by Lynell George
Back in LA’s wild nineties, when I was just starting out as a reporter, I envisioned my role as that of a chronicler, collecting and documenting the city’s underrepresented stories. Beyond the facts, I was looking for what, in newspaper parlance, is called “voices”: observations, eyewitness accounts, and the kind of texture provided best by memories. I was always fishing deep for the “other side” of the story, and I learned early that there were often more than two. Getting a handle on Los Angeles—the whole of Los Angeles—meant going deep into its margins and having the time to stay there. I sat at kitchen tables, on wraparound front porches, in living rooms with venetian blinds closed against the midday sun. I stood in alleys, in parking lots, on blacktop playgrounds filling up notebooks, listening, sopping up every detail until I was saturated.
There are stories people can tell you, and there are stories that can only be experienced. I learned this about three years ago, when life filled up so much—new job, new routines—that I didn’t have the open-ended luxury of time to listen to others as I once did. But I was still after the story. I didn’t want to lose my place in the city’s narrative. I dusted off my camera and began taking notes, this time visual ones. I retrained my focus. The backdrop became the forefront.
I was curious to see how the familiar litany of a changing Los Angeles—redlining, white flight, outmigration, gentrification, nostalgia, post-riots—had shaped the city and its sense of place. What I’ve learned is that some change happens so imperceptibly that we don’t yet have language for it. But sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can catch it in motion, for a fraction of a second. I discovered that these photos of shifting environments—often empty of people—still follow one of the cardinal rules of writing: “Show, don’t tell.”