While I’m not far away from an old, creepy mansion, much of my small town on the outskirts of LA County goes all out for Halloween. This is a fairly recent development, and for the first time I took the Leica M240 out to capture some of the ongoing decorations. I’d kinda love it if my town became known as Halloween Town.
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.
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.
All images are Copyrighted by Matt Lara (Matt Lara Photography) and may not be reproduced without permission.
I realize my posts are pretty heavy on the black and white images, when normally I enjoy vibrancy, bright colors, lots of contrast. The truth is the last few weeks have been a doozy for me personally. Much of where I’m feeling mentally has been marked by a sense of melancholy. The bleak skies of Southern California during fire season. The tilt of the earth as seasons change and shadows lengthen. On a fairly decent day, one that was still blazing hot, I took my camera out near my old hometown of Ontario and snapped this vintage bowling alley, Bowlium. Only to realize of course that the Bobcat Fire had sent up a new plum of smoke and seemed to be heading toward my home.
All is well at the moment. My main objective in a very chaotic time is still a lot of self care.
I have a family history of being stuck in travel destinations. I’ve been trying to make my way home from my family home out in the desert of Arizona. A small river house on the Colorado River.
High gusts of wind for two days have made that imposssible. Not that I wanted to drive home to smoked hellscape that is the ever-intensifying Fire season of Southern California.
I’ve had one last decent evening in the desert. The temperature dropped reasonably below 118 degrees, and the winds calmed. I saw the sunset into the smoky West…a few minutes sooner, it seems, than the previous night.
It’s happening now. That short crawl towards standard time. That change in hour that I despise each year. I can’t think of anyone who actually enjoys the shorter days. The only good thing about it is the slanted, surreal light of the Southwest creating shadows that don’t exist anywhere else.
Most of my photography began with taking street photos. I had just moved to NYC and had a small point and shoot camera, this was long before smart phones.
My stepdad, also a photographer, saw some snapshots I’d emailed him and insisted I keep shooting, and eventually gave me a hand-me-down DSLR.
The pandemic hit right as several years of my photography work with clients was starting to pay off. I’d spent a long time building a decent portfolio of work doing corporate events and portraits, and wasn’t doing much street photo work.
Like many freelance artists, I struggled with what to do as I faced an entire half of my year of canceled shoots and plans down the drain.
I have a few cameras I shoot with now, some that I’ve inherited. One being a Leica Q, which I’ve been taking out as often as I can during an intense summer of heat and California wildfires.
Safety is, of course, my priority. And while pandemic fatigue sets in and people on social media are posting group events forgoing masks or social distancing, I think people are still home and lonely. Loneliness isn’t exactly a bad thing to me. I hope I can convey that in these shots.