Trying to find Southern California


I find it so difficult to work in Southern California. When I say “work” I mean photograph. My other work, meaning Blurb, is totally fine here in SoCal, but I don’t respond to this place visually. I’ve tried to like SoCal so many times I don’t know what else to do other than realize it just isn’t going to happen. Southern California for me is just too normal, too sterile and organized. You KNOW if I’m shooting reflections of MYSELF I’ve hit rock bottom.

These pics are a few random moments from the past few weeks. I’m one of those people who carry a camera everyday, all day, regardless of where I’m going or what I’m doing. Could be a simple run to the store to buy ten pounds of carne asada. When I’m traveling with people they will ask, “Hey, we are just going around the corner, are you really going to take your manbag and your camera?” My response is always the same, “First of all, it’s a purse, and second, YES, I’m taking both items AND my audio recorder.” To NOT take these items makes me feel naked and not in a good way.


Yesterday, in a fit of Southern California inspired creative failure I came up with yet another book project, one that I hope takes everything I dislike about this area and funnels it into one, somewhat cohesive, somewhat interesting essay. And people when I say I don’t like this place, it’s nothing more than saying visually it doesn’t float my boat. I like old, I like culture, I like random and unpredictable, everything that SoCal is not. In general it is an easy place to be, which is perhaps another reason it doesn’t work for me. I like places that are more of a battle. A masochist you say? Perhaps. For the most part here everywhere looks like everywhere else. The places I find more interesting are simply too time consuming to get to based on our horrendous traffic problem. So, I continue to look, hunt, plead, beg and search for those little moments that sustain me, but I have to say, it’s getting more and more difficult to play the game. I have the major itchies and when I get these typically drastic measures are at hand.

I need a vacation.


49 responses to “Trying to find Southern California”

  1. jeff merlet says:

    while i understand you and prefer to live up north from you in santa cruz, as you live by the beach, why not documenting the surf scene? there are several angles/projects you can choose from: shortboarder & action, longboarder & logging (san onofre and malibu are great examples of places for that), shapers in the shaping bay, out of the water surf scene, etc.


    • Fredrik says:

      Even thou there are allot of people out there doint just that, I would love to se how Dan whould do it. Be has a special angel and twist to thinga, it would be very intresting to see. Please Dan do it, make it a short story if you like, I will by/read it!

    • jeff merlet says:

      exactly! it was a suggestion to cover this vast subject more from a documentary or fine art angle, more than the usual surf (action) photographer one.

    • Smogranch says:

      Sorry, I have NO interset in surf culture at all.

    • Smogranch says:


      Only because I have ZERO interest in surf culture or beach culture. ZERO. Also, I have friends who have dedicated the past forty years of their life to covering that culture, and I would much prefer to enjoy their work then trying to add anything to it from my point of view. I also don’t surf. Years ago I used to shoot on the North Shore every December, which WAS interesting to me based on scale and diversity. Add to this the logistics of covering it here and you are right back in the middle of traffic.

    • Fredrik says:

      I feel you Dan. I have the same problem where I live, the problem for me is that there is nothing happening in my town/city. And I mean nothing, I would love if there was a surf colture or anything.. I need to travel everytime I want to take a photo that I will be happy with. So I know the feeling.
      As I have been working as an assistant now for a year or so I dont even have a car to travel in. So in that time I have done some reading, started developing old rolls of film, printing and learnt new tricks in photoshop. Try that for a while and then you maby will find something new to photograp, something you havent thought of and now want to do. best of luck!

    • Smogranch says:

      Yes, you gotta learn the tricks to get you through. I travel, write and experiment with other strange creative endeavors.

    • Fredrik says:

      Thanks Dan for the advice, I am trying to find it.. It’s hard as hell for me.

      I stubbled upon this little fellow, Surf-pictures πŸ™‚ Yours ? Do you have more of them, love they way you see things and I like the seacultures.

    • Smogranch says:

      I’ve got a few surf pics. Not many. Haven’t shot any surfing in ages.

  2. Michal says:

    I must say I felt the way you did for years about LA in every respect (not just visually), but I find it still a treasure trove of visual pleasures that are not the usual found in other cities. You have now provided me a challenge, sir. (I smile)

  3. Harold says:

    Although I can think of a half dozen responses to this dilemma I doubt any of them would be meaningful. It’s not likely to be of any consolation either that I too am stuck and not always able to venture to more interesting environs. There are always things to photograph but are they things I WANT to photograph and I think that’s the rub. So vacation it is then. Life rarely comes in the flavors and portions I like. I am trying to love the struggle. I haven’t arrived that’s for sure…

    • Smogranch says:

      There are places I respond to and others I don’t. I never liked it here. I was here because I found someone I wanted to be with, and that reality was more powerful.

  4. Amigo, I am still waiting for you to announce the Smogranch SoCal photo/drug Fear and Loathing tours we once discussed in Peru.

  5. Charlene says:

    “I need a vacation.”

    Go on, I dare you!

  6. LionelB says:

    Stuff is there. It always is. But I know what you mean. Some places are so numbing, so sanitised, that they dull the will to go out and look. Even dull the will to do macro. Aside from that, what visual feasts there are within easy reach of you are likely way too dangerous to mess with.
    The problem is that the more we come to appreciate that there are better places to be, the more intrusive that itch becomes.

    • Smogranch says:

      I’ve been looking for sixteen years. I’ve done projects here, plenty of them, but they are such a struggle to deal with homogenization beyond belief. They say the culture here is that there is no culture. That’s not really the case unless you are talking about the all white coastal areas. I did a project about Islam that was interesting, as well as a few other, small pieces, but this place is getting more and more congested, more and more homogenized and it appears that is the way people want it.

  7. david behar says:

    Hi Daniel,

    I know the feeling. After living in So. Cal for my entire life, I find it to be rather dull and sterile. . .that is until I literally stumble upon places that provide the visual equivalent of the proverbial ‘food for a starving man.’ It doesn’t happen every time I grab one of my cameras and head out the door after spending a chunk of change for a tank of gas, but when it does it makes it all worth while.

    Sometimes after I take the shot, I think that it was a waste. Then when it comes back from the lab, or I load it up onto the ole PC, it hits me that I actually nabbed something special. But yes, I would love to relocate to a new place, with a fresh set of eyes.

    However, family and friends are here, so this is where I stay. . .for now. Have hope Daniel, it’s out there. I’ve found it. . .from time to time.

    • Smogranch says:

      I’m tired of looking, and I’m tired of sitting on the freeway trying to find it. Counting the days when I can leave this place forever.

    • David Behar says:


      What is it that keeps you here? Identify it and decide if it is more important to your life then your desire to leave this place. I nearly left for Colorado in January, ready to turn my back on So Cal for good.

      Then my daughter reached out to us and asked to stay. Family needs to stay together she said.

      So we stayed. Blood is thicker. . .

      We still want to leave, but we know what we must do that is ri

    • Smogranch says:


      Wife and her job which she LOVES. A happy wife is worth my self-induced visual torture.

    • David Behar says:

      We still want to leave, but we know what is right for now. We may still move someday. Until then, we have to make it work for us here. Someday though, someday.

      Today I was out with my 35mm. Not

    • Smogranch says:

      I travel as much as possible.

    • David Behar says:

      Darn Ipad! Wanted to finish up by saying that the other day I went out with my 35mm. Lugged it around the Santa Ynez Valley all day. Lots of pretty scenery. . .but nothing really unique or compelling.

      Better luck next outing.

    • Smogranch says:

      Here it is the shoreline that normally lures me in.

    • David Behar says:

      Good morning Daniel. I have yet to ‘hit the beach.’ Mountains and desert are my major scenic draw at present. Architecture that crosses the line into abstract design, some street and candid portraits are my main ‘focus’ right now. I’m sure that will change over time.

      Just about to complete my first portfolio of new work, both digital and film. I really took to heart your comments about a photographer needing to make prints. All of the prints in my book are made by me, all inkjet. Felt good to do this. What an education. Plan to take some refresher courses at Julia Dean for tradational darkroom.

      Gotta do it all.

    • Smogranch says:

      Printing is a real key to learning, at least in my opinion. And they look great. Julia runs a great program, well worth the time.

  8. Brendan says:

    “I like old, I like culture, I like random and unpredictable, everything that SoCal is not.”

    Without beating yourself up too much, isn’t that a good starting point to come from to document the banal around you?

    It’s inherently going to have an emotional element to it, even if that emotion is negative.

    Looking forward to seeing the results!


    • Smogranch says:

      I’ve tried, but when the world is filling with potential it’s hard to spend ones time and energy working on something your heart isn’t in. Plus, you have to GET to these places and that involves donating your time to the freeway.

  9. Mei-Chun J says:

    Daniel – – urban dictionary : murse (a man-purse)

    “wow, Mark’s new laptop fits perfectly into that small bag he carries”
    “yeah, that’s a great murse. it matches his american apparel shirt.”


  10. Aguirre says:

    How about a Blurb on shoes/feet for those so fetishly-inclined; I’m sure there’s some otherworldly things happening “down south.” Or perhaps a collection of folks lugging their “TEOTWAWKI” signs that we always see in movies shot in SoCal. HA! HA! We had a man-bag sighting in the SW Texas oil fields last week; caused quite a commotion with the locals. I smoothed it over via relating the Seinfeld episode; everyone loves Seinfeld it seems.

  11. Hannah Kozak says:

    I love your photos of Southern California especially your self portrait. Have you ever seen Pedro Meyer’s self portrait series? He has created some wonderful photography there. And I relate to your love of culture, old, random and unpredictable, places you respond to and you can even add in anywhere where there’s a health hazard. Yep, it’s time for a vacation. Although I suspect your “vacations” produce 8 more photo essays and a couple new books, which is good thing!

    • Smogranch says:

      I’m not a big self-portrait guy, especially in age of “likes” when it has become more than routine. I do it when I’m desperate.

  12. Christopher Fuller says:

    I lived eight years in L.A., four of them as a student at UCLA. Loved my time at UCLA and I am grateful to L.A. because it is where I met my wife (a native of Oxnard). However, I cannot agree with you more. Part of what, perhaps, makes it difficult for photography is that it really has no central hub of activity; it is more a sprawling suburban development than possessing an urban center like downtown Chicago, Boston, or New York. As such it does not, for me, have the exuberant energy of those cities or others like London, Rome, or Mexico City.

    As for vacation, any time you want to visit Montana, there is a guest room awaiting. As long as you are comfortable with the fact that it is being offered by someone you only know through the internet. πŸ™‚ I cannot promise great photographic opportunities, but I can assure you of a more restful pace of life. Here in town we refer to 5:00 PM as “rush minute.”

    • Smogranch says:

      Thank you for the offer. If I find Montana on the horizon I will let you know. Luckily, I’ve got some good travel in the near future.

  13. jennychlad says:

    i’m visiting the city of angels (and california) for the first time in a few weeks…driving from san francisco. no plan but to explore…hopefully not just taillights. as a landlocked canadian i mostly care about the ocean. any tips?

    • Smogranch says:


      Go south. Don’t stop in LA, the beaches are nothing to write home about and the water isn’t something you want on you. Laguna has the best beaches, and it’s small enough to walk. Good food, art scene, etc. Never swim after a rain, or walk in the small streams running from inland, across the beach and into the ocean. I’m telling you this because I see people letting their kids play in those streams and the are pure runoff. Laguna is where I would stop. Plus, it’s a little removed from Los Angeles and easier to get around and it FEELS like SoCal.

    • jennychlad says:

      it’s weird how people have idyllic or nostalgic views of how something or some place should be…but when it doesn’t measure up it’s slightly damaging. paris syndrome is apparently a real anxiety. thanks for letting me know about the water. i’m the type who would probably run blind into the waves during a rainfall. i should know that even the ‘beaches’ around here get shut down due to high levels of e coli.

    • Smogranch says:

      They used to do the water quality testing a mile offshore so that it wouldn’t horrify the locals. Those streams have been tested and it’s like nuclear fallout. But, normally if it hasn’t rained in a while you are gonna be fine!

  14. Be a wedding photographer says:

    I think if you shoot weddings like every other person in SO CAL you will be happy. Wide open, over exposed by 2 stops, and don’t forget, lot’s of flare. That’s what you need to ignite your love of photography again. Just do what everyone else is doing. Surely it must be right and working for them?

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