Are you thinking about the 2020 Census yet? Your Federal Government is! And so was PR Newswire with this photo assignment!
Although I have worked for government contractors in the past, this is the first time I have actually been sworn in as a government contractor. The rules of what I can say and show are simple, nothing about the project I worked on for the 2020 Census, nor the information shown on display screens, monitors, ID badges, etc. Therefore, those elements have been blurred. These photos, along with those from other test sites across the country, are to be used in training programs, for public education, and in press and publicity materials. Part of the need was to build a library of images from different cities so that materials may be localized.
What I can say is this, your participation in the U.S. Census is extremely important. It is the basis for virtually all domestic Federal spending on everything from infrastructure like road repair, to community-based programs to help those most in need. The data compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau is used to make forecasts for, among other things; economy, transportation, income, population, housing, jobs, education and geography.
This was a two-day photo shoot, the first of which was spent mostly inside the Census Bureau offices to represent a classroom training session and day-to-day office work. Once the film crew had what they needed, we moved outside, first to a nearby rooftop, where we had to deal with hazy skies due to a storm on the way in.
Next we went downstairs to get street level photos.
Day 2 started with a scene at a residence in South Pasadena, in a neighborhood of some pretty significant historic homes. Driving to the set, you had to pass by this Victorian home originally built for President James A. Garfield, who was assassinated before it was completed, making the first resident his widow. More recently, it belonged to the sister of music icon Madonna.
The day began normally enough with a simulated house call by a representative of the U. S. Census Bureau.
Afterwards, the director of the video shoot wanted to go into Los Angeles and film as many different socioeconomic communities we could get to in the short time of a few hours. Our time was limited as we had an appointment for the afternoon that would open this photographer’s eyes to the plight of America’s homeless … I had no clue what I was in for!
Before that, however, our first stop was Mariachi Plaza in East Los Angeles, a colorful place for locals to gather and while away the afternoons, and hold music festivals or other events on important cultural dates.
Then a short stop in an about to gentrify warehouse area just east of Chinatown. There are a bunch of artists in the area and the murals are some of the best in Los Angeles!
Not to mention a colorful bus or two we were invited to photograph!
Next stop was our afternoon appointment, which I only now learned, was on Skid Row. Let’s just say that the residents of Skid Row are not necessarily camera friendly, and unfortunate incidents with happy-go-lucky camera crews nosing around, uninvited and most certainly unwelcome, are well documented.
In spite of the appearance of the photo below, our cameras were not hidden. For this particular photo, I was sitting in the back seat of a car shooting through the front windshield as we approached our destination. Just a chance shot not intended to be taken by stealth. Because I saw the light conditions when reviewing the image in-camera, this is in fact the only frame fired. When I first saw this photo in the edit bay I thought, “poor quality shot” from the polarization of the windshield. Yet its grittiness and desaturated look has grown on me to where it represents a signature look for the day. It has not been digitally enhanced, although a couple of faces were blurred.
Unlike those happy-go-lucky camera crews, our director, from Washington D.C., had made arrangements with a local business in a very well guarded building (or was that for us?!) so we could photograph and film from their rooftop. As someone who shoots mostly on the West side of Los Angeles, this view from the East of downtown was exciting for me as a photographer.
Photographing city views on all sides was fun, looking northeast to the mountains …
North to City Hall, the tall white building to the right of center …
Look West and play with the 300mm zoom a bit on some antique neon signs …
Then move to the South side of the building and it hits you. That smell! Street life. It’s unmistakable … and almost overwhelming at first. We were across the street from The Midnight Mission, whose volunteers have been working tirelessly on the streets of Los Angeles’ Skid Row since 1914.
To a first time “visitor,” the conditions in their courtyard were horrific. After just pressing the limits of my zoom lens, I chose not to go in too close here, to protect the privacy of the individuals in the photographs. Because individuals they are, each with their own story of how they ended up here. Not all are stereotypical drug dealers and criminals.
Many are just down on their luck, long term unemployed, and out of resources, yet still choose to hold their heads high even in the midst of such a challenging environment.
I’m simply going to say that conditions like I saw on the streets of Skid Row are just not acceptable in the wealthiest country on the planet. It is a situation that is growing at an alarming rate and needs to be addressed by us all. The dichotomy of looking west and seeing the shining skyline of Los Angeles, then taking a closer look over the side and seeing that it’s not all so shiny after all, was not lost upon me.
Our day was filled with contrasting scenes from historic Victorian mansions to living hard on the streets of America’s inner cities. As we headed back north to our vehicles, conversation was muted as thoughts were mixed about what we had experienced throughout the day.
Leaving Skid Row, we passed Union Station, which opened in 1939.
Next door is the U.S. Post Office Terminal Annex, which opened in 1940.
As we continued north, we passed through Chinatown, an area rich in ethnic culture.
Back in South Pasadena, MetroRail seemed to welcome us back with a little dose of community spirit.
While not as glamorous as my work on the red carpets of Hollywood, this kind of photo shoot is so much more satisfying. With the hope that these images will be used to help change things for the better, I can’t ask for any more than that, ever!
Click the thumbnails below
to view full-size photos.
- U. S. Census Bureau
- Census Bureau Reaches Milestone on the Road to 2020 Census (Press Release 4/1/2016)
- Mariachi Plaza
- The Midnight Mission
- Chinatown Los Angeles
- MTA Rolls Out Plan to Double L.A.’s Rail Network
- PR Newswire
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