MANHATTAN BEACH: 72 HOURS—a Three-Day Exploration by Ara Hagopian is a 36-piece photography and writing exhibit covering the exclusive California beachside city. The work was captured with the Sony A7R full-frame camera and 55 mm Carl Zeiss lens, July 2014.
The 72 HOURS series is an artist’s impression of what was beautiful or interesting during a three-day visit to a city or resort. To be free to wander the area with a camera—and without a checklist—is the heart of 72 HOURS.
Manhattan Beach is a tightly-packed city of pricey homes, each with a concentrated personality. Residents enjoy easy access to the heralded beach, and the continuous seaside walkway—the Strand—provides a wide lining for the walkers among us.
There are 36 photographs with descriptions in this post, so sit back on a comfortable chair, view with a large screen device, take your time, and don’t forget to bookmark.
BELOW: Manhattan Beach panorama.
We start off with a wide shot of the beach, looking to Hermosa and Redondo in the distance. Rancho Palos Verdes is off to the extreme right. Volleyball is a longstanding tradition at Manhattan Beach.
BELOW: The Pretty Stops.
Pretty Stop No. 1. Spilling trees with leaves like full truths, their mid-summer colors showoff nature’s best hand. Blossoms sprint past the clichés of more colorful seasons. Branches cling to their flowers like fists of cash, not letting go for no one, not blowing off like New England or fettering earthward like the Southern states.
Pretty Stop No. 2. This gorgeous sun-worshipper is a set of four flowers, comprised of a white carnation surrounded by pink examples to its left, right and top. Bright sunlight helps showcase their stardom. Street discussion takes place in background; do those people appreciate the adjacent goings on? Or does residency dull our awareness? Perhaps a visitor is more inclined to stop, look, and reflect on the scene.
BELOW: Hybrid Tree Layout. This purple and red mix shows colors that a Hollywood set designer would fear looks too perfect to be real. Red branch crawls over roof, toying with an escape. Blue sky grounds the viewer’s white balance; the non-saturated photograph only needed to be cropped.
BELOW: Light Orange Bluff. Manhattan Beach flowers are akin to the delicately colored tissues used to line a gift bag. This tree is a bluff for a house, hiding one treasure while revealing another.
BELOW: The Beaters.
She Runs. She was a new car once. She was scrutinized, negotiated, fawned over, and loved. This gray Plymouth Valiant Signet was shiny, true and new, over fifty years ago. Today she runs as a beater on Manhattan Beach’s posh streets, the plaything of an uncautious man.
In 1963, she had a life, a function, and a family to carry to school. She took dad to work and mom to the grocery store. She won the Society of Illustrators’ Styling Award and was part of a record sales year.
The years ground on, the Sixties gave way to the Seventies and this special gray car discovered the road felt harder as she dried out and aged. Her owners waxed and then waned, died off or gave up caring very much. Today she just gets along, never bothered being locked, never bothered being stolen, gassed up for just a few dollars at a time, hasn’t seen a full tank since Nixon.
A guess at the story. It was 1975, and a young Los Angeles advertising executive assured his girlfriend: “Let’s see where our careers take us—let’s wait on starting a family. Did you see the layouts the art director showed to the client today? Kids are going to love those toys!”
And then the two of them drove his new Cadillac to Santa Monica Bay to watch the sun go down.
During the drive, his photographer girlfriend pondered the future: Where will we be in a year? In five years? God, I can’t imagine what the 1980’s will bring!
To the young woman, the 1980’s sounded futuristic. And although she didn’t fear the future, it didn’t seem like a time that would ever come.
Today those two people would be in their 70’s, their dreams expired, abilities diminished, their car reassigned.
Did they do all they could, when they had their best opportunities in life? Did the original car owner swing hard while he was in the center of the ring? While he stood right there! All suited up, in the prime of his life?
Did he present Mattel with the best toy car advertisements to reach those 1970’s kids? Did he write letters to his folks, offer an ear to his brothers, encourage his friends? On a sunset forty years ago, did he hold his girlfriend—hold her tight!—during her moments of apprehension?
It doesn’t matter who owns her now. This machine knows those answers.
Demolish and build. The median home price in Manhattan Beach is just under two million dollars. The dwellings are relatively small, but rise up several stories to maximize the space, and the view of the Pacific. Families demolish outdated cottages and build their dream homes.
This photograph was taken by placing the camera lens through a gap in the privacy fence that surrounded the builders’ worksite. My camera’s shutter is the loudest in the industry and I hastened off after taking this shot, expecting a bustle of men to demand the picture’s deletion. No one noticed; no one gave chase.
Taking a break. A builder (jeans in summer, tool in back pocket) takes a moment to watch kids play ad hoc tennis in the street. What are his thoughts? Is he dreaming of the days when he too was ten, and was free to play? Moments after this picture was taken, the ball got by the kids, and the worker hurried to retrieve it while the boys waited. With that action, the boy and man broke the age and social barrier and became part of a system.
The photographer—not part of any system here—captures the moment and moves on.
BELOW: Runners. From out of nowhere the runners came. “Coming through, thank you!” they called out as the busy Manhattan Beach Boulevard crowds scrambled out of the way. Was it a road race? A runners’ club? The sidewalk cleared as shoppers, surfers and strollers scooted to safety.
BELOW: Meet Sierra!
Relaxing on his driveway. In a garage adorned with vintage automobile Americana lays Sierra, a fifteen-year old tabby mix. Sierra lives in a fine home near the beach and his mom and dad, who kindly granted permission for photographs, tend to his needs and comfort. Sierra had been sleeping under a covered vintage car; now the garage door is open and he’s been coaxed out. He’ll look around, but he isn’t moving. No sir-ee.
The next day. Our roving camera caught the big boy having a snooze in the tight netherworld between homes. We called to him; he was mildly impressed we knew his name, but the impetus wasn’t enough to get his body off the garbage bins. Because he’s so comfortable, of course. We’re impressed with the jump he’d made to reach his prized spot!
BELOW: A child has love to spare. This photograph was shot between a closed gate’s bars. Two sisters, one ten and the other four, collected round stones to form hearts. The older sister’s heart was larger, perfectly formed and used all the rocks. The younger girl’s design was crudely made; plus, she’d overestimated the amount of stones she’d need. A true form was beyond her capacity to execute, but her idea of love was just as perfect as her sister’s.
While the above story is conjecture—I have no idea who made the hearts—the idea of a young person having love to spare is a fun thought. It’s clear that the hearts were conceived on a child’s whim, and then when the project was complete, the site was abandoned—for another whim. And so goes summer.
BELOW: Sun sets in the West. The thrill of seeing the sun torch the water while it sets in the West is not restricted to those from the East. It could be argued that the majority of beach-bound Californians would stop to admire the sun’s descent towards the shimmering waves, if they happened to be close by. If the sight failed to impress, perhaps one needed a vacation—starting with a day on the beach.
What do we see in this scene? We see two swimmers, a wader, and a family standing in the sand. Look at the ground: A mass of footsteps is gathered in the area away from the water’s edge, with less and less imprints the closer we pan to the sea. What’s the explanation for this? Do people tend to not walk close to the ocean? Or has the sea washed their traces away?
BELOW: The pier. Manhattan Beach’s pier has a hundred-plus year tumultuous history of planning, financing, civic events, fishing… and storms. The pier has been destroyed by winds and waves, rebuilt, damaged and replaced throughout its life. Today, she’s stronger than ever.
It’s low tide, and clusters of live mussels bulk the bottoms of the pier’s supports.
BELOW: The shadow. The pier casts a dramatic late-day shadow across the beach.
BELOW: Sunset. The Manhattan Beach pier presents a roughly-hewn silhouette as the sun, hidden by the center piling, sets in Santa Monica Bay. In the distance, to the extreme right lies Malibu.
Old-time radio fans would be pleased to learn that Harold Peary, who starred in The Great Gildersleeve comedy show from 1941-50, was named honorary mayor of Manhattan Beach in 1956. Mr. Peary was a resident who loved the beach. It’s easy to see why.
BELOW: Between the homes. The city’s cottages are tightly packed but the palm trees and ocean tempt one to trespass.
BELOW: Skimboarder gets air. Meet Andy Viton. Andy is a skimboarder, that is, he uses a special surfboard designed for shallow water and relatively short runs. Andy, who practically lives at the beach, has been skimboarding for about twelve years.
Andy’s technique begins by standing on the beach near the edge of the water, searching for the right break of the waves as the water rushes up to the shore. Before every attempt—and they’re not always successful skims—Andy catches his breath and assesses his gear. He flips his board over and kicks sand onto the front portion of the wet underside. He does this to prevent the light board from flying back at him during his run.
Unlike surfboarding, skimboarding opportunities continually present themselves. When Andy sees optimal surf conditions, he sprints along the edge of the water, no more than about six inches deep, throws down his board, and jumps on top of it. What happens next is a speedy, jagged and unpredictable skim on the water.
In the photograph below, Andy has completed a terrific ride and has created enough energy to explode at least four feet into the air.
BELOW: The sandy, foamy sea. Traditional surfing is a way of life at the beach—ask the Beach Boys and their Little Surfer Girl. In the scene depicted below, a woman paddles out, waiting for the next promising wave. She’s in about twenty feet of water. A sizable wave has just passed, covering the surface in foam, saturating the water with sand churned up from the bottom. The foam will dissipate within seconds, only to be recreated again and again.
BELOW: Surfing life. This photograph, which looks like a painting because it was shot in Watercolor mode, typifies the timeless California beach life. A surf-and-swim couple enters the water, their perfect bodies matching the ethos of the scene. Check out the background—that’s our skimboarding star Andy Viton in action!
BELOW: Beach life. Everyone has an agenda on the beach. Some sun worshippers are topless; some are reading paper books; others check social media. From the 1920’s to the 1970’s, sand was imported from this very site and was spread on Hawaii’s Waikiki Beach.
BELOW: Seagull eyes the camera. Seagulls with black legs and feet scour the beach and shore for clams, crabs, and other edibles.
BELOW: A kite and a smile. While our eyes are towards the air, a kite entertains us, engages, and makes us smile. We don’t look down—not for a few moments, anyway— because down is where our problems are rooted. Up is a squint of cheerfulness, a hand shading our eyes, a relief to discover something light and colorful. Looking up at a gorgeous kite and sky is a distraction that doesn’t perturb us. Looking down, on the other hand, is a view of where we are… and of the facts and realities we may want to escape from.
BELOW: For Mason Zisette. Mason was a sixteen year old Manhattan Beach resident whose life was cut short by a freak accident.
On the morning of Friday July 18th, friends, family, and supporters of Mason assembled at the beach to honor him, the catastrophe not a week old.
Mason, someone was thinking about you. Someone was crying for you. People who loved you thought long and hard about your life. They thought about the things only the two of you shared; they heard your voice and received a flow of thoughts in that timbre. Others, those who didn’t know you, paid their respects in different ways.
A seasoned adult looked back sixteen years—to 1998, your birth year—and thought of how fast that time had come and gone. That same adult also thought back to his first sixteen years of life, and marveled at how much of an eternity that childhood seemed to be.
The truth is, your life exceeded both of those concepts.
In the photograph below, someone who knew you expressed their feelings, and then left it up to you.
BELOW: For Matthew McAfee. A quarter mile away, another tribute, older, and for a different man, sits. The pain of losing a son doesn’t go away.
BELOW: Textures, in four photographs. Each Texture subject was not only photographed, but touched with a carefully placed palm, back of hand, and fingertip. What does each living thing have to offer? Read on.
Razor. The fan of blades from a gritty street-side tree feels surprisingly strong to the touch. Strands of hairy edge remnants are like dried examples from corn husks. A group of teenage girls stood around this tree, their car parked inches from it, the kids not bothered by multiple photographs taken from odd directions.
Palm trunk. These grooves cut thousands of eyes in the trunk of an ageless palm tree. To the touch, the feeling was like dense firewood that had been dried and aged. Each “eye” was its own creation, its own cell in a tight community.
Plain grass. Somewhere near 11th Place, a resident had chosen to maintain a tiny spread of grass, where typically cactus or exotic flowers grew. The lot was about four by eight feet. The grass was free of weeds and was perfectly plain, growing long but not in need of a trim quite yet. Underhand, she felt like a Golden Retriever’s coat, thick and orderly, demanding a careful touch and not minding a ten-minute stay.
Tropical fare. Take a look at what one often sees in the tiny gardens many homes offer for open view. The fronds of this beauty felt flexible and waxy; when I dragged my index finger along her edges, my fear of being cut like a knife was unfounded. The photograph was shot in Watercolor mode to best capture the view in the way she presented on site.
BELOW: Pretty walk. Between streets are walkways, called Places. Free of power lines, this photograph was also shot in Watercolor mode. The beach is at our back.
BELOW: The Strand. The Strand is a miles long scenic walkway that runs parallel to the beach. Private properties directly abut it, while to the right runs a bike path, over what used to be a railway. Dog walkers love the Strand, which runs all the way to Hermosa, where it ends.
BELOW: Tropical sight. Flowers and kunai grass frame the sand and water. As viewed from the Strand.
BELOW: Faint palette. Tiny willows dance in the Pacific breeze. View from The Strand.
BELOW: Sharp view. Manhattan Beach regulars—cactus, kunai grass, sand, volleyball nets and the sea—fill the scene.
BELOW: The end. Old wall shows rebar steel reinforcements, and her age. In 1941, soldiers filled sandbags from this very beach to fortify Mines Airfield, which is now the Los Angeles International Airport. Today, the Japanese threat is gone, and the sand stays where she was intended.
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER- Ara Hagopian’s debut book “What Happened to Vicky Lee? A Collection of Stories” is out now: http://vickyleethebook.com/