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Cultivating Pasadena response
Cultivating Pasadena is an ingeniously inviting piece. I love that it reflects upon both the history and the historiography implicit to documenting Pasadena. The piece is an excerpt from a larger, more elaborate and ongoing multi-media study initiated by The Labyrinth Project, and as such might be seen to serve as a cunning teaser for that larger work. (Certainly the claims for a complexity of vantage points and perspectives, suggested in the critical rationale for the piece, would pertain more to the larger work, which includes oral histories, etc.)
The segment here is impressive, and consists of an interactive series of historical and contemporary photos that are placed into a contrapuntal, sliding faux continuum. These are accompanied by ambient noises on the soundtrack that help to achieve a sense of immediacy (rather than immersion), plus, if so desired, a quite lovely rendering of Harry Warren’s 1922 composition “Home in Pasadena,” performed by the Any Old Time Swing Band. In keeping with the special issue topic of Mobility, images regarding transportation have been selected, and they are stunning and memorable: the Mt. Lowe and Mt. Washington Railways, electric streetcars, Santa Fe and other trainlines, early motor cars, a series of early area airports and female Pasadena aviators, and perhaps most remarkably, the Dobbins Cycleway (1902), which was planned to stretch all the way from the Arroyo Seco to downtown Los Angeles. These photos have been culled from a variety of archives and collections, which speaks to the evident quality of scholarship involved. Most photos are accompanied by expert commentary, some of which can be seen to serve as a primer for archival “readings” of old photographs.
But what is most evocative about the photos and their presentation is the “shock of the old” that pervades the piece: beyond nostalgia, we are confronted by the dynamic of what is termed “Pasadena’s penchant for transport and progressive engineering,” which includes disquieting issues about the legacies of such. Part of this “shock” is rendered via the mouse-pad lap dissolve effect designed to mediate images of the same location in very different eras. This is fun and enjoyable, and elegantly designed, but also opens a moderately interactive space for critical speculation within our access to select historicized places. One imagines other outcomes, other spaces in between, other possible continuities and futures for these areas. The contemporary photos have none of the ceremonial quality evident in many of the older photos; they are instead characterized by a relative banality and lack of beauty. This serves, I think, as a kind of indictment against any presumumption of triumphalist historiography of the city. But it also helps to place the archival prints within historicized legacies of boosterism that so defined Pasadena’s “cultivation.” Attention to the complexities and contradictions inherent to boosterism are rendered via text accompaniment, and are one key component treated in a more trans-media fashion in the larger piece. It would be an overstatement to suggest that the overall elegance of the piece, which works extremely well as a web format, has resulted in a lack of attention to social disparities of class and race, etc. But it is important to note that the relative lack of documentation of such disparities, within and beyond the booster era, has not been resolved here.
- Mark Williams, Dartmouth College, 09.15.2005
Something that struck me in viewing this piece online was that this was the third space in which I have experienced "Cultivating Pasadena." I sat in with Rosemary Comella and Marsha Kinder at a presentation of the DVD-Rom version and saw the installation at the PCMA. Having this project available in at least three forms offers us the opportunity to question issues relating to immersion and interactivity as well as physical presence. I know that experiencing this project in different spaces and with different types of mobility available to me within these spaces affected my interaction with and reading of the photographs included in the project. A pertinent question for me became: how is space being constructed in these photographs and how is that construction altered in the different presentation settings (or is it altered)? Furthermore, in that the main thrust of this project seems to be placing the past and the present side by side through re-photography, I feel it is relevant to ask: how do historical photographs communicate their meanings in the present and how do images accumulate meanings through their histories? Would these photographs, for instance, always have been utilized under a heading of "mobility"? What does it mean that this is how we are encountering them here?
- Chera Kee, University of Southern California, 12.06.2005
This part of the Labyrinth Project offers a really interesting perspective on the old Pasadena via intersection of old and new photos “bleeding through” each other. The dissolving between old and vintage photography into a contemporary view of the same place controlled by me was a source of a particular pleasure, as I caught myself playing with the bar going back and forth looking for detailed changes. In addition, the carefully chosen sounds of “mobility” associated with each “exhibition” gave the project even a more realistic immersive quality as I was traveling in time and space exploring the Old Pasadena. Apart from the new media technology and interaction that allowed mobility through places that were unavailable before, I was fascinated by the fact how the California was a place of wilderness conquered by various mobile devices, such as electric cars, trolleys, railways, planes and bicycles. The photographs have captured the attraction with early technological devices that have changed the rural landscape of California into a modern and urban highway system that is a part of our everyday lives. It is interesting how surface roads, such as highways and railroads have precisely developed on such a large scale unlike underground communication, such as subway system. Did geographical location of California with its vast green space motivate the constructors to construct such formations that would still allow mobility but at the same time viewing the beautiful scenery? What about race and community factor in making these decisions? Nevertheless, the experience of the “Cultivating Pasadena” via virtual mobility tools was an inviting and exiting experience that ultimately changes our perception of space, time and history in relation to hypertextuality of cities as narrative spaces.
- ewa Mularczyk, USC, 12.08.2005
While the images in “Cultivating Pasadena” are of transportation, the type of mobility that is interesting to me is the user’s physical immobility and his/her virtual mobility. Most mobile technologies, like cell phones, rely on the user being the mobile body. Here the images are mobile, temporally and physically, and the user is stationary, directing where the images are supposed to go.
The time-shifted images create the most vivid representations of changing landscape. As you move your cursor from one corner of your screen to the other the landscape is transformed from the past to present day. The images are superimposed over one another to represent a shift in time. Using a dissolve as time passes, a new landscape is presented creating a seamless change, but really we are just looking at two points in history; the space in between exists only as a creation of the two superimposed images. What becomes haunting to me is the landscape than appears mobile. For example, in the image of Mt. Lowe Railway at Granite Gate, the train and railway disappear, but the massive rock on the right side also changes shape. There is a geological shift in a newly created virtual space. As I sit in front of my computer and watch time and place shift seamlessly in front of me I feel connected to the space while disconnected to my own place in relation to it.
- Carly Marino, Los Angeles, 12.08.2005
What I found most intriguing the Labyrinth Project’s “Cultivating Pasadena” multi media installation was the movement of Southern California away from ‘public’ to ‘private’ modes of mobility. The Electric Railway System purposefully promoted the early 20th Century real estate boom in Los Angeles and Pasadena, granted, in order to increase the value of the System to its shareholders. However, on a purely humane penchant, the horse and electric cars ‘connected’ citizens of the new So Cal communities in a manner that transcended class divisions. Everyone used public transportation, from San Fernando Valley agrarian workers to Southern Pacific Railroad mogul Henry Huntington. The advent of individual transportation ushered in by the combustible engine has served to isolate citizens. This is a trend that has increased with smaller remote tools of mobile communication, i.e. cell phones, chirps, etc. More and more, centers of public assemblage (shopping centers, grocery stores, schools, parks…) are transformed into spaces in which people physically inhabit spaces, but are actively engaged in communication with persons in a separate space. The option for interactivity with people who are unfamiliar to us and yet occupy a similar physical space is sharply curtailed.
- Patricia Butler, USC, 12.09.2005