The story that follows is long and a bit convoluted, but it’s necessary to understand the situation and my reasoning behind releasing the images herein.
On August 29, I decided to go shoot some breaking-news images of the Station Fire, a massive wildfire conflagration which continues to burn as I write this in early October. I spent a significant amount of that day inside the forest shooting. The forest was closed to the public and I was admitted as media – told I was “on my own” which was just fine with me. Late in the afternoon, as I was making my way back out, I came across a rather eerie looking scene at a turnout a few miles from the forest boundary. It just looked and felt weird – the fire hoses sitting there in a box (apparently staging by the firefighters), the gnarly blackened trees, etc. So I pulled in and took a couple photos of the site.
I was sitting in my magic floating office pod when there was a very explosive and intense jolt – I felt a big shock / compression wave burst through the house (and me). Everything shook and rattled. It was powerful and incredibly jarring. Then, for a very short duration – maybe three seconds – there was major shaking; the house and its components made noises that I do not wish to hear again. I made it out of the pod and up against one of the core beams of the house within that time, and waited a few seconds. I looked out one of the small windows and the trees and telephone poles were visibly swaying. There were several more seconds of diminishing wavey motion, underscored by the oddest, deepest, almost-soundless roaring I’ve ever heard. Like the world’s biggest subwoofer turned way up, but without any actual music.
I stayed where I was for a bit, then checked around the house. Pictures on the walls are moved, a few things fell over, but there’s no visible damage.
To find out that the quake was a puny 3.4 was also jarring. A 3.4 felt like that? I must be a serious rookie. Virgin in the ways of earth-quaking. Really new and gone all wimpy-Maine-kid on these nerves-of-steel Californians. But then I found out it was centered about 800 meters from my house.
So I grabbed the camera and zipped down to the epicenter – the end of Venice Boulevard where it meets Pacific Avenue – to see if there was anything up. Everything looked normal; no sign of damage or anything. I walked the canal area for a bit; chatted with some people at Canal Club [literally at the epicenter]. Fuck yeah we felt it, the staff said, that was crazy. I talked with a girl who lives at Venice and Canal Street, and she said it was the biggest one she’d felt in her life, and she thought someone crashed into her house. Everyone was buzzing about it down there. This helped me feel a bit less wimpy.
Then I checked the Richter Scale article at Wikipedia and found that the approximate “energy yield” of a 3.5 is 747 gigajoules, or about the same shock wave as detonating 178 tons of TNT. Put another way, that’s a quarter the yield of a small atomic bomb.
The pod is also where Deanna was sitting when we had the rolly-quake last summer. She found that to be a unique experience. So, I’ve redubbed it The Quake Pod, and don’t plan on going back in there tonight.
Before I get into this story I want to set the psychographic stage, because I’ve been through this enough now to know what kind of conversations these controversies stir up.
My 2007 incident in San Antonio [see An Accidental Interview With Lieutenant Phil Dreyer] – which was much scarier and more flagrant than the one I’m writing about today – made me realize how out-of-fashion standing up for your rights has become, and also how much it opens you up to criticism for being a troublemaker (and more).
People like Thomas Hawk and Carlos Miller have famously faced this as well. The assumption (often verbalized) is that we’re belligerent, in-your-face assholes who go to places sticking our cameras (and our laminated, marked-up copies of the First Amendment) in people’s faces, looking and hoping for a fight. Sorry, but that’s just not true. I absolutely hate these confrontations and just want to make my pictures and be left alone. For instance, I had a terribly embarrassing and awkward police / photography incident at LAX a few months back and decided not to write about it because of the rather sensational issues it would raise. So trust me, I am not in this for the fight.
In Venice today, it was a record 90 degrees, windy and bone-dry. When I woke up, I could see huge walls of smoke rising just north of the Santa Monica Mountains, then billowing west and south out of the San Fernando Valley from the Sylmar Fire, presently raging 20 miles north of here.
As the afternoon wore on, it really began to feel like the outer edge of a fire zone. Ash and smoke passed over the eastern portion of the Santa Monica mountains and rolled down into the western section of the Los Angeles basin, casting a reddish-grey, eerie smoky darkness over this area for much of the late afternoon and into the evening.
The sun burned an angry alien red all afternoon until suddenly letting go behind the wall of smoke now hanging over Santa Monica Bay to the west.
I’m certainly safe where i am for now. From a personal standpoint, I’m more worried about new fires than I am the Sylmar Fire. Compounding this worry is that in the last 24 hours, I’ve seen two separate cretins throw lit cigarettes out of their car windows. Who the fuck are you people??