Los Angeles Spring

Robert Adams, Ontario, California, 1983
Robert Adams' Los Angeles Spring (1986) framed Southern California as a dystopia of smog. As pandemic spring 2020 dawns, Los Angeles skies have never been more beautiful. In the past few days an image of Echo Park by Instagram photographer Gabriel Duarte has become a populist symbol of what a Los Angeles spring can be.

The floral emblem of L.A. spring must be the jacarandas, which rival D.C's cherry blossoms and generally peak about 6 weeks later, in May. Jacarandas are rarely encountered in California plein air painting, a school that was moribund by the time the trees became widely planted in Los Angeles, in the 1920s and 30s.

The beauty of jacaranda season figures frequently in Raymond Chandler's writings as a noir-world counterpoint to L.A.'s moral corruption. In his story "Blackmailers Don't Shoot" (1933), Chandler writes, "Beautiful hands are as rare as jacaranda trees in bloom, in a city where pretty faces are as common as runs in dollar stockings."

"I love Los Angeles," said Vladimir Nabokov, "where we lived when I was writing the screenplay of Lolita. I had never seen jacarandas trees before."

The portmanteau word "smog" appears in Christopher Isherwood's A Single Man (1964). A generation later Adams recorded the visual reality of what had already become a literary trope for failures of suburban sprawl and individualism.

Bad Religion's "Los Angeles is Burning" (2004) revisits jacarandas, smog, and The Day of the Locust: "A placard reads the end of days / Jacaranda boughs are bending in the haze."
Gabriel Duarte, Echo Park, 2020


Anonymous said…
LA's original weak point has been earlier iterations of it struggling to be both charming and attractive. Many of the people who shaped a lot of its land over 70 years ago were to real estate what Michael Govan is to economics, competency and conscientiousness.

That didn't help the city's cultural scene. At least when it came to creating a general, all-purpose museum for the visual arts---hence, both dinosaur bones and canvases at Exposition Park until the early 1960s.

Much of the central portion of LA wasn't exactly as comforting or reassuring as Henry Huntington's San Marino/Pasadena was several miles to the north.

Things were finally moving along quite nicely until SARS-CoV-2 and the knucklehead in charge of the now-defunct LACMA entered the scene.