2009 This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land, Issues of Eminent Domain

Photography by Don Normark

Exhibition Dates: October 2 – December 19, 2009

In 1948, inspired by the work of photographer Cartier Bresson, and the emerging work of photo-journalist W. Eugene Smith, Don Normark went searching for a subject matter other than the advertising assignments given by his school, The Art Center, in Los Angeles. He happened upon Chavez Ravine, an area of three Mexican-American neighborhoods less than two miles from Los Angeles City Hall. He felt at one with the lively simplicity of these communities that offered a retreat from the gritty city of L.A. He befriended individuals as he photographed their faces, focused on their embrace of daily life, finding sweet, empathic moments of expression that monumentalized their resilient and timeless existence.

The year after Normark made his photographs, the city, using the power of eminent domain, evicted all residents of the ravine to make way for low-cost housing. The next city council, steeped in the McCarthy era, thought that low-cost housing sounded like creeping Socialism, and canceled the housing contracts. The land, instead, was given to Walter O’Malley, who was seeking a new home for the Brooklyn Dodgers, the stadium, that now occupies the land. The people of the ravine still meet once a year for an annual dance and picnic, to salute their lost communities, and to honor their lives. Normark’s photographs of the once beautiful ravine and its people, stand as a testament to the community that once flourished on ‘this land.’