Stephen Lee: South LA

Portfolio

Cause: www.stand.la -- An environmental justice coalition of community groups that seeks to end neighborhood drilling to protect the health and safety of Angelenos on the front line of oil extraction.

Stephen Lee vertical portrait.jpg
Jefferson and Budlong Ave. - 11'' x 17'' - Digital 

Jefferson and Budlong Ave. - 11'' x 17'' - Digital 

There’s an oil drill in my neighborhood. It’s been there for decades now, poorly hidden behind a vine-covered wall and some ugly topiary shrubs. In order to extract whatever oil remains these days, the drillsite owners have to pump a toxic cocktail of chemicals into a spiderweb of channels beneath my neighborhood--beneath homes, churches, and elementary schools. The chemicals find their way into the air and soil and water, and they make people sick. Nosebleeds or respiratory problems are common, and cancer and miscarriage rates are unusually high. Folks have banded together to protest this injustice, but response from the city has largely been indifferent. Progress is happening, but it’s been slow.

The Nature Garden - 11'' x 17'' - Digital 

The Nature Garden - 11'' x 17'' - Digital 

I seek refuge from this urban sprawl at the Natural History Museum’s Nature Garden, just down the street. When I’m there, it feels like I’ve stepped backwards in time.The garden is filled with endemic trees and plants and insects, the kind that were common in Los Angeles before we paved it over. I sometimes wonder about what will happen in the future once the drill site is gone. I imagine the vacant lot being rewilded with native plants, an act of penance of sorts for what happened there. That’s my hope, anyway.