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An Occupy Oakland protester spraypaints the side of a building during a march on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2011, in Oakland, Calif. Except for a couple incidents of graffiti and minor confrontations with police officers, the protesters, who numbered about 1000, remained lawful. Relatives of an earthquake victim are led away from ruins by a Policeman, [...]

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Golden State Freeway Looking Southeast Over San Fernando Pass

I-5, 60 and Soto Street, Looking Northeast at Dusk

Looking Northwest, Somewhere Near Torrance

Untitled/Hollywood Northwest

Untitled/Downtown Dusk


A clever feat of double binding elevates Michael Light’s latest photography book LA Day/LA Night to the level of sculptural object. A book with two front covers, and two spines, it can be read from either end and then turned over to start the other. Light is a master of the macro view. Here, he reaches for a state of sublimity shooting from the open side of a helicopter with a medium format roll film camera in his hand. Light is enthralled with the unique light of the Los Angeles sprawl, all reflectivity and glare. Light began making aerial photography seriously in 2000, and was drawn to the wide open spaces of the West. A project on Los Angeles was a natural progression. Light says:

“LA Day was shot in about two days. I wanted to break certain photographic rules and image directly into the sun. I wanted the highest-key kind of pictures that I could make, where the whites just almost float up and lift off the page, but yet still with black that could moor things back down. I printed to deliberately lift the skies and overdeveloped the film so that reflective surfaces glow somewhat. People will often ask if the film was infrared—-it’s not-—because of the way surfaces almost radiate their own sources of light.”

The smog itself becomes a subject of this visual story, the product and the result of the car-carved landscape. Lawrence Weschler’s conversation with Light from the preface yields this gem about the peculiar magic of airborne particles in Los Angeles:

“I once talked to Glen Cass, an environmental and chemical engineer at Caltech, about his interest in the optical properties of smog. He didn’t care what it did to his lungs, he just wondered why when he went on the roof of the geophysics building at Caltech and looked toward the San Gabriel Mountains—the tallest rise from basin to peak anywhere in the world, and only two miles away—he couldn’t see a thing. So he does all this work and he figures out that there are different sizes of emissions particles, little tiny ones, bigger ones and the biggest ones. He realizes that it’s the middle ones that happen to be exactly the size of the wavelength of light. And so light bounces off them—at that point he said to me that “it’s like having a billion suns in your eye.” If the sun is behind you and you’re looking at the mountains, you do have a billion suns—but then I have a friend who pointed out to me that it’s actually a billion moons. And then Glen said to me, “The name we’ve invented for this”—I got ready to write down a really complicated scientific term—“is airlight.” Airlight! Such a great name.”

Photos courtesy Radius Books and Michael Light.

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