Colin Rich is an L.A. based photographer whose breathtaking time lapse series Trilogy of Light has stunned viewers, including Mayor Garcetti, with its depiction of the Southland, from many angles. Rich tells DnA’s Caroline Chamberlain about what inspired the project, some of his favorite vantage points to shoot L.A., and what it was like to be attacked by falcons atop a downtown skyscraper.
CC: How long have you lived in L.A. and can you describe your relationship to the city over time?
I grew up in Los Angeles, I’ve lived here pretty much my entire life. I lived in New York for 10 years. New York almost had its hooks in me. When I was in New York, my friends poked fun at me and said they’d never live out there because it’s too polluted. ‘Oh the traffic out there, the smog out there,’ I would always have to defend L.A. for some reason.
Then I moved back to L.A., and I found I was looking at the city through new eyes, and found it really beautiful. It’s a palette of colors here, there’s so much vibrancy to a city. For a photographer it’s a dream to shoot out here. I can certainly be a guy stuck in traffic, but I think there’s a certain thing that’s indescribable to me about the city. From a historical standpoint, when people think of the city people never think of there being a history here. The city is so diverse with architecture and people, and I don’t know any other city like that. And for me that’s a very beautiful aspect. I think L.A. has gotten such a bad rap for its traffic and pollution, and it’s something that’s beautiful and ever-evolving. Hopefully people will be able to appreciate that through the works I’ve been putting together.
CC: What inspired you to do this project?
CR:Well I started about three years ago, the first project was called L.A. Lights. I got into it because I had been shooting time lapse for some time. I started compiling images, and I started to see the city in a different way. So once I’d started compiling the imagery, I saw a story unfold with that. The more I saw it unfold the more interesting it seemed to me.
The way L.A. was portrayed in different media, and how I saw it in video was not how I saw it. I found these depictions to be very clichéd.
So I think maybe when I grew up here, I got kind of locked into that idea. But after I moved back here after living in New York, I saw it through a different set of eyes. Again when I was looking at movies, you just see a smog-filled skyline, it’s much more than urban sprawl to me.
CC: Is there something specific about L.A. and its relationship to light that made it a unique place to do this project?
CR: Yes. For one of the first shots I did, I went up to Mount Wilson. It’s such a distance from the city lights, the light pollution, and I was able to see stars. When people live in a city, they don’t see stars. In my last project (City Lights) I tried to create a connection between seeing a night sky. I wanted to show the difference between night sky and city sky. The city has its own starlight, but to see the two together was really fascinating to me. I started to do research to see what were good positions to shoot both from.
I also wanted to show L.A. from new perspectives, maybe perspectives that many people see from their offices but aren’t shared with the rest of L.A. It’s something that’s really beautiful to me.
CC: What vantage points did you use?
CR: There are some quintessential places to shoot L.A. from: Mount Wilson, Griffith Park, for example. It was important for me to see L.A. from all angles, so there were about 70 places I went. Some of these places were on buildings, but sometimes you’d go on top of a building to see a new vantage point. So many places. Some of them I keep secret.
It’s so cool doing a project like this, there’s an adventure to it. You want to get a certain idea in your mind of what you want to shoot. It helped me discover the city in that sense.
CC: What were some of your favorite spots to look at L.A. from?
CR: Any vantage point that puts a distance between the city and nature. Mount Wilson is one of my favorites and I also like going into the San Bernardino Mountains. Echo Mountain is another great place to shoot. There’s an old railroad trail that leads up to Echo Mountain. Your voice just reverberates on the mountain wall. You see the ships coming into Long Beach. You can see airplanes coming in at John Wayne Airport. Echo Mountain acted like a gateway to the city. The full moon would rise and light up all of the rocks.
Downtown was another favorite place of mine to shoot. The views from some of the buildings there are incredible. The Bank of America building was fascinating.
Watching sunsets from East L.A. on Paradise Road is one of my favorite things. Its kind of a treacherous ride, and it’s something you never expect to find in Los Angeles. You try and time it out so you can see the U.S. Bank Tower in the background.
CC: Is there a specific shot from your videos you are particularly proud of?
CR: Yes, from Angeles National Forest there was this beautiful vantage point. I waited for a very clear sky. If I can see Mount Wilson from Pico on the westside, I know it will be a good day to shoot. And on this particular day, I decided to rent a lens, and it’s the 4th shot into City Lights, it’s this very compressed shot of downtown L.A. But there’s so much color and so much vibrancy to it, I’d never seen anything like it. In this particular case, I could see the ocean about a centimeter away from the U.S. bank building. It was so beautiful and so indicative of L.A. I was really lucky to get that shot.
CC: Can you explain the logic behind your time lapse trilogy? The first one seems to focus on buildings, and the third one seems to treat L.A. as a living, breathing organism.
CR: I think the shots in L.A. Lights, it had a slower pace to it. I think the overall feeling was somber to me. I think a lot of people in L.A. can feel alone. I think there’s a certain feeling people get from that. I snuck up to the Hollywood Sign, and I’d been hiding from security, but apparently you’re not supposed to be there at night. It was a really interesting sight to see the perspective from the Hollywood Sign looking toward people, because we’re always looking at it.
So the first one was a more laborious focus on the architecture. I ended up shooting from the 405 prior to the construction, it’s a road I’d traveled so much. It was just really interesting to me to see it from that vantage point. It’s like a canyon of traffic. It’s a commute I did so many times, maybe it was a bit of selfishness on my part.
Nightfall was focused on the transition from day to night. I think most people who are watching, or observing L.A. from a 75 mile an hour perspective, you see it or you don’t. I wanted to showcase that perspective. I wanted to overwhelm the senses with the energy. That was the overall tone of the second piece.
The third part was the organic part of the city. I look at the freeways as the arteries of the city. I believe the city is a life form. We live in these hives that are actually alive. There’s an ebb and flow to the city. I wanted to capture that. I wanted to show the emptiness of places like Joshua Tree and then as you get closer to the city you can see the pulse of the city.
CC: Were there moments when this project became dangerous?
CR: I was attacked by a falcon, two actually on top of the Paul Hastings Building.
I arrived at noon to setup cameras for a day to night transition shot. I ventured over to the ledge of the skyscraper and decided that one of the best views would be a shot that was looking east towards the US Bank Building. When I was starting to setup my equipment, I felt something (I thought) buzz past my head. I looked around and didn’t see anything, so I continued to set the gear up. When I was almost done, I felt the whizzing sound go by my head again. This time, I knew something was going down, so I stepped back from the gear and looked around and that’s when I saw this black streak fly about 3 feet from my head at what seemed like 200 mph. I ducked and almost tipped the camera over and braced for another attack, and before I could even think about it, the bird attacked again.
I started to panic because I looked up and saw two falcons, circling me. They each took turns dive bombing me and each time they got closer and closer. The scariest part about it was when I lost my sight of the falcons because I had no idea when they would strike again. This continued for about an hour until I think they exhausted themselves and they returned to their perch on the US Bank Building. The next day, I wore a sombrero to protect my head from the attacks.
All images in this blog were by Colin Rich.