Museum Home Past Exhibitions A Place in the Sun: Photographs of Los Angeles by John Humble

March 27–July 8, 2007 at the Getty Center

Headwaters, the Los Angeles River / Humble
Headwaters, the Los Angeles River, Confluence of Arroyo Calabasas and Bell Creek, Canoga Park, 2001
audio John Humble explains how he created this photograph.

Since the mid-1970s American photographer John Humble has documented greater Los Angeles, creating images that explore the postmodern qualities of America's second largest city. This exhibition focuses on two distinct bodies of work from Humble's lengthy career: the urban landscape and the Los Angeles River. Both are journeys through the built environment and diverse neighborhoods that make up the city.

The scene above marks the official beginning of the Los Angeles River, where the Arroyo Calabasas meets Bell Creek in Canoga Park. Humble positioned the dramatic concrete structure that cleaves the two waterways exactly in the center of his composition—not an easy task for the photographer, who had to wade upstream several hundred yards with his equipment to get to this vantage point.

178th Street at Manhattan Place / Humble
178th Street at Manhattan Place, Torrance, September 20, 1979
audio Humble describes his experiences creating this image.

The Urban Landscape

John Humble was one of eight Los Angeles-based photographers awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1979 to document the city on the occasion of its bicentennial. Since then he has continued to document the city's urban landscape. Humble provides a view of the metropolis where the traditional boundaries between commercial and residential neighborhoods are flexible and often integrated. As Humble quietly recorded this awkward juxtaposition, he revealed the inharmonious qualities of life in Los Angeles.

This photograph is one of Humble's earliest color prints made with the large-format camera. Fascinated with the myriad power lines that cut across the skies of Los Angeles, he adopted a low horizon to create a sense of foreboding as the tall pylons power over (literally and figuratively) the mobile home below.

1553 8th Street / Humble
1553 8th Street, Los Angeles, November 15, 1985

The photograph at right was made from atop Humble's van. He built a reinforced platform on the vehicle's roof to accommodate his large-format camera and provide a better view for recording the street and its context. Although he went to great lengths to set up his camera, Humble remained open to serendipity, such as the presence of the man waiting to cross the street, standing directly under the vertical sign.

The Los Angeles River from Main Street / Humble
The Los Angeles River from Main Street, Los Angeles, negative 2001; print 2006

The Los Angeles River

In the late 1990s Humble began documenting the Los Angeles River, charting its 51-mile course from the headlands in Canoga Park to its mouth in Long Beach. Humble seized on the opportunity to journey through what he refers to as the "sociological archaeology" of Los Angeles. Bisecting the city, the river offers a cross section of the demographics of Los Angeles: from homeless people who seek refuge in the storm drains of downtown to working-class immigrants and middle-class suburbanites who live along the banks of this largely concrete channel.

The photograph above succeeds in bringing together several ironic elements: the No Stopping invective, the barricade of barbed wire, and the perfunctory sign confirming that this is the Los Angeles River.

The Los Angeles River, Sepulveda Dam Recreation Area / Humble
The Los Angeles River, Sepulveda Dam Recreation Area, 2001
audio Humble talks about the light in this image.

During the 19th century Los Angeles was among the most productive agricultural counties in the United States because of the abundance of water the river provided. Humble is acutely aware that while the river is responsible for the city's existence, its presence today is largely ignored.

This photograph was made at the Balboa Boulevard Bridge in Encino. The view looks from the bridge out to an adjoining recreation area, a bucolic scene portrayed in autumnal colors. Created at sunset, the light bathes the landscape with warm, golden tones.

All images © John Humble, courtesy of Jan Kesner Gallery

L.A.'s Urban Landscape (1:40)
51 Miles of Concrete: The L.A. River (1:39)