The Center for Land Use Interpretation Newsletter

California’s Owens Valley


Owens Valley, CA

View of some of the interpretive infrastructure in the Owens Valley. CLUI photo

THE REMOTE AND NOTORIOUS OWENS Valley was the focus of an exhibit, tour, and publication program at the CLUI in Los Angeles this spring. Diversions and Dislocations: California’s Owens Valley was on view at the CLUI April 9 to May 9, 2004, and presented several perspectives of this fabled “backspace” of California. From the preparation for the first Los Angeles aqueduct a hundred years ago to the recreational urban tourists of today, the Owens Valley has been an extension of the city, a fact physically asserted on the ground, as more than 95% of the private land in the valley is owned by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

The exhibit featured images of the area by four artists. Eva Castringus, a German photographer who has worked extensively in California, photographed the aqueduct as it moves through the valley, on its 250-mile journey to Los Angeles. Delving into the complexities of this engineering marvel, Aaron Forrest displayed his epic Los Angeles Aqueduct Landscape Atlas as a large format bound book, viewable on a table in the exhibit. The photographer David Maisel showed his aerial images of the chaotic, dried up surface of Owens Lake as projections on the gallery wall, in front of which visitors could listen on headphones to a narrative and musical soundtrack he made for the exhibit. Also included was previously unseen work by Andy Freeman, a photographer who has been researching and photographing buildings that were relocated from the Manzanar Japanese-American Internment camp, which was built in the Owens Valley during World War II (one of ten such internment camps built in remote areas of the western United States). After the war, the buildings were sold and removed for scrap or reuse elsewhere. As a result, parts of this surprising chapter of American history are scattered around the Owens Valley, in the form of transformed architectural artifacts, that have been absorbed by and integrated with the social and architectural context of the valley.

In addition, the Center published a new guidebook, titled Points of Interest in the Owens River Valley, written and researched in association with Kazys Varnelis, an architectural historian and frequent contributor to CLUI programs. And a tour was conducted by the Center, taking a busload of interested people on a two day odyssey up and down the valley.