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Aerial photos show off the strange beauty of the LA River

The under-appreciated body of water looks pretty stunning from above

The L.A. River from above.
Courtesy of Chang Kim

Given its 51-mile length, stretching from Canoga Park to Long Beach, the LA River is surprisingly easy to miss. Largely encased in concrete since the 1930s, in many places it might easily be mistaken for a flood control channel or drainage canal.

Photographer Chang Kim said he didn’t even know the river existed when he relocated to Los Angeles from New York five years ago. He tells Curbed he was surprised to find the concrete gullies that guide the river scattered throughout the city.

After learning more about the body of water and its history, Kim began photographing the river, using the adjacent bike path to explore its diverse environments. Eventually, he began using drones to capture stunning aerial shots looking directly down on individual portions of the river, along with pieces of the surrounding landscape.

The photos help to illustrate the magnitude of the river, and the urban landscape through which it passes. Kim says he, “became fascinated by the various aspects of the river (concrete, wild life & vegetation, industrial discharge, clean water with blue herons and so on...) that were often in extreme contrast.”

The drone images offer an interesting mix of distance and intimacy, providing an overhead view of the river that most never see, but that is still close enough that notable landmarks and individual buildings can be easily recognized.

Kim says that he was interested in the details of the river that the new perspective could reveal. “[W]hen I saw the river straight down from the air within certain distance, which only drones can do, the river showed much clearer characters of each aspect,” he says, noting that, in particular, “the green moss in the river bed is not that clearly seen if you see the river on the ground because of the reflection of the sky on the water surface.”

Kim tells Curbed he hopes his work will inspire people to participate in shaping the river’s future.

“[T]he city definitely needs to make more efforts for [the] public so that people can realize that we have the river and it's still alive,” he says, noting that efforts now underway to revitalize and redevelop parts of the river seem directed more toward “insiders” than the general public.

“More competitions for design ideas for architecture students and firms, public events along the bike path and media coverage are all in urgent need before the actual development starts.”

LA River with green vegetation

Taken together, the images illustrate what a valuable resource the river has the potential to be—serving as a connecting force and common public space for so many communities across Los Angeles. Kim is certainly optimistic about that possibility.

“If revitalized successfully,” he says, the result would be an attraction with a “unique historical background and landscapes that will draw unprecedented attention and conversation about [the] sustainability of cities.”

To see more pictures, check out Chang Kim’s website here.