Don James photo
Hugh Holland photo
Ever since I read Mike Davis' City Of Quartz: Excavating The Future in Los Angeles, I've had a minor obsession with what Southern California was and what it could have been. I recently got to flick through Don James' Surfing San Onofre to Point Dume: 1936-1942 with my seventy-one year old father-in-law who grew up in the South Bay area. He had a classic tale of being out on a big day, all alone in the early fifties, on an obscenely long and heavy wooden board. He said he remembers taking a big wave on the head, trying to manhandle the board and thinking to himself, I'm either going to be a surfer or I'm going to work." He chose work. Like with my father-in-law, it seems the hedonistic indulgences of utopic beach-life were crushed under the pressures of modern capitalism. Mike Davis details the subsequent coming dystopic nightmare from a Marxist yet effective perspective.
Whenever I do go down to LA, I still see 'cracks in this facade,' 'signs of life' and rememnants of the promised land. Yet, ultimately we can only conclude that Los Angeles was the victim of its own appeal.
While the Garden had long-since been paved over by the 1970s, the Beach as Utopia was still a culture to strive for. For me, growing up in a fishing village in South Wales that was surrendering its own innocence during my childhood, there couldn't have been a higher aspiration. Hence, my interest in Hugh Holland's Locals Only: California Skateboarding, 1975-1978. (thanks to Skate And Annoy for the tip) Holland's photographs, not only document the salad days of a socal youth subculture but offer a refreshing change from other representations of that era. It seems his photographs are less about documenting the actual 'action' and more about capturing the dreamy atmosphere.
But then came the 1980s...
"I Know one day the world will end
but not before I go out and shred!"
Surf and Destroy by B'last
Soon we will be grinding on the ruins of where the end began, seeking to re-grow our gills, and go slithering back to a picture perfect Don James ideal.