Almost every morning I walk down the hill of Landfair Avenue, turn left on Strathmore, and make my way to the UCLA campus. This is a main outlet from the only (barely) affordable area of student housing near campus that is surrounded by some of the world’s most wealthy neighborhoods (Bel Air, Beverley Hills, Brentwood). Each morning it funnels hundreds of students from their three or four to-a-room apartments to school, caught up in a constant entrepreneurial push to become something in a top tier university. These students are only here for a few years and are therefore just passing through on their way to better things (or so goes the aspirational logic), creating a situation where no shared attitude of care for the surroundings exists and where developers can exploit students through expensive low-quality, or more recently, exorbitantly priced “luxury,” housing. The area is also UCLA’s “frat row,” an obvious site of toxic culture whose influence extends from the constant parties and trashed sidewalks to their key status in structures of power and privilege.
For Visualizing Toxic Subjects, I plan to document this street and surrounding student transient zone to explore these intersections of privilege, predatory housing, student aspiration, and their relationship with the university at large. This area represents something like a dark (toxic) side of the American University’s imaginary, where the fantasy of irresponsible enjoyment is allowed as long as you are also a hardworking student, and I’d like to work out what this means and how it manifests in the physical environment. I have lived here for the past five years while completing my doctorate, and my educational status provides a critical out-of-placeness with which to analyze.
This first photocollage collects images of every red and blue plastic cup that I encountered on a short walk down Landfair Avenue and Strathmore Avenue on a recent Saturday morning (11/17/2018). Inspired somewhat by Ed Ruscha’s Every Building on the Sunset Strip (1966) at least in terms of title and method, I set out to just capture in linear order, documenting as encountered, the cups that had been left after a night of student drinking on this small stretch of street, which is approximately one and a half city blocks (with Landfair being the full block and Strathmore the half block turn that leads to UCLA). I like the cups as material evidence of night activities (a kind of physical leftover of a very different nightscape environment), as they are an object that clearly represents the party culture and they are discarded at random through the area, appearing smashed on the concrete, inside of bushes, across driveways and walkways, and so on, now made visible by the bright morning sun. We, who have to move through this street on foot to get somewhere else (campus, the world at large) have to navigate past these cups (and other detritus, presented in photocollage #2). The walk is only about 5 minutes long and I stopped quickly at each cup, attempting to capture it quickly without conscious attention to framing as I did not want to aestheticize the images too much, instead capturing the cups haphazard and randomly thrown quality on the landscape. The collage grid form communicates the amount and repetition of the object in the area and was created quickly in a random Instagram collage generator, chosen as to replicate social media tools that might have documented the parties of the evening before.
Continuing in the vein of documenting material left by students along this stretch of roadway, this second photocollage arranges a series of images captured from my daily walks from home to school and back along Landfair and Strathmore. Since VTS started I’ve made it a practice of photographing objects that stand out on a street that’s landscape (trashscape) changes almost daily. This image is designed to more generally present a sense of the street to an outside viewer, showing the types of objects and activities that are encountered in the day-to-day. At the moment, I intend it to exist more on this surface level, as more of a purely sensory document. I am a bit worried that this image on its own could be a bit too moralizing or shallow in its analysis—look at those filthy privileged students!—which is part of the point, but not the whole point, as later submissions hope to complicate and deepen this through images that capture some of the larger forces (housing, education) that are also intersecting here.
This third photocollage was quickly made from screenshots gleaned from apartment searches of apartment housing prices along Landfair and the surrounding few blocks that constitute the student enclave in Westwood (from apartments.com and westsiderentals.com). The enclave is very small, surrounded to the east by UCLA Campus, the south by commercial Westwood village, and to the north and west by expensive housing (adjacent to Bel Air and Brentwood) as soon as you cross Veteran Avenue (there is also the Veteran’s cemetery further confining the area). This is collage is designed to show the exorbitant housing prices found in the area and focus on luxury in advertising. Students must portion out these apartments, so that two or three are staying in a room in order to make the rent (a larger issue in Los Angeles right now).