Los Angeles is not so much a unified city as a massive conglomeration of smaller cities. To outsiders, you come from Los Angeles. To locals, you are from Santa Monica, Hollywood, Pasadena, KTown, Van Nuys, Inglewood, Beverley Hills, or etc. It is a tapestry of neighborhoods that flow into one another with undefined visual or geographic borders. There is no Los Angeles and everywhere is Los Angeles.
“Which part of the city are you from” is of chief concern among new friends, business partners, and potential lovers because your answer will dictate your socioeconomic status, your cultural heritage, and your commute. When Lorde sang about post code envy, she was probably referring to Los Angeles.
Sandwiched between Marina Del Rey, Santa Monica, and the Pacific Ocean is a neighborhood unlike any other in LA. The Venice Canal Historic District was an early twentieth century attempt at recreating the Italian romanticism in the heart of sunny California. The area has had its cycle of prosperity and disrepair and the houses lining those canals reflect those periods of change.
I took a stroll through this neighborhood on a crisp winter evening. With the neck strap of my Sony A7 loosely wrapped around my right wrist, here’s what I saw through a Leica Summaron 35mm f/2.8.
It’s a quiet neighborhood, even amidst the hustle of the Venice Beach area in general. You can take a stroll here alone with your camera. You can marvel at the diversity of architecture. In peace.
Humble bungalows stand proudly next to Spanish style mansions. Cape Cod specials neighbor flat-roofed postmodern homes. It’s quite a mishmash of styles, tastes, and personalities. It’s brilliant.
There is a freedom in madness. Individuality rules this neighborhood, something that flies in the face of utilitarian order and collectivist conformity we are so used to in cookie-cutter suburbs or the projects. No two houses here are alike.
There was life here. The lights were on, someone was home, and I was acutely respectful of their privacy. The balance was to capture and share this wonderful corner of the world and to avoid ruining the very tranquility that made this place so special.
I remained on the sidewalks, not loitering in front of any particular home for any appreciable amount of time. The windows were drape-less, but I made sure faces were not in my published frames.
But they must be used to cameras by now, I thought. I’m certainly not the first one. Perhaps there’s a bit of residential exhibitionism here. Perhaps it’s a see and be seen mentality. Or perhaps it’s a laissez-faire Californian attitude to life.
It’s quite wonderful, probably because Los Angeles is still quite new to me and doesn’t feel like home yet, or probably because it was my first time here. Most likely, it’s because, of all my travels, nothing was quite like it.
I could imagine myself here. I would mentally choose which houses fit my style. I would pick a postmodern design, glass clad and square. I would make it a home with Corbusier couches, Noguchi coffee tables, and probably an Ikea bookshelf.
I think the planners had done it. They had captured that certain romanticism, not the Venetian kind but a uniquely Californian one. When the drought ends and the water levels are higher, I plan on returning to the Canals again. I hope to see those little boats floating across the water.