Photo Diary: January Windstorm Aftermath

The first month of the year has been eventful in many ways. For me it hasn’t been very eventful photographically. I’ve had jobs cancel due to pandemic worries. I’ve found myself once again preoccupied with household chores and projects that somehow never got finished during the actual lockdowns. The camera has been down.

Last night, however, the Santa Ana winds came through–hard. I was born and raised here in Southern California, and never have I experienced winds like these. Gusts of over 60 mph blasting through my quiet little suburban enclave nestled up against the Angeles National Forest. I didn’t sleep well as I witnessed helplessly the winds tear apart my backyard, moving furniture and toppling pottery. I’ve always taken comfort in knowing that on the hillside below our home are very old and very tall trees that protect us from the elements. Imagine my shock when I looked out the window during the storm to see that several had fallen into a neighbor’s property, damaging their fence and crushing their patio.

In the morning, all seemed to be still as I woke up from a few hours of sleep. I photographed the fallen trees above.

Today meant a lot of clean up and some rest. I heard crews around town cleaning up the destruction from last night. Later on I stopped by an old park that I often photograph. Several large old pines fell in the winds, completely uprooted. Several folks stopped to see the massive roots shoved above ground.

Meditations in film

I lost my stepdad to cancer a few years ago, and besides being a huge guiding force in my life, we did a lot of photography together. He left behind a trove of cameras and gear, including a few film cameras that were loaded with film he’d already used for a few shots. One of these was a Leica M7. It took me awhile (it seems a little too long, now) to finish the roll of Kodak Tri-X 400 that was inside. I actually had no idea what film it was until I had finished it out.

With the recent passing of legendary photographer, Tom Stoddart, I’ve been spending time thinking of some of the most celebrated masters of street photography (Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, Elliot Erwitt, Vivian Maier) and how mundane they might have felt their everyday lives might have been. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve struggled with creative stagnation during this extended time in pandemic. How did they stay so close to their work and still keep it interesting?

Walking about with this loaded M7 was a change up. It felt like driving blind. I’m old enough to remember shooting film, but never with manual settings. What film was in this camera? What lens do I use? Am I going to completely mess this up while unloading the camera?

Turns out I actually did completely mess up a roll of film in another camera my stepdad had loaded. Not my greatest of moments. The world will never know what photos he’d gotten there. The shots he’d gotten on this roll were either blurry or completely gray. I’ll never know the when and the how there. But I did find a small local photo lab that processed and scanned the shots managed to get. I have to say, I’m enjoying the results way too much.

I think of these as mundane, but close to my mindset. The solitude of the times meeting my prolonged grief meeting my creative mind searching to keep photography interesting to me.

Matt

November Photo Walks

The days in November seem to quicken as they go by, probably since they do. And this is made worse by the coming of Standard Time (the fall-back time change). People seem to love the extra hour of sleep, while I bemoan the shortened days. The sun sets around 4:45 p.m., and I can’t get anything done. I do revel in the changing light, though. Everything starts to become tilted and surreal. Dali-esque shadows stretch lengthily across streets and sidewalks.

I’ve been busy with client work since the world as started to reopen again (thank you, vaccines). I’m grateful for the work, and it reminds me to get back to shooting personal work again. I’ve been creatively depressed during the various lockdowns and, while I can’t stand the crowds back out again, I’ve been taking the few extra moments to go on photo walks with whatever camera I have on hand.

Acentos Bienvenidos at The Citadel

A few weeks ago I got to photograph Acentos Bienvenidos, a celebration of Latin/Hispanic Heritage Month at the Citadel Shopping Mall in Commerce, CA. The celebration was outdoor with COVID safety precautions in place, and featured performances by Yamila Cuban Latin Band, Heart of Samba Brazilian dancers, and Mariachi Arcoiris de Los Angeles. The event hosts were Valentina and Alexander Rodriguez. Enjoy this selection of photos…

I was particularly moved by Mariachi Arcoiris as they are the worlds first all LGBTQ+ mariachi, also featuring the first transgender woman in mariachi.

This beautiful event was presented by Hulu and constructed by the talented folks at AKJOHNSTON Group.

Farmers market tones

I have to admit that finding any sense of creative flow over the last eight or so months has been a challenge. The summer was hot, arid, and felt long. The remnants of “pandemic brain” have slowly started to recede as I find I have things to look forward to once again. As the world seems to surge back to activity. As my COVID vaccine does its job, allowing me to be in a world to some extent.

A short visit to my weekly local farmers market. An exploration of tone.

These are my fall colors thus far.

Palm Springs palms

Hello, summer.

An early heatwave hit Southern California and for some reason I thought it a good idea to hit the desert for a weekend in Palm Springs at a friend’s house. This is normally calm, relaxing, and fun with plenty of libations flowing by a cool pool.

It was somewhat challenging this time around. The temperatures lingered around 116 degrees all day. It was so hot, the pool water resembled a lukewarm bath. My friend lightly burned his bare feet on the hot patio, and we even had a few power outages.

Still, as pandemic worries slow down steadily, and as the world starts or reopen, it was nice to walk around (yes, in hot noon sun) with the Leica TL2 taking in bars full of chattering patrons under the palms of Palm Springs.

Palm Springs spritz.

A Break In The Rain

It’s mid-March and I’m reading one piece after another about being a year into this pandemic, at least in the US. Much of these sound familiar. The brain fog, the struggling with meaninglessness. Me, I often feel like I want to be a go-with-the-flow guy–to take these prolonged months as they come and try to make the most of them–except the flow often doesn’t really want to go with me.

A break in the rain

Small moments of chaos break out. Our elderly dogs eliminate on the floor. Water leaks under the sink. I’ve become excellent at clearing decades of clutter Marie Kondo-style into donation boxes, only to have to drive all over town looking for a thrift store that’ll actually take them. (Note: thrift stores are overwhelmed with donations and are usually full by noon.) As a freelancer, any sort of work or creative project usually ends in a false start.

My complaints are little. I’m navigating much of this with enough privilege to usually keep these things to myself. So when small chaos seems to reign, there goes my flow. Any kind of flow.

A walk per day keeps the fog at bay. Just like our usual March here in SoCal, the rain has been off and on. A small break in the rain makes for a lovely iPhone shot. And maybe some hope that as more of us get vaccinated, this storm might actually break.

A Garden in the Rain

A closeup photo of seed pods in the rain

” ‘Twas just a garden in the rain

Close to a little leafy lane

A touch of color ‘neath skies of grey…”

A Garden In The Rain (Carroll Gibbons / James Dyrenforth)

A very rainy week or so here in Southern California. One of my favorite times to take my Leica outside. Carefully, of course, as droplets are still dripping off of things.

I haven’t posted anything since last year, but feeling a sense of re-focus on creative pursuits. Pandemic life and political crises have occupied my mind almost non-stop since who knows when.

I know we aren’t in a clear space yet, but it’s nice to feel a storm has come to wash away and refresh.

A very familiar sunset

A beautiful sunset over the Colorado River in Parker, Arizona.
Sunset over the Colorado River in Parker, Arizona.

I wish I could be dancing in the streets right now after a very tense week of election stress. I’ve always found elections to be stressful but this one, of course, nearly pushed me to the edge.

I’m at the Arizona house to de-stress. Yes, that Arizona. And here watching a very familiar sunset again over the River. These sunsets that I’ve been watching since I was a small kid.

Sun setting over a dark and troubled time. Sun rising over a new day where the work is only begin. To heal. To begin anew.

Wildfire damage in natural forest land.

Photographing Damage From The El Dorado Fire

A few weeks ago I made my way up to a special place, a place I’ve thought of as home since I was 14. A place where I still return to every summer to work with a small arts non-profit (www.campbravo.org). A place that was nearly burned down by a massive wildfire.

Camp de Benneville Pines is a small UU camp located near Angelus Oaks, CA. The El Dorado Fire started in far away Yucaipa and was allegedly started by careless people setting off an explosion as part of a so-called gender reveal stunt–in a dry grassy field, during a record heat wave.

The wildfire raged into the hillside directly above camp, but the camp itself was spared. Thanks to many hardworking firefighters who skillfully fought the blaze even as it entered camp in some spots. The very thought of this special place burning down due to such carelessness was enough to have me spiraling.

Reading that they were seeking local volunteers, I drove up there to donate some photography hopefully to help illustrate just how bad the damage is, and how badly this tiny camp needs extra support in order to stay afloat during such impossible times. The camp executive director took me up the hillside to the fire damage is. Where once was a beautiful, lush forest hillside now stands an ashen waste land.

Thankfully, there are some trees still standing. But the destruction this fire wreaked spans tens of thousands of acres.

Growing up in SoCal, I knew about earthquakes of course. I knew about fire season. It’s only been in the last 10 or 15 years that fire season has become something else entirely. Months on end of endlessly destructive wildfires, apocalyptic skies, and terrible air quality.

My hope is that a few of the snapshots show just how badly we need to address our current climate crisis and its effects. In the meantime, if you would consider visiting the website for Camp de Benneville Pines and supporting them with a small donation. On top of being a small business having to navigate being shut down all year, they are now having to manage soil erosion and mudslide risk.

A happy cabin and tall trees spared from any fire damage.

All images are Copyrighted by Matt Lara (Matt Lara Photography) and may not be reproduced without permission.

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