Not including its tributaries, the Los Angeles River runs over 50 miles through the heart of a metro area of 10 million people. Yet in a place where water is precious, hardly any of those millions know its history, where it begins or ends, its current function or have ever put even their pinky toes in its water. In fact, the patchwork of governments and agencies that control the river have made it almost impossible to access without trespassing. No other American city has so completely turned its back on such a resource. Most see it as a hideous scar on the landscape; a polluted dystopian highway through the heart of urban darkness. Yet it is also a rich cultural canvas of striking visuals and unlimited potentials. Los Angeles could not have evolved in its current form without the “river,” and it cannot fully thrive without at least its partial restoration, the designs and funding of which are currently being debated. These images were taken of the river and the neighborhoods within 100 yards of its “banks” from 2008-2013. Much of the graffiti has since been whitewashed, for good or bad. Also during this time the EPA has declared the river navigable because of the efforts of some intrepid kayakers, allowing for protections under the Clean Water Act. For more information go to the Friends of the LA River website (https://folar.org).
The late Lewis MacAdams, poet and founder of FoLAR, wrote this in the foreword of my book, The Los Angeles River: A City Runs Through It:
“Signs and wonders, mysterious juxtapositions. Mark Indig’s L.A. River is a universe of creatures for whom the river is not so much a waterway as a state of mind, a gigantic musical score played by the wind through a megalopolis of power towers and wires. The sun never seems to rise on Mark Indig’s River, where brutal forces grow out of lethal mists. Moonrise is marked by flocks of lost birds and barbed wire and banana trees grow out of a station wagon pockmarked by bullet holes. Yet Indig’s intentions are not surreal; nor are they documentary. They are a meditation on beauty in the raw. Some day the River’s banks will all look Victorian, with park benches marked by donor plaques; but right now the River is as raw as the city it drains. Mark Indig has caught the moments before the river is dedicated to education and recreation. His is a river that troubles our sleep.”