Working at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach

Infrastructure as a Choreography of Machinery, People, and Goods

Fall 2005-Winter 2006

Infrastructure is not merely copper or aluminum cable, or glass fiber, or bridges and roads, or concrete pipes and pumping stations, or electrical generating stations, or the systems of these parts that form the lifeblood of cities. It is also the people who build, maintain and operate these systems, and the stuff that is moved along their pathways. These coordinated objects and motions and people–and they must be coordinated if such systems are to work well and not fail due to congestion or breakdown–in effect enact a dance whose choreography is what many of us study in our Price School of Public Policy.

Historically, and still today, one of the vital systems for cities has been waterways, lakes and oceans, the fishing and whaling fleets, and the merchant marine that moves goods and people from place to place. On the Waterfront (1954), which starred Marlon Brando, Allan Sekulaís Fish Story (1996), a book of photographs and analysis, and Sebasti„o Salgadoís and Edward Burtynskyís photographs of shipbreaking, are a requiem, and a critique of the contemporary infrastructure of shipping. Frank Stellaís series of artworks keyed to Moby Dick (1986-1997) are effectively a celebration of a past infrastructure. The history of the West Coastís International Longshore and Warehouse Union (here, think of Harry Bridges, its fabled leader) and the Pacific Maritime Association, and their current events, are of international import. “As I have been told again and again, the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach move about two-fifths of the cargo and an even greater percentage of the containerized cargo in the United States,” notes Professor Martin Krieger, curator of the Lewis Hall Gallery.

Most of the women and men pictured here are members of the ILWU, stevedores working on the docks of Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach: Local 13 of Longshoremen (including the Frontmen, UTR (Utility Truck) Drivers, Forklift Operators, Lashers, Linesmen, and Spotters), Local 63 of Marine Clerks, and Local 94 of Foremen or Supervisors of Longshoremen . Some are supervisory personnel (Superintendents) from the shipping or stevedoring companies or are shipping agents. At the docks it is essential that the Supercargo (the in-charge person from Local 63) and the Supervisor or Superintendent work closely together to be sure that the ship is properly unloaded and loaded. The dance is a complicated one, since an improperly loaded ship will be subject to shifting and imbalance, and the unloading might take much longer and be more inefficient than would otherwise be the case. Years of experience (especially of the Longshoremen), careful coordination, and modern information systems make the difference. Moreover, the right number of men and women and the right sort of loading and unloading equipment must be present at the right time. In part, this is coordinated by the Marine Exchange, which keeps track of ships entering and leaving the Ports, and the shipping agents and stevedoring companies. In part, the ILWU Dispatching Hall makes sure the people are at the right place at the right time.

Professor Krieger photographed at a break-bulk ship (for example, large coils of cable); a refrigerated fresh fruit ship (from Chile); a container ship; a roll-on roll-off ship (RO-RO) on which the cargo (for example, earth movers) is unloaded under its own power or with forklifts; a bulk loader (for example, carrying petroleum coke, a derivative of refining in the Southern California region, a black powder pumped onto the ship into large holds); an automobile ship (holding perhaps 6,000 Nissan cars and trucks); and a cruise liner (the baggageís location is coded by animation characters). He also photographed at the Marine Exchange and the ILWU Dispatch Hall.

Although not in this exhibit, Professor Krieger has also photographed some of the systems of rail and drayage (trucks), which are the means of moving goods to and from the Ports to the hinterlands. Nowadays, they represent particularly significant links in the larger networks.

Professor Greg Hise says, ìUncovering a history of production and industry in Los Angeles requires the reconstruction of a landscape that was largely invisible to contemporaries and that has remained almost invisible up to the present.î The Ports are seen from the freeways, sometimes visited for a cruise, but are otherwise rarely visited or seen up-close by most of us. San Pedro and Wilmington are at the periphery of the City of Los Angeles, although the Port of Long Beach is adjacent to its downtown. Security concerns, which have always been an issue when on the seas or where cargoes of high value are docked, have become paramount. “I am fortunate to have been able to photograph Working at the Ports,” he says. [Martin Krieger]