

I take that as a compliment.

A few weeks ago, the editor of Billboard emailed me to inquire about my photos of Compton. They were preparing a story in support of the Straight Outta Compton movie, and were looking for some images of the Compton that most people never see. They managed to find my 2001 post about Richland Farms, and were considering reprinting at least one of my shots in their magazine.

Screenshot: Billboard

I can't tell you how thrilling this was. After working in the music industry for over a decade, clamoring to get my name—not to mention my headshot—into that magazine with every new job and promotion, it was a remarkable thrill to have them call on me.

Screenshot: Billboard

Besides, my sister and I spent so many Saturday mornings at Wegman's poring over that week's issue of Billboard, lamenting that it was so expensive, and trying to memorize each of our favorite songs' current chart positions.

Screenshot: Billboard

So although I managed to find the Straight Outta Compton issue online, I couldn't resist also buying a hard copy, for old time's sake.

Screenshot: Billboard

When I flipped through it and noticed that they didn't give me a photo credit, I wasn't any less proud. Hey, they paid me for the reprint rights. And I know it's mine.

Screenshot: Billboard

And now I have that clipping. I've done a lot of things in my life that I've been proud of, many of which are somewhat less tangible. But it's different when you get to hold something like this in your hands. Maybe because it's proof to other people. Maybe because it's proof to my future self.

Sure, I don't need the proof. But it's nice to have it.

Related Posts:
Compton's Hidden Agricultural Riches: Richland Farms
A Little Credit

August 27, 2015

Hand-Me-Down Girl

I've always been second in line.

I was born 15 months after my sister, and although I was more precocious than she, I still ended up inheriting her secondhand bicycles and shoes and jackets and dresses.

From birth, I have always been a hand-me-down girl.

I suppose I was lucky to have others' cast-offs bequeathed to me. Money was so tight—and my mother overspent on the house so much—that there wouldn't have been any money to buy me enough of what I needed. As it was, the items that were handed down to me were inexpensive, cheaply made, and worn out by the time they got to me.

Some of my clothes and jewelry even trickled down from my mother, whose weight would fluctuate wildly on her petite 5'1" frame, and when something no longer fit, she'd try to convince me to take it. But in this case, there was a cost to the transaction. My mother could never give me anything. I always owed her something, and in her best case scenario, that would be money. When I was a teenager saving for college, she pushed one of her dresses on me and then demanded I pay $50 for it. Even when I begrudgingly took the dress and paid up (because I felt like I had to), she acted like it was still hers, and that she'd only loaned it to me.

I never wore that dress. Eventually, I gave it away to Goodwill.

In my adult years, even when I haven't had any money, I've recoiled from flea markets, thrift shops, antique shops, and estate sales. As much as I love vintage clothing and furniture, I really can't stand the idea of someone else having slept or sweat in or on the thing. But I still eat off of my grandmother's floral china and wear my mother's pearl earrings. I live in an apartment that has been occupied by countless tenants since 1929, sleep on the same Murphy bed frame, hang my clothes on the same rod in the same closet, turn the same knob on the same door.

I guess nearly everything was somebody else's, at some point.

While I've been reticent to accept material possessions that once belonged to someone else, for some reason I have no hesitation in taking someone else's place. I am the understudy who gets onstage. I seize other people's jobs when they fail at them. I usurp indiscriminately.

I don't pursue these opportunities, per se—they are handed down to me. I have become a "fixer." I proofread and rewrite. I smooth ruffled feathers. I make good on broken promises.

As life has worn on, I've grown to appreciate these inheritances. I don't have to scheme. I don't have to lie. There are no ladders for me to climb, no competitors to sabotage. I just have to wait for someone to mess up, because someone will always mess up.

Being second in line doesn't have to equate to being second best. Sometimes people have to make the wrong choice first, before they realize what the right choice is.

Maybe I'll be someone's second wife. Maybe I'll be someone's adoptive mother. Maybe I'll rescue a puppy. I'm OK with inheriting the wrongs of the world, and trying to make them right.

Related Posts:
Mine, All Mine
Black Swan, And The View from Behind First Place (Excerpt from Extra Criticum)

August 25, 2015

Photo Essay: Subway Terminal Building, Above Ground

At a get-to-know-you lunch today, a new acquaintance asked me, "So what are the places you haven't been able to get into yet?"

I immediately answered him with, "The tunnels below the Subway Terminal Building."

But in all honesty, I hadn't really tried. I missed a tour of them a couple of years ago when I was out of town, and they since have been condemned. It kind of seemed like a lost cause.

But I hadn't even been inside the 1925 Beaux Arts-style building in Downtown LA that was once the Downtown terminus of the Pacific Electric's "Hollywood Subway" line... I decided to swing by during a photography show opening in their lobby gallery.

Although you can still see the signs of a subway, even above ground, these days most people don't know about the underground trains that carried passengers from here to the Belmont Tunnel (across the street from Bob Baker Marionette Theatre) from the 1920s to the 1950s.

Then again, a lot of people don't know that LA yet again has an operating underground, and that there's an open Red Line station just a few blocks away at Pershing Square. Then again, there are a lot of tunnels here that people don't know about and have never been into.

The Subway Terminal Building, once Downtown LA's largest office building when it opened, is now known as Metro 417, a fancy residential high-rise with units available to rent since 2005.

Even just the lobby is worth a visit...

...with its restored coffered ceilings...

...mosaic tile...

...and Italian Renaissance ornamentation...

...and other restored elements of the original Schultze and Weaver design (the team also responsible for the Millenium Biltmore Hotel in LA and the Waldorf Astoria in NYC).

To be honest, I kept looking for a way into the basement. But the elevators only go up, and require the swipe of a resident's keycard.

In the rear of the lobby, through a doorway, there's a display of historic photographs...

...acknowledging the history of the building...

...and the transit that used to bring visitors into and out of Downtown Los Angeles, when it wasn't very easy to get around.

I should have known that I wouldn't get anywhere from the former office lobby, since there was actually a separate entrance to the passenger concourse to get to the trains, which reportedly was altered significantly in the 1950s. But I got up the course to ask the security guy anyway.

"Is there anyone who can take me downstairs?" I asked.

A look of dread came over his face. "No, not at this time of night."

"No superintendent or building manager or anything? Are they only here during the day?"

"Yeah, and we don't ever really go down there," he said, with more than a fair measure of hesitation.

"Do people ask you that all the time?" I leaned in, hoping to establish a common enemy to get in his good graces.

"No, not really..."

"Have you ever been down there?"


"Don't you want to? Aren't you curious?"

"No, not really..."

This guy really wanted to get rid of me, so I took the hint, thanked him, and left.

As I walked away with my tail between my legs, stopping to snap some more photos of what I could see, I was glad I finally tried. And I'm not giving up yet.

Related Posts:
Underneath the City (Hall)
Underground History
Photo Essay: Union Station, Open to the Public
Photo Essay: Into the Abyss of Downtown LA's Underground Tunnels

Photo Essay: Music, Architecture, and the Rescue of the Heifetz Studio

Los Angeles has saved its share of historic structures by moving them.

Photo: Harold Zellman Architects Associates

But this was the first time I'd seen a building that was originally outside be moved inside another building to avoid demolition.

Last weekend, the Southern California Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians hosted architect Eric Lloyd Wright—son of Lloyd Wright and grandson of Frank Lloyd Wright—on a panel discussion with Colburn School President Sel Kardan and historian Dana Hutt... talk about how this music school came to rescue the music studio of virtuoso violinist Jascha Heifetz... placing it inside a new building on its Downtown LA campus.

The studio itself was originally connected to the main house by a breezeway, and it once was surrounded by patios and even had an additional room that didn't make it in the move. But, according to Colburn President Kardan, clearly the emphasis was on the interior and not the exterior in this restoration.

In 1948, Heifetz had commissioned his friend, starchitect Lloyd Wright, to build a musical sanctuary for him, adjacent to his extant Coldwater Canyon home in Beverly Hills. Having also contributed to an early version of the Hollywood Bowl, Lloyd Wright understood the connection between music and architecture, the visual acoustics of design.

Besides, the Wrights were a musical family, Frank always playing Bach and Beethoven at night, and serving as musical director over his family orchestra. Lloyd Wright played cello—although not very well, as reported by his son Eric, who himself played the flute, accompanied by his brother on the viola.

Since the studio was originally outside, with no close neighbors to complain of noise, it wasn't soundproofed much. And unlike most musical studios, it featured large glass windows which both let light and nature in, and sound out. Heifetz could gaze out at Beverly Hills while taking a break, or looking for a little inspiration.

So why is the view so different now, as it overlooks the new Broad Museum? Actor James Woods bought the Heifetz property in 1989, two years after Heifetz passed away, and planned to demolish the studio. In response to the resulting preservation alarm, Woods offered the studio for free to anyone who would pay to move it (and ultimately razed the main house down to its foundation).

The Colburn Conservatory stepped up, dismantled the studio into pieces, labeled everything, and placed it into cold storage to wait for its new home to be completed. Six years later, they painstakingly reassembled the hexagonal studio as closely to its original specifications as possible, but now inside another building.

Inside, the redwood paneling and tented green ceiling (strikingly similar to that of Hollyhock House) evoke both musical instruments and performance spaces...

...creating acoustics ideal for both violin masters and their students.

Heifetz taught violin to many aspiring musicians throughout his later career, so it seems fitting that his studio be relocated to a music school...

...where his presence can be felt strongly, through his framed handprints on the walls...

...his collection of musical dictionaries and other books...

...his 1940s-era television hidden behind a wall...

...his McIntosh stereo system...

...and his water-resistant, aluminum violin...

...which he used to bring down to and play by the beach.

The furniture, designed for the studio, was also rescued and moved to Colburn. But even the studio's current occupant, the conservatory's Jascha Heifetz Distinguished Violin Chair Robert Lipsett, hasn't sat in or even touched Heifetz's former seat.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The Museum of Misfit Houses
This House Has a New Home

August 22, 2015

Photo Essay: Unleashing a Creature of My Imagination

OK, by now I think my love for puppets is pretty well established. Working with the Muppets is yet another dream deferred.

But today, I managed to get one step closer to my furry fantasy: I took a puppet-making workshop at the soon-to-close Puppet School in LA.

And although I was the ringleader that organized the event for a bunch of my fellow LA misfits, once the class started, I was just another student, trying not to get burned by hot glue.

I love working with my hands. I find it so meditative. And as someone who loves both color and texture, I was in my element with all those fuzzy pom pom balls...

...which could serve as a nose or ears or a tail, though suited me as a newborn baby tongue.

With so many materials to choose from—googly eyes, foam, felt, feathers, fur—how could I possibly choose a creature to create, when my blank canvas was merely a felt sock, just like all the others?

In my experience, the creature created itself.

I'd glued the foam skull a bit askew, which dictated that I was going to give birth to a goofy little thing.

And although I knew I was going to make an animal and not a person, it wasn't until I found the sparkly pom-poms that I realized my vision of a new hybrid species of reptile...

...with a bumpy spine...

...a feathered head...

...snake-like nostrils...

...and a sparkly, segmented tail.

Unfortunately, evolution bestowed it with only one tiny fang, a lazy eye, and an off-center tongue...

...but it's still kind of fabulous. After all, somebody's got to love the "whatevers" of the world.

Photo: Puppet School

I'm proud of my creation—and inspired to try to make another, more sophisticated one someday—but I'm completely bowled over by what my classmates came up with. I can't imagine a better group of people to sit down with scissors and glue and create such mind-blowing works of art with such variety. Literally, no two puppets were alike. They weren't even similar.

Photo: Puppet School

I have struggled with feeling a sense of belonging my whole life, but especially since I moved to LA. But there is no question in my mind that I belonged at Puppet School today, as much as anybody else did.

And we were all so happy there, together, with our new friends.

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