Monday, January 29, 2007

Hang Trees

run up, 2002
40 x 50 inches, chromogenic print

Hang Trees / Ken Gonzales-Day

The images on this page are part of a series entitled, Searching for California's Hang Trees, or just Hang Trees, for short. They were taken over a five-year period. The series extended across other distances as well, and in photographing these sites, I traveled to nearly every county in the state of California. All of the images were taken with an old wooden Deardorff 8 x 10 camera that I bought on eBay. As straightforward as this series may be photographically, it is also part of a larger project that has come to be know as Lynching in the West.

Searching for California's Hang Trees derived from my own research into the history of lynching in California. When I started this project, few people even believed that California had a history of lynching and Western terms like, frontier justice, vigilance committee, necktie party, and kangaroo court, colored those cases that were known.

I began this project by trying to assemble the most complete record of lynching in California that I could, and I was particularly interested in discovering how nineteenth century conceptions of difference (race, creed, color, national origin, and even gender) might have obscured the fact that, when taken collectively, Native Americans, African Americans, Chinese immigrants, and Latinos, fell victim to the mob's anger more often than persons of Anglo or European descent.

Using historical records, I spent many long hours wandering in the landscape or looking for clues to the dismal past. I set out to look for, to witness, as many of the sites as I could - even knowing that many could never be found.

Lynching in the West: Los Angeles Downtown Walking Tour

This walking tour revisits places and events made infamous in the first decades of the city - a period that was colored by great social, economic, and cultural unrest. The modern city has erased much of this past, but there are still places where the old city can be found, and like a war-torn battlefield, it demands recognition for its dead.

The Tongva tribe, later called the Gabrieliños, inhabited the region for over a thousand years. The combined Spanish and Mexican periods (1769 - 1850) did not even last a century. In the 1850s, the dirt roads leading out of the old Spanish plaza were still lined with many of the same adobe homes, and families, that had built them. In these early days, the plaza was little more than a dusty patch of land whose presence was intended to symbolize civilization more than embody it.

Surrounded by prominent Latino families and some of the city's most successful entrepreneurs from Europe and the "States," it remained the city's center until the 1870s when, from such noble beginnings, these same streets would house brothels, bars, and Chinese gambling houses. Race hatred would also mark the city's first decades as cultural tensions, crime, and a fledgling legal system would each inflame and infect the plaza square.

Even in the 1850s, as visitors flooded into the Bella Union Hotel to dine on a bear that had been killed in the nearby San Gabriel Mountains, others made their way to the Montgomery Saloon where Anglos crowded in to get a glimpse at a rare necklace. The necklace was made of human ears that had once belonged to some of the regions most notorious Latino bandits. The necklace's maker remains a subject of historical debate, but one can be certain that in such fierce times, no person of Mexican or Latin American descent would have risked entering an establishment where the bloody gleam of such jewels was admired. Each of these buildings stood near the intersection of Main and Arcadia Streets.

The Tour:

This self-guided tour begins at Union Station. Once known as the Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal, it is located at 800 N. Alameda Avenue in downtown Los Angeles (1). The father and son team of John and Donald B. Parkinson designed this landmark building. It opened its doors in 1939 and is now on the National Register of Historic Places. Its design is as remarkable as the city itself, blending the Spanish Colonial, Mission Revival, and Streamline Moderne styles with Moorish elements.

Continue the tour...

"Walking Tour of Los Angeles Lynch Sites," Meet at Union Station: January 31, 2007, 1pm

"The Wonder Gaze: Lynching in Los Angeles," Humanities Institute, Scripps College, Claremont, CA. January 30, 2007, 7:30pm

two men were found on a tree, 2005
36 x 46 inches

Lynching in the West: 1850-1935 / Duke University Press, 2006

Ken Gonzales-Day’s Lynching in the West / Catalogue Essay for Cue Art Foundation / by Juli Carson

An Interview with Ken Gonzales-Day / The Harvard Advocate / by Jennifer Flores Sternad

Ken Gonzales-Day on Pacific Drift (89.3 KPCC)

with none but the omni-present stars to witness..., 2002
40 x 50 inches, chromogenic print

thanks ryan!