Living in Huntington Park

Photographs of the Exhibition

Demographic transition, waves of immigration, and geographic segregation are again transforming Los Angeles, revitalizing and reforming its urban fabric. Huntington Park, neighboring South Los Angeles, is part of a network of small cities that in the past twenty years have redefined their place within the metropolis. Neither a danger zone nor lost space,

Huntington Park is vital, rich with multi-generational family life, and exhibits remarkable inventiveness and self-reliance. Maya Konieczny and Pablo Garcia, seniors in the School of Architecture, have photographically documented the streetscape and who is on the street at what times of day, the entrepreneurial innovations and informal commercial activity, and the ways people use formerly neglected spaces, whether they be streets, alleys, or garages—so regenerating and enlivening a community.

Ms. Konieczny and Mr. Garcia wanted to understand better how architects can contribute to working class communities, communities unlikely to commission designers to develop, say, “a multiple dwelling unit housing several immigrant families.” They realized that they first needed to make a close study of how people actually live their lives in a particular place. My course on photodocumentation in planning provided them with the occasion to actually do such a study.

Going out and photographing a place surely forces one to see more of what is going on there. What is perhaps even more striking are the actual photographs themselves, where one begins to see more systematically phenomena that are pervasive and significant. And so one makes discoveries about city life and culture. Just who is in the pictures at what time of day?—women shopping in the morning. Why are there recurrent images of Guadalupe on many of the walls and signs?—to ward off graffiti. Why are these particular storefront churches, with these theologies, so prevalent?—they are the dominant churches in the places where many of the immigrant residents used to live. Why are all these people surrounding a lunch truck in a parking lot of a closed-for-the-day furniture store well after the sun has set?—this is an improptu yet established outdoor restaurant. And, if you create a linear montage of photographs of the main commercial street, Pacific Avenue, you begin to appreciate what makes up a vibrant street life in a place. For you have all of it there in front of you, at one time, and you can look again and again to find out more what is going on.

The achievement here is actually doing the work, going out and looking and seeing and photographing, and going back again and again to a place. For then, you begin to see more, your initial intuitions and guesses either confirmed or revised by the concrete specificity of a place. The history of photography and the history of urban planning and design have been intimately intertwined, whether it be Charles Marville’s photographs of Paris before and after Haussmann’s reconstruction, or Jacob Riis’s and Lewis Hine’s photographs of New York’s poor and working class life.

We hope to build up an archive that photographically documents contemporary life in Los Angeles. Over the past year, in a series of exhibits in the Planners and Developers Archive Gallery of Ralph and Goldy Lewis Hall at the University of Southern California, we have displayed some of the work that contributes to that archive.”

Martin H Krieger
Professor of Planning
Price School of Public Policy
University of Southern California

Support for this project and its exhibit has been provided through the University of Southern California’s Archive Research Center and the Provost’s Urban Initiative.