When I finished shooting all of the bridges over the Los Angeles River I thought for sure I had exhausted what I could do with them visually, but it seems I was wrong, or at least I still find myself drawn to them as subject matter. In 2009 I began shooting the footbridges that mostly cross Los Angeles County’s freeways as well as other highways and byways. They had been popping up on my radar for awhile by then until I could no longer resist their “pings” and had to go back with my camera.
Getting from here to there, from point A to point B, from where you are to where you want or need to be can take no more than a few minutes by car. But if you don’t drive, you’ll either have to rely on public transportation, if it goes from A to B, or walk. In a city like Los Angeles, circumscribed by a multitude of freeways that trip of a few minutes can expand into a major part of the day. It must have seemed like a good idea: connect two halves of a neighborhood that have been divided by a freeway with bridges accessible only to pedestrians. Instead of having to hike or drive to the bridge designed to convey vehicular traffic down the way to get to the other side, residents would be able to walk across at conveniently spaced locations without having to deal with cars, buses or trucks. Reality has turned out to be something else.
Originally built with nothing more than chest-high walls on either side of the entire length of these bridges, most have since been completely enclosed in chain link to deter the throwing of objects, and at times living things, into the midst of the traffic below and keep taggers from climbing out onto the freeway signage to apply their graffiti. The concave condition of much of this chain link and the continuing proliferation of street art on every surface available is testimony to the folly of such a scheme.
Crossing these footbridges is to be assaulted. The older ones, presumably built in the ’50s and ’60s, are closer to the roadway below and between the bridges’ staircases or ramps located at either end. When traffic is moving at high speed the roar is deafening, punctuated by squealing brakes and honking horns. Speech between people next to each other is nearly impossible. Pedestrians become acutely aware of vehicles hurtling beneath them only a few feet away. At the north entrance to one that spans the 5 Freeway in Downey the outer lane of traffic appears close enough to touch. A layer of soot blankets everything.
At times it has required considerable faith to use these bridges. A few have been permanently closed off in response to their appropriation by gangs and other criminals who would exploit the vulnerability of innocents interested simply in getting from one side of the freeway to the other. Motorists below drive by, oblivious to events unfolding above them, while any sounds of a struggle would be completely absorbed by the unyielding white noise of the freeway. Enough time has passed since these closures that the entrances to these bridges are now choked by dense ivy. The revenge of foliage.
© Douglas Hill
Los Angeles, 2014