Los Angeles Underwater

Photomontage [February 2014]

LA Upside Down

I’ve been experimenting a bit with photomontage since the beginning of 2014. My first photomontage was created using very limited photo editing skills and free photo editing software. This first piece is called “Los Angeles Upside Down” or “Los Angeles Underwater,” both with an intended pun on the idea of negative equity. It takes the LA aqueduct and our current California drought as its subject matter.

I wanted my photo to represent a few different things, the first of which was a sense of history and time. I knew this meant I had to choose a color scheme that in itself would convey a sense of history and time. I chose black and white for my first photo of the LA aqueduct because the project to steal water from the Owens Valley began at the turn of the 20th century when photography was still black and white. Once I chose my B&W photo, I needed a similar photo, but one without a distinguishable beginning to the river/aqueduct for two reasons: 1) I wanted the use of color to signify the move out of the past and into the present. For this reason, I wanted this middle color photo to be as untouched by photo-manipulation as possible so that it would look crisp and clear, as if the water that comes to Los Angeles isn’t coming to us out of human intervention or theft, but is there naturally; and 2) I didn’t want the river to begin or end in this middle photo so I could blend it with what came before and what comes next, and so I could help reinforce that sense of no origin, as if the water we have in LA doesn’t originate anywhere but is simply present and infinite. I wanted the final photo to be neither B&W nor neutrally colored, but tinted as if it were taken at sundown to suggest that the days of our free flowing water are nearing their end.

Each photo in the montage represents both a time period [through the use of color] and a location [though the use of framing and setting]. The first photo represents the past, the beginning, and the source of the water in the Owen’s Valley. The framing captures the river at the point where it seems to begin in the mountains and flow toward the viewer at the bottom of the frame. The second photo represents the present in its seemingly un-manipulated color, which makes it appear as if this photo could have been shot at any time in the present day using a camera we have access to at this period in time, and it represents location as somewhere between the beginning [the mountains, the origin], and the end [the city] by being framed in a way that excludes many distinguishing land markers. I also framed that middle image in a way that made the river seem like the water flow is consistent and stable, not beginning or ending anywhere, just existing, suspended in the present. The third photo represents the future and an ending with its sunset lighting and its upside down orientation to suggest the ways in which Los Angeles is “upside down” on its water loan in a sense [though of course technically the concept of negative equity doesn’t entirely apply here because LA stole the water to begin with]. I also chose a photo where the river appears much more dried up than in the other two to signal that the water is running out.

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