Photographer Kevin Break lived in a loft for nearly 20 years next to the North Main Street Bridge where it crosses the concrete lined Los Angeles River. Break developed an interest in the architecture of the bridges and eventually began to document the spans, with many of his images ending up on the website of the Los Angeles Conservancy and even purchased by the city’s Bureau of Engineering. His photos capture images of graceful arches and muscular towers as well as graffiti-scarred footings, crumbling concrete and rusting steel. In addition to the inspiring Romanesque-style spans of the 1920s and 1930s, Break was also fascinated by the more functional – and kind of clunky – freeway bridges, including the of maze ramps, railroad tracks and structures that make up the interchange of the 5 Freeway and Arroyo Seco Parkway (11o Freeway) near the L.A. River and Arroyo Seco.
A rent hike forced Break to leave his loft next to the North Main Street bridge and move a few blocks away to Lincoln Heights. “I live quite close by at the Brewery Lofts but I can’t see any bridges, and that is sad,” Break said via email. While Break no longer has a bridge view, the 48-year-old photographer continues to take and exhibit photos of these giant structures of concrete and steel. On Sunday, the Freedom Gallery in downtown will host an artist reception for Break and his bridge photos in an exhibit titled “Bridges of DTNLA.”
In a Q & A with The Eastsider, Break provides more details about his interest in bridge photography, including the risks of taking shots from the concrete riverbed and some other inhospitable locations:
I have been stuck [on the river} by driving too fast and wetting the engine. On the 4th St. bridge, I have been almost mugged twice so I never stray far from the car and often I “case” my shooting location driving past it a couple times.
Click on the link below to read the Q & A.
Q: How many L.A. River bridges have you photographed?
A: The 10 (a little), Olympic, 7th, 6th, 4th, 1st, Macy, the 101, North Main, Spring, Broadway (which is just like Spring with a bunch of cake icing) the 110 (which is actually two bridges), Riverside/Figueroa. I tried to get Fletcher but I think the best angles are on private property, couple others that don’t have names like railroad bridges.
Q: What are the challenges in photographing these structures?
A: The police, and getting stuck in the river with your car… the Triple A isn’t exactly going to come in 15 minutes down there. I have been stuck by driving too fast and wetting the engine. On the 4th St. bridge I have been almost mugged twice so I never stray far from the car and often I “case” my shooting location driving past it a couple times.
Q: Is it difficult to get access?
A: Yes and no. There are two very easy places to access the river on both sides, and they are several miles apart. I never enter the river if it’s even barely sprinkling btw, I don’t want to be on the news. Other access is difficult because the railroads are very secure and they have a lot of attitude.
Q: What are the best times and angles?
A: When the sun is just below the horizon or on overcast nights. There is no best angle IMHO; just ones that work, and ones you haven’t found yet.
Q: Can you still find new ways or angles to take photos of the same bridge or is once enough?
A: Every time I go I find a new photo or a way to redo an old one. Especially as the bridges are undergoing a lot of renovation I feel an urgency to document them before they look… “different.”
Q: Favorite bridge?
A: 6th [Street] or the interchange of the 110 and the I5
A: 6th always gets the adrenaline going since it’s the bridge most likely you will get killed on. I don’t care to park far from the car with a lot of pricey gear, so sometimes I park on the bridge with flashers, orange cones, even road flares and I still consider myself lucky to live through the experience. Drivers just don’t pay attention. It is also the most effective meld of feminine and masculine arches and steel. it is Merrill Butler’s last and crowning design AFAIK.
The 110/I5 interchange has an amazing amount of energy in it; two car bridges, two train track a river, a footpath and a freeway ramp coincide at the spiral staircase you have seen taking the 110 North to the 5 North. As a child I’ve always wondered about that staircase to “nowhere” and now I have been there many times.
Q: What do you want to do with this portfolio and photos?
A: I want to make a “table-thumper” coffee table book as a legacy, otherwise no one will ever have known I’ve lived on this earth. I want people to know there is another entire ecology and archaeology inside the river. I like it being concrete with some dirt parts. I like it just the way it is.
The reception for Break will be held on Sunday, July 17 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Freedom Gallery.