This is a small study into the colors of Los Angeles. When you think of Los Angeles, and Coastal Southern California, you think of a warm mix of yellow, turquoise, purple and blue. And, basically, very little words.
Euphoria signifies a “a feeling or state of intense excitement and happiness.” This word kept coming back to me as I climbed the Josephine Peak trail this morning, and as I walked down. You will understand me, because this is what the world looked like to me between seven and eleven in the morning.
I am lucky, because the trail leading to Josephine Peak is one of the favorite of Anne-Claire and of her Trail Running Club. Today they went for an 18 miles loop, while I just hiked to the peak and back. For me, it was four miles up and four miles down. I will not elaborate too much on the fact that it took us exactly the same time. Know that I took my time and took 126 photos and sang my heart out on my way up and my way down and played the penny whistle to the hawks before the saddle and the harmonica to the beat of my feet on my way down.
Josephine Peak is a feast for the senses at any season, and it changes month by month. From the sizzling summer to the snowy winter, it’s one of the rare places where you can appreciate Fall within a half-an-hour drive from DTLA.
What’s the most magic about Josephine Peak is how the environments change. As you climb the south face, it’s desert mountain. Agaves, desert brush, lizards and hawks.
As you get to the saddle and cross to the northern side, it’s a totally different wonderland. It’s a forest with pines and oak trees, and the weather gets noticeably cooler as soon as you initiate the final ascension towards the peak.
The peak and the view from the peaks are almost… Lunar. I must have hiked to the trail half a dozen times by now, and every time I can’t help thinking “I’m sitting on top of the world.”
Only one word for this.
All photos were taken with my FUJIFILM X100V, which is the quintessential hiking camera. It’s also the quintessential everything camera, but having such a small object that packs such a big punch lets you use your energy to move around and not to carry stuff around – hence its importance on any situation involving some degree of mobility.
On Sunday morning I was out and about pretty early, and I was to pick up a Polaroid from a friend in Silver Lake at nine, so I decided to make the most out of my trip to Los Angeles and be at the Griffith before sunrise.
In the best movie ever made about Los Angeles, Harry Telemacher (Steve Martin) says these words in one of his many aside: “As far as I’m concerned, there are three mystical places in the world. The desert outside Santa Fe, the tree of life in the Arab emirates of Bahrain, and the restaurant at Sunset and Crescent.”
Watching the Sun rise over Los Angeles from the Griffith Observatory is another mystical time and place.
The first thing I learnt is that it’s popular enough not to be scary, but exclusive enough not to feel crowded. I was actually afraid there would be parking restrictions until a certain hour in the morning, but being a popular hiking destination (a gateway to the park itself) there were no restrictions (except for the meters starting at noon on weekdays, and at ten on weekends). Some people were preparing to hike or bike, others were already hiking or biking, some worked out, some did tai chi, some were just there for the view. I must have counted about fifty people around the observatory. Being all there, so early in the morning, on a Sunday, created a beautiful and soft sense of kinship – no matter the purpose.
That’s when I learnt that coyotes are liquid. That’s probably the biggest takeaway. No one was afraid, it’s as if they were part of the Fellowship, too. A few people, me included, warned a lady who was walking a small dog but she didn’t seem much bothered, nor the coyotes did pay much attention to the pooch.
If you’ve ever seen a coyote, you must have noticed this fascinating dissonance: a coyote is a bit like a dog with the presence of a cat. Coyotes don’t walk: they seem to glide on the land. They make no noise with their muffled paws, the only sound you hear is the rustling of the brush they move through. They are liquid, they are little squirts and faintly colored splashes that emerge out of the darkness into a spotlight and melt back into the night they came from.
Overall, there was a big La La Land feeling. Even more than at Sunset, or at night. Because of the glimmers of dawn far away to the East, out of the Sierras and the desert.
The Sun warms the dreams of the nation and the wind blows their scent all the way to the Griffith. The smell of Griffith Park is unique. It smells like a perennial midsummer’s night. Dust, plants, flowers, hopes, a faint whiff of airplane fuel make the olfactory experience almost akin to that of a non-place.
The view… ah, the view from the Griffith, on a clear night giving space to a clear morning, it’s everything you would expect it to be. Different from Kenneth Hahn, different from Baldwin Hills, different from Palos Verdes. One of the reasons might be that you are on top of LA.
Fun fact, I’ve always thought that the cover art of Frank Sinatra and Quincy Jones’ L.A. is My Lady (1984) was a view of DTLA from the I-110, looking north, but it’s actually a perspective similar to the view from the Griffith, just a little bit less elevated and more to the west. Maybe from Runyon Canyon?
Now comes the part where you just stand by the parapet and look at the Sun do their thing. You will be surprised to notice to what extent dawn precedes the actual Sunrise. It was already this bright to the East, but the Sun wasn’t due to appear for another half hour.
The closer the Sun, the rosier the dawn. And you really get what Homer meant and you become rosy-fingered too as every push of the shutter release makes you more of a poet and less of a photographer.
When the Sun finally appears, it’s as if the tip of a hill was suddenly ablaze.
I thought that DTLA gave her best at sunset, as the last rays of our daily star make her glimmer and shine, but now I am not so sure anymore.
And now, ready for another day of Sun.
And to go get that Polaroid, so that we can soon explore the esthetics of intimacy and affection.
I biked to my Friday breakfast burrito at Joe’s, so I could detour by the Pier on my way home. It’s not a heroic feat, but it did take a little motivation to ride my bike at 5:50 instead of just slipping into the Mustang whose engine would have hummed a smoother transition from sleep to wake.
(The recommended soundtrack to these images is Chet Atkin’s album Sails).
The motivation paid off, I think. I love the Pier at any time of the day, but especially in the early morning when it’s all half asleep and pink and light blue.
Californian sunrises are definitely underrated.
I played a bit with the break wall, too.
Then I was happy and went home.
I brought my 100-400 lens to the beach earlier as Anne-Claire and I ordered pizza from a new truck on the Esplanade. A few minutes ago I was looking at my idle captures, I zoomed in, and I realized I could see it was a Korean Air Boeing 747.
I looked it up among the LAX departures. It was a long haul headed to Seoul. It was more than half an hour late.
I don’t know. If I was to be in the air for thirteen and a half hours, I would be really upset about the delay. Or I would cherish half an hour longer on the ground. Or maybe I would not care.
I developed a strange attachment for this flight. Tomorrow morning I will check what time they landed. Maybe I won’t but right now I like to think that I will.
I am wondering who’s flying. Are they flying home? On a business trip?
Such a long time with a mask on, they must barely have a face when they arrive in Seoul. I barely had a face last time I flew to Italy.
I am not looking forward to any thirteen-hour flight.
But a thirteen hour drive, just give me a sign and I’ll be on my way.
Los Angeles + 13 hours, where would that get us?
Au revoir, à Seoul.
We took a little trip in the South-West. That’s the reason why I’ve been silent. Nothing crazy, just the usual eighteen-hundred miles trip touching Las Vegas, St George UT, Page AZ, Monument Valley, Bluff UT, Sedona AZ, Scottsdale and back home to LA.
I took only three recording devices with me. My beloved Fujifilm X100V fixed lens camera (I will make a post about it, soon), my DJI Pocket 2 (think of a less sturdy, but stabilized GoPro) and my Mavic 2 Pro drone.
I love flying my drone in the wide open spaces of the South Western states. I know that drones are highly reliable and since taking my Part 107 and becoming a commercial drone pilots I am pretty comfortable about dos and don’ts of the trade, but around Los Angeles, even where you are perfectly allowed to fly, it’s always so busy with people and traffic (and birds) that you can’t help sighing with relief every time you land your aircraft after a flight. Flying in the desert (as in any sparsely populated area) is so liberating. Not because you would do anything crazy, but because the worst that can happen if your drone crashed is that it crashes, period. Granted the economic loss would be bitter to swallow, but that would be all. Crashing the drone on someone or someone’s car would be several levels of magnitude worse.
I learnt some interesting lessons about flying a drone in the South West, some apply to the summer, some work in general, some don’t apply only to the South West.
1. Mind the heat!
You don’t just unpack your drone and fly: check the temperature first. It doesn’t matter how much you like the heat, your little quadcopter likes it less than you do. The Mavic 2 Pro has a maximum operating temperature of 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius). Temperatures in the low 100s, or high 90s, summed with the thin air of the South Western plateaus will put more strain on the engines and hence demand more to an already hot battery (just to make the picture more idillic, a hot battery might deform and dislodge from its slot just enough to make the drone lose power and crash).
The solution is to be goal oriented when you’re flying in the heat: see, think, fly, shoot, land. Keep the flights brief and don’t stray too far in case you had to land earlier than expected because the battery is depleting too fast.
That’s what I did in the Escalante – Great Staircase National Monument. It was too gorgeous not to try a shot, but it was nearly a hundred degrees so I did not have much time to fly around – not excited about the idea to go retrieve the little guy in one of those canyons.
2. Use the constraints to your artistic advantage
Rules are not there to be broken, especially FAA rules. All the more if you have a part 107 license and flying a drone is part of your livelihood. Many Western points of interest, like National Parks, preserves and human-made landmarks (e.g. dams) are No Fly Zones. If you use an app like Aloft or B4UFLY, you will see those areas clearly marked. Most drones have some geofencing systems that won’t let you fly there anywhere.
This is no reason to despair, though! Think like an airplane! You can stay out of the NFZ, and position yourself at such an altitude and angle that grants you a spectacular view without breaking any rule. Think of the constraints as of guides, and work your storytelling around them.
I find these images of the Glen Canyon Dam area and the Colorado River in Page, AZ pretty interesting, and no law was broken to produce them.
3. Higher is not necessarily better
The whole point about flying a drone is to go high, right? Plus, in the desert, far from airfields or any other controlling agencies it might be tempting to fly higher than the allowed 400 feet. And yet, sometimes the interest of flying a drone does not lie in how high you can get, but in the unique perspectives you can achieve. Consider this shot of the Navajo Twins, in Bluff, UT.
If you fly lower, and closer, to the formation you can get some far more interesting results.
Drone photography is aerial photography, but also different from what you would capture from an actual airplane or a helicopter. Sometimes it’s about how close you can get to something to unlock a unique visual, and not how high you can get above it.
4. Recollect in tranquillity
I’ve often said that digital photography is much akin to Impressionist painting. Impressionists did not paint their masterpieces al fresco. They were indeed fans of the open air, but they would sketch and mark their impressions about the light on paper, then return to their studios and paint based on their sketches, their notes and their recollections.
Digital photography is the same. It’s where editing comes to play. To me, editing is what lets your eyes see now what my heart saw then.
I flew my drone quite a bit in Sedona, AZ. Then I sat down in the patio of the beautiful home we rented and, looking at the very same rocks I had shot a few minutes ago, I tried to edit my photos. I was disheartened. I was having a very hard time making the photos look as beautiful as what I was looking at. I almost discarded everything.
Little did I know that, recollecting in tranquillity a few days later in my studio, recalling the vistas of Sedona with my inward eye – as the poet Wordsworth would say, I got a totally different impression from those shots. I am able to tell you know what Sedona looked to me, or better, what Sedona made me feel like then. The the beauty that surrounds you in a stunning embrace everywhere you look, the purity of the rocks and the threes in the blinding light of the early afternoon, and those sunsets that seem to be reflecting the energy vortex rising from the ground.
This brief guide was not meant as a how-to, but more as a source of inspiration. As always, my images can be purchased as prints of any size and format. In a few days, I will update my Visions of the American West with more visions from this past trip.
Happy Trails, and enjoy the endless skyway!
Disclaimer: This blogpost is a review of an art show in images and words. It does not represent nor aims at representing the ideas or the intentions of the artist. It is a philosophical and artistic way to vibe on another philosophical and artistic work.
Daniela Cueva’s show “Obsidian Edge” is on display at the One Trick Pony gallery at 1051 S Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90019 until July the 17th.
Most good art deals with Time and Death. This has been the case since the Ancients invented Art. “What about Love?” you might wonder. When art is good, love is a function of time and death. Think of Shakespeare: all of his (their?) dramas about love are ultimately tales about death and time and how the two are joined in a ribbon. Time, timelessness, but also timeliness. Death, mortality, or (the unlikely) lack thereof.
Daniela Cueva’s powerful art show takes these two themes and rides them hard.
There’s an image about Daniela’s art that I cannot shake off, so I might as well share it. Think of Death as a Hot-Wheel car, Time as its track, and the artist as the hand what grabs the small car and pushes it back and forth along the track.
Time and Death are the recipients of Daniela Cueva’s interrogation, but the direction flickers as it emerges from this questioning. Questions about composition, decomposition and recomposition are laid out by the artist, and they are given multiple answers, as many as the traits of pencil that Daniela uses to carve her visions out of rough paper.
Where is time going? Daniela Cueva’s drawings don’t look still at all. They go somewhere and they come from somewhere. Possibly the same place, in a never ending circle, but they are not static. There is a depiction of silent pain (for instance in the three the birds, not alive, with their beaks open), a surgical labor of what is not alive, but which might be dead or about to live (again?). This is how Daniela Cueva plays with Time and Death, preventing the viewer from fully realizing where they stand with respect to the frame.
Daniela’s background includes a degree in Fiber Science and Apparel Design at Cornell University. This makes her an artist, but also a designer, and most of all an artisan. The scaffolding, the structures that bind the seemingly organic material together in her works do remind, on the one hand, of the pikes and hooked ropes in Hieronymus Bosch’s theological frenzies; on the other hand, it is also a tacking thread. It is something that keeps together mysterious materials as soft and shapeless as ancient textiles. Is she preserving them? Is she slowing their decay? Or is she crafting the sinews and the organs and the vessels of a new creation? What if it’s somehow both, like a metaphysical salvage? Perhaps the bodies are not dead, only sleeping.
The show features a video, sharing the same title. Not only the eye of the artist is involved, but her hands and the rest of her senses do play a crucial role in this installation.
Time and Death are once again like waves crashing on the shore: you can hear them too, as Daniela’s hands dissolve a weird fabric in an even weirder-looking bath. The sense of oddity and displacement is reinforced by the juxtaposition of digital and analogical layers of recording to achieve a liminal monster: not so much in the horror sense, but according to the Latin etymology of “monstrum”, a wonder, something to be warned about (the same root is in the english verb “demonstrate”).
Daniela Cueva’s exploration goes indeed beyond paper and colors, as she has been working on the artistic and communicative potentialities of novel organic materials, such as the discarded coils of bacteria that she grew herself in her studio. Time, and the death of the microorganisms produce a material that the artist – half weaver and half sculptor – may use, until time (again) brings about the death (sic!) of the organic artwork… unless the artist decides to bring about its dissolution/decomposition as part of the performance itself.
What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. (Ecclesiastes, 1:9-10)