Art, california, los angeles, Night Shots

Coyotes are liquid (…and other things I learnt as I waited for the Sun to rise at Griffith Observatory)

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 have a favorite quote about L.A., by Shakespeare.

“This other Eden… demi-paradise… this precious stone… set in the silver sea of this earth, this ground… this Los Angeles.”

This is the opening monologue to one of my favorite movies ever, LA Story (1991), with Steve Martin playing the role of Harry Telemacher. Just the name Telemacher is mind-blowing: as the movie weaves dreams and stereotypes into an ageless mythology of Los Angeles, the hero’s name is an ingenious blend of Television and the german root -macher that would signal a craftsmanship, an artisanal activity.

I think of this quote every time I shoot this kind of vista, in which Los Angeles emerges in all of her unique glory. Palm trees, sunshine, iconic skyscrapers and snow-covered mountains.

Speaking of mountains, these mountains are not a joke. Look at this:

That’s a real deal mountain mama: I’m sure John Denver was impressed by these mountains. I mean, I am not renown to mess with any Sierra, but this is definitely not a Sierra you want to mess with!

To be honest, my initial idea was to shoot more details of DTLA, but the scene is so inviting that you feel like going wide rather than narrowing down. Anyway, I sneaked a couple of those too, because you know, at the end of the day it is a very pretty downtown.

Every time I shoot DTLA, I wonder whether to photoshop the cranes away. But then, I keep them as a reminder of the ephemeral beauty of this part of town. Whereas much of LA has mostly remained the same over the past decades, DTLA grows and changes as you read this. For better and for worse and then for better again. Fairer, and uglier, and fairer again. And these cranes are a reminder that this photo is probably very different from the same image snapped five years ago, as it will be different from the one someone will take five years from now.

If you are wondering where these were shot from, it’s Kenneth Hahn recreation area. Much to my shame, it was my first time there, even if I had driven by on La Cienega countless times. I met there with my good friend and photographer Erik Jay. Big kudos to him, not only for the wonderful company, but because he was kind enough to give me one of his polarizers for my new XF100-400mm zoom. For our standards it was relatively clear, but once the zoom starts stacking the haze, the polarizer was a game changer: thanks again man!

Before heading home, I wanted to try something out, just for fun. See what kind of image I could get of DTLA with my drone. I found a safe takeoff spot south of the 10 and west of the 110. It was a very fast operation. Park. Deploy. Climb. Shoot. Land. Leave. As of now, I am doing this drone thing 100% for fun, so every flight is like my second flight. Whew! What a rush!

I’m wondering if I could take off closer to the crossing of the highways, or even somewhere by the convention center. More to study and to find out!

Drone, los angeles, Sensor Fresh

My favorite quote