L.A. Chicana/Chicano Murals under Siege


Anton Wagner, Looking North from City Hall Tower, 1933
Anton Wagner, Looking North from City Hall Tower, 1933
Los Angeles: 1932–33 by Anton Wagner, PC 17, California Historical Society
October 2018 – March 2019
San Francisco / Los Angeles: Early Photographs from the California Historical Society Collection

California Boomtowns: Photographs of San Francisco and Los Angeles examines how photographers visualized the promises and perils of urban life in the Golden State's two most prominent cities in the one hundred years following California's achievement of statehood in 1850. Their work encouraged perceptions of California as a civilized place and raised important questions that continue to be relevant today about what cities should look like, how they should be organized, and who they are for. Of course, the answers varied from San Francisco to Los Angeles, at different moments in time and depending on who was behind the camera and why.

Featuring works by both well-known and anonymous photographers, the exhibition invites visitors to look critically at photographs made for a broad range of purposes, from civic boosterism and real estate development, to industry, art, and social reform. The earliest selection is an 1851 daguerreotype panorama picturing San Francisco's harbor. For audiences that paid to see it on display back east, the panorama made visible all the opportunities and abundant natural resources that the push westward promised. Among the later selections is a group of photographs taken by German geographer Anton Wagner who traversed Depression-era Los Angeles on foot with his Zeiss Ikon camera. The hundreds of photographs he made were research material for his 1935 book--the first urban study of the sprawling metropolis—in which he marveled that the city appeared to have "no beginning nor end."

From pictures of San Francisco on fire following the 1906 earthquake to photographs of the nascent Hollywoodland housing development in the 1920s, there are many gems that this exhibition will bring to light. It will be, along with related digital initiatives and public programming, a crucial step in our efforts to bring the history of urban photography in California to the fore.

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