Toxic Periods






Creative Commons Licence

Contributed date

November 26, 2018 - 5:20pm

Critical Commentary

"Toxic People," "Toxic Places," and "Toxic Periods" are collages I assembled mostly from L.A. Public Library's online photography collections. This digital database is fully public, searchable, and compiles several image sets: Shades of L.A., the Herald Examiner (a defunct Hearst paper, yes that Hearst), the Valley Times, etc. My inspiration for doing this research began with an everyday practice I initiated as a resolution for the New Year, 1 January 2018. My dissertation project engages with methodologies from the New Sensory History. Chapter 1 is called "White Sight" and presents an account of visualities in L.A.'s car culture as related to postwar urban/suburban white identity formation.

Instagram is a social media platform oriented toward visuality, so I decided to use it as a showcase, plus an informal personal archive, for interesting images I found via L.A.P.L. As an exercise for getting through these collections (in exactly one year), I opted to post at least one image commemorating that day in L.A. history and to pair it a short essay. The result, #LAunforgotten, has developed into a year in L.A. history, with posts going as far back as the Spanish pueblo's founding and as far forward as the next solar eclipse to pass over the region (2800s).

In honor of Visualizing Toxic Substances (VTS), I reimagined my #LAunforgotten as a playful revolt against the one-dimensional thinking Instagram promotes. Toxigram is a term I use to reference my relentlessly critical, at times  cynical, contributions to what otherwise looks like a rather superficial medium for conveying "positive thinking." Each of the three collages, "Toxic People," "Toxic Places," and "Toxic Periods," seeks to jolt viewers into an awareness of new connections among several themes the historiography typically cannot link together. My titles and the three accompanying essays point out a few links I see and stress, but please treat the collages as prompts facilitating your finding and making original connections.


Harrison, Scott. 2017. "From the Archives: Darkness falls in Watts during riots." Los Angeles Times website, April 2. Accessed November 26, 2018.

Photo Collections. n.d. Los Angeles Public Library website. Accessed November 26, 2018. 

Specific images: Hollywood Bowl 00132773; Harvard Boys 00118340; Phone boxes 00036465

Queally, James. 2015. "Watts Riots: Traffic stop was the spark that ignited days of destruction in L.A." Los Angeles Times website, July 29. Accessed November 26, 2018.

Seligman, Amanda I. "But Burn - No: The Rest of the Crowd in Three Civil Disorders in 1960s Chicago." Journal of Urban History 37 (2), 230-255.

Von Blum, Paul. 2011. "Recovering the Rubble: African American Assemblage Art in Los Angeles." Journal of Pan-African Studies 4 (5), 248-261. 

Cite as

Peter Sebastian Chesney, "Toxic Periods", contributed by Peter Sebastian Chesney, Center for Ethnography, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 26 November 2018, accessed 5 December 2022.