Mossless in America
Kathya Landeros is a young American artist who photographs her family and Latino populations around the country. Her series Verdant Land alludes to the long history of agricultural work that has led Mexicans to the United States in search of a better life.
Mossless: Where did you grow up?
Kathya Landeros: I grew up in the Sacramento Valley of Northern California, surrounded by farmland. There was a period where I spent a lot of time with my maternal grandmother and great-grandmother in central Mexico. My parents sent my older sister and I to a parochial school that sat on top of a very steep hill in the central highlands of Mexico.
Does your family appear in your photos?
There is a portrait of my grandmother in my series Verdant Land. She worked as a farm laborer when she was younger and first came to this country.I am also photographing my family for a separate, ongoing body of work in California.
You mention in your artist statement that a lot of the settlements you photograph would be ghost towns if it weren’t for their Latino populations. What are these towns like?
The part of California where I am from is some of the most fertile land in our country, making the people who tend to it (a majority being Latino) quite productive. The land is very flat, and yet there is always evidence of rolling foothills and mountains never too far away. The sun also seems to produce the most intense heat and light here—really beautiful California light. This is especially true in the summer when the sun is high and its light is drawn out late into the evening. The land is usually laid out in a similar rectilinear fashion: a main business drag with homes surrounding it. The homes are enveloped by expansive farmland, which is the most defining feature that can be seen from the highway. When I think of these towns the paintings of Richard Diebenkorn and some of the other Bay Area Figurative Movement painters come to mind. Although their work is not specific to the towns I am photographing in, their rendition of light and geometry very much describes the West I know. Such a quiet view of the land also offers an interesting foil to the mythos of the rugged American West of cowboys.
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Los Angeles Is Miserable: An Introduction
The second decade of the 21st century might be remembered as a golden age for the city of Los Angeles. In the past five years, America’s second largest metropolis has seenrecord-low crime rates, a slow-and-steady expansion of mass transit options, a rapidly gentrifying urban center that some are calling the “next great American city,” and two NBA championships for our beloved Lakers. Yet a large portion of the city is still totally depressed like it’s 1992 all over again. All those pretty winter landscapes you see on Instagram are actually a sign that 2013 was California’s driest year in recorded history, and that we’ll all be brushing our teeth with toilet water if it doesn’t rain soon. Sure, crime is down and downtown has a bunch of fancy new hotels, but a few blocks from those hotels is the biggest homeless encampment in the nation—Skid Row.
A private, independent commission endorsed by former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa calledLA2020 recently released a controversial report claiming that almost 40 percent of citizens in Los Angeles currently live in “misery.” What qualifies as misery? The report says that poverty and lack of access to necessary services does the trick. It takes only a cursory glance around in any direction, on any street in this city to see the truth of that statistic. Forty percent is a major chunk of a city that boasts a population of over 4 million people—plus neverending suburban sprawl—but the number of people who live in misery in LA is probably even greater than that.
Can a Motley Crew of Felons Save California from Burning?
You always plead. Statistically speaking. There’s literally no end—today in the paper, they’ve got a quote from a guy doing life for armed robbery—to what they can do to you if you fight, and anyway most of the time they have the documents, the surveillance videos, the gun under the passenger seat, and you take what they give you. Because the number they come to you with—ten years with half, eight years at 80 percent, it’s all very baroque—is only the beginning. The higher the number, the rougher the yard, and in California, this second set of numbers—level-three yards, level-four yards—can denote their own kind of punishment.
Justin pled, and he had never heard of the Conservation Camp program when he and his wife, Kelly, were sentenced in Fresno County, California, for running a massive mortgage-fraud operation.
“They came into court wearing street clothes,” read the local ABC affiliate’s story on the hearing in which Justin was sentenced to almost ten years in prison, “but they left in handcuffs.” The article ran with a photo of the pair in court: Kelly looks straight at the judge, grim and defiant. Justin, turning abjectly toward his wife, slouching in a green polo under which protrudes a hint of potbelly, looks broken.
When I met him in August, Justin—who asked that I not use his last name—was wearing an inmate’s orange jumpsuit, though we were 20 miles from the nearest prison. He was sitting at one of the long plastic dining tables in the center of the Tuolumne City Incident Command Post, an impossibly busy firefighting base built in a park in the center of tiny Tuolumne City, on the edge of the Stanislaus National Forest in California’s Western Sierra.
Corporations Are Cashing in on California’s Prison Overcrowding Crisis
For years, California’s massive, out-of-control inmate population has been a cash cow for the prison industry. Now, with the state being forced by the courts to reduce the number of men and women it’s keeping in boxes, the prison profiteers—including both corporations and prison guard unions—are trying to squeeze every cent they can out of the government.
The number of prisoners in California peaked in 2006 at 163,000, which was far too many for the system’s 33 detention centers to handle—inmates were sleeping on bunk beds in gyms converted into improvised dorms. In 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that these conditions constituted cruel and unusual punishment and ordered the state to reduce the prison population to 110,000.
Officials have been trying to get that number down by shipping inmates to county jails and out-of-state facilities, as well as letting a few go out on parole. But in late September, the state still had nearly 10,000 more bodies in prison than the courts want. Governor Jerry Brown has been frantically negotiating with judges to give him more time to comply with their order; simultaneously, he’s been desperately seeking a way to reduce the prison population without letting anyone go free. Most recently, he cut a deal to pay private prison contractor the GEO Group $150 million over five years to take 1,400 inmates off the state’s hands.
The white beaches, it turns out, are white because they’re made up of the pulverized bones of millions of dead fish.
—Jamie Lee Curtis Taete went to the Sultan Sea, California’s Post-Apocalyptic Beach Town
I Went to California’s Post-Apocalyptic Beach Town
The Salton Sea, California’s largest lake by volume, exists entirely by accident.
It was created in the early 1900s after a heavy rain caused the Colorado River to burst through the banks of an irrigation canal, sending millions of gallons of water into a previously dried out lake bed in the California desert.
A screenshot from an early Salton Sea promotional film (via)
Initially, the new, giant, inland sea was a blessing.
In the 50s and 60s, it was a booming tourist attraction. Marketed as a “miracle in the desert,” it became Palm Springs but with beaches. It would regularly attract over half a million visitors annually.
Yacht clubs sprang up on the shores, people flocked to fish and waterski, and stars like the Beach Boys and Sonny Bono would visit to drive speedboats and swim.
Property was so in demand that real estate agents would fly people up in light aircraft and sell them property from the air without ever landing to view it.
But it wouldn’t last.
The sea quickly became something of an ecological nightmare soup. The Salton Sea is surrounded by nearly half a million acres of agricultural land, and water from this land runs off into the sea, taking with it salt and fertilizers and pesticides. By the 70s, the water was becoming too hostile to sustain much of any kind of life, and the shoreline became littered with thousands and thousands of dead fish.
The smell of these dead fish combined with rotting algal blooms, making the water smell so bad that nobody wanted to go anywhere near it.
The Beach Boys left. Sonny Bono left. Everyone else left, and the Salton Sea fell into misery.
Just Close Down California’s Prisons Already
I point out as often as possible that I think my incarcerated experience differed greatly from the average locked-up cracker. First and foremost, New York State, where I was behind bars, has one of the more efficient and regulated prison systems around—you never see its prisons on any of those trashy Shit Is So Crazy in Jail reality TV shows that are everywhere these days. And while most states are dealing with overcrowding in their prisons, New York is closing facilities, which is probably why I’ve been at a lot of sports where most of the guys were in a single bunk. I’ve seen these poor bastards on TV who are TRIPLE BUNKING about ten inches away from the next triplet of stinky anuses, and the cubicles are in a medium-sized room stuffed with 300 dudes, some of whom are bound to be real undesirables. A big dorm in New York prisons only had around 60 guys and that was like hell on earth to me, so relatively speaking I was lucky.
Meanwhile, in California they’ve been desperately trying to figure out what to do with theirfucked-up, overfull prisons—they’re even letting some old guys out early, I heard. FYI, this is what inmates fantasize about… I’ve had many dreams where I’m chillin’ with no pants on and bags of shit weaved into my hair so I don’t lose them and then the CO yells, “BURYKILL! ON THE RELEASE! YOU GOIN HOME, CRACKA!”
What happens to the men and women who get released when the system spits ‘em out? I bet the grant writers are getting fuckin’ busy trying to get the government to shell out ducats for halfway houses and rehabs, and maybe they’ll start putting some of the zanier heads in hospitals for the mentally handicapped, where they shoulda been in the first place.
Pee-Wee Herman’s Dinosaurs Are Actually a Creationist Museum
The Cabazon Dinosaurs are a couple of giant concrete dinosaurs located out in the desert near Palm Springs, California.
They’re best known for their appearence in the movie Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, but have also featured in Paris, Texas, Fallout: New Vegas, and the video for the song “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”
You may have also heard of them described as “those big dinosaur things you go past on the way to Coachella.”
The Cabazon Dinosaurs as they appear today.
The dinosaurs were built back in the 60s by a former Knott’s Berry Farm model sculptor named Claude K. Bell as a roadside attraction to attract people to his restaurant. However, after Claude’s death, they were sold to a group who turned them into a creationist museum.
I decided to take a visit last week.
The theories put forth are all fairly standard creationist-museum stuff: evolution isn’t real; God created everything, etc., etc.
As always with these type of places, the “facts” are presented in dense, impenetrable blocks of text. Like the sign pictured above, which contains easy-breezy sentences like: “Evidently a tectonic event fluidized an unconsolidated sand deposit.”
Presumably they do this in the hopes that people won’t spend too long picking apart what they’re saying, and just assume that the point they’re making is true.
This museum differs from other creationist museums in one major way, though. As they believe that dinosaurs probably still exist. Here’s why:
-The Loch Ness Monster, which is actually a plesiosaur, was spotted 52 times in 1933 alone.
- In 1910, the New York Herald ran an article titled, “Is a Brontosaurus Roaming Africa’s Wilds?”