dakota rose wood
WHERE DEPTH MEANS BLUE
West of the Los Angeles International Airport and East of Dockweiler State Beach, North of Manhattan Beach and South of Playa Del Rey is a sprawl of dunes interrupted by crumbling paved roads and barbed-wire fences. This area has been qualified as a number of identities; a neighborhood, a potential golf course, airport property, and a butterfly habitat. The entire area was fenced off post-9/11 except for one street, Sandpiper Street. I had always been curious about the area because I had grown up not five minutes away, but I’d never really explored around it until seeing John Divola’s photographs of the condemned housing area on the East side of the airport, (LAX NAZ Forced Entry).
From the 1920s to the 1960s, these dunes were sprinkled with around 800 beachfront homes for the wealthy and was called Surfridge, “The Last of The Beaches”. Once the air site Mines Field was expanded to become LAX in 1928, aircrafts took off over Surfridge and living there was incredibly noisy, but apparently somewhat tolerable, until the onset of the jet age. In 1965, 66% of the homeowners were bought out and the remainder of the property was condemned and claimed by eminent domain on the grounds of noise and construction hazards. In the ten years following the evacuation, 2000 people were relocated and the remaining homes were flattened.
Since 1970, minimal construction has occurred in this area. Suggestions of beautification or even placement of a golf course have been made due to local residents complaining of the haphazard removal of streets being “an eyesore”, but due to the damage that construction has on the El Segundo Blue Butterfly–the population count has been rehabilitated to about 50,000 from a measly 500 during the original airport construction–the California Coastal Commission votes down every project approved by the airport.
I’ve always been drawn to abandoned places and objects; something about how stagnant forgotten things become, but how time is still apparent in the erosion of the thing really excites me. I walked up Sandpiper Street at dawn with my mom (who was terrified of getting arrested because of the pedestrians prohibited sign) and a Pentax 67 and photographed some of the streets with weeds cracking through the concrete and some bushes growing through fences in the morning light. Especially early at six in the morning, the noise from the huge commercial airliners was unbearable. I recalled reading a former resident of Surfridge recollect playing football in the streets or chasing jack rabbits, and literally having to stop to cover his ears when a jet would takeoff. Even without the jet noise, the space is not a quiet one; the cars speeding down Vista Del Mar drown out the crashing waves.
Even before receiving my negatives, I immediately knew that everything with this project needed to be bigger. Larger format, wider angle, larger images, larger gallery space. Everything needed to be big to match the bigness of everything in the area. Starting with the vastness of the sea to the west, there is then the vastness of the area, which was claimed by the vastness of the power of eminent domain, for a vast price of $60 million (a price which would have vastly skyrocketed in the past 48 years), all because of the vastness of the noise caused by the vastness of the newly flying commercial jets because air traffic was expanding around this time. I felt incredibly small when considering all of this, and immediately empathized with the El Segundo Blue Butterfly. It’s terrifying how little control we really have in our own space. I also found this empathy with the few remains of the fox roadkill I photographed; killed by human/machine intervention and moved to the sidewalk, the fox had been left to decay for over a year, as discovered by the Google Street View screencap I included next to my image. The native inhabitants of these dunes are continually ignored by the surrounding human inhabitants while they bicker over what should be done to the land.
Besides bigness, the other qualifier of the space that I clinged to was the blueness. I first thought of the words “where depth means blue” when in an airplane flying to Montreal, the same flight I shot the video of Surfridge from above. I noticed that the higher we ascended, the bluer the farthest land from me became. I could barely make out a horizon because of the atmospheric blueness that gradated the sky to the land. The words came to me and I felt an instant connection to Surfridge and my photographs.
There is an overwhelming depth to the Surfridge area that I’ve only just begun to uncover in research, the main depth I am interested in being the blue butterflies. They were the first inhabitants of these dunes, yet whatever I have read about Surfridge firstly grieves over the lost neighborhood for the rich and famous.