I invite you to listen to the voices of Anastasia and Mark. Their words and my photos will give you a first look into my journey down the LA River. These first two chapters, which are still in progress, have taken me deep into the lives of others. I’ve seen and learned so much. I give thanks to the people who have opened up and allowed me to witness their reality.
The LA River has been a source of life for people since the time of the Tongva, who built 45 villages near its shore. When the first Spaniards “discovered” the river, they gave it the name that would eventually be passed on to the city of Los Angeles. Following the flood of 1938, practically the entire river was cemented over, fenced up, and turned into a forgotten wasteland, unused by the public.
Now, eight decades later, a movement to turn the river back into a place where communities can celebrate nature, art, and outdoor activity has gained momentum. The plan to revitalize the river is being pushed by Eric Garcetti, the mayor of LA. The world famous architect, Frank Gehry, has started plans to give the Los Angeles River a makeover. The project may cost the city billions of dollars. But if it is successful, it will turn this desolate cement canal into an exciting green space that locals and tourists can enjoy for years to come. It intends to connect the communities of Los Angeles through bike paths, parks, and communal areas.
There is a heated debate about whether gentrification, which is already happening in areas along the river, will ruin LA or change it for the better. Will it “white-wash” the neighborhoods lining the river, stripping them of their culture and sense of community? Or, will it bring thousands of jobs and help to wipe out the violence, drugs, and gang activity that have come to define many of the neighborhoods lining the great vein of LA?
I’m going to walk the whole fifty-one miles. From Canoga Park, where the river begins, to Long Beach, where it empties into the sea, I will document neighborhoods like Compton, East LA, Frogtown and Studio City. The focus will not only be the river, but more importantly, the lives of people inhabiting the communities that surround it. The journey will celebrate the diversity of Los Angeles as well as explore themes of poverty, race, and social economic status in a time of change.
*follow the journey on Instagram: @ivankphoto