CHD: Stores, Signs, Street Writing and Urban Decay

I took the following photographs on two different days from the back of my bike while riding around the neighborhood.  THIS Google map shows a general outline of the two rides.

April 27th, 2009

I had to take the car to the garage for smogging so I tossed my bike into the trunk and headed out.  I remembered there was a nice piece of street writing up on a billboard so I brought my camera.  The photo I took captures a lot of what I like about the look of my neighborhood.  I like the hand-painted storefronts and I like that street writers mark everything.  I like the aesthetic of peeling paint.  South Central reminds me of Robert Rauschenberg paintings.


I seldom get out on my bike around the neighborhood.  Truthfully I avoid it.  I’ve seen too much violence and it makes me worry.  I typically enjoy the views from my car or motorcycle, but I can’t take the pictures that I want when I’m steering (I’m working on a way).  After riding around for a bit I decided to feel safe.


We have a lot of churches in my neighborhood.  We also have a lot of liquor stores, motels, used car lots, water stores (this perplexes me), garages, fast food, beauty salons, barber shops and street vendors.


And a lot of vacant buildings.  Anyone want to open a business?  Rents are cheap!


The ethnic makeup of the neighborhood continues to transform.  Today, most of my neighbors speak Spanish.


Sometimes these hand-painted signs crack me up.


Other times I find humor in the juxtaposition of words from different signs.


I’ll bet this sign had a pretty serious message before falling apart.  Now it is just something nice to look at.

May 5th, 2009

After checking out the photos from my April shoot I decided to head out again.  This time I would ride up and down Slauson and Manchester Avenues because they both have some great street writing.


Click for Large

Click for Large



The train tracks that run along Slauson Ave. blaze a path for an especially dense display of writing.



I ran into some members of the RTN crew and asked them how they decided who gets to paint where.  One guy explained that if you are RTN you can write anywhere, and that if you are not RTN, and you paint around Slauson, you could get hurt.  He asked if I could help him photograph his work.  I gave him my number.  I hope he calls.






Aside from the street writers I enjoy watching everything disentigrate.






The street writers cover the walls.  The shop keepers then cover the walls.  The cycle continues.  This contributes to the South Central look.



Sign glut is also part of the look.


I’ve been told that religious murals are often used to ward off vandalism.


The billboard in this shot is too sad.  A neighborhood watch advertisement peels away to reveal a reward offer for information leading to the arrest of a young woman’s murderers.





And there were the ubiquitous SoCal car washes.

So I got out on my bike, I rode around, I took some photos, I met some people, and I became less afraid of my neighborhood.  The weather was gorgeous.  Life is sweet.

21 responses to “CHD: Stores, Signs, Street Writing and Urban Decay”

  1. Beautiful. “Stroke Targets by Color” ought to be an album title.

  2. Scotty says:

    I LOVE this post. Thanks for sending me out into the world inspired.

  3. Dave says:

    Loved the photos and the narrative.

    My little corner of my neighborhood is not really scary, but it’s slightly rough-looking sometimes, rougher than the surrounding gentrified areas, and we do have drug dealers on one corner or other sometimes, and we used to have a crack-smoking grandma living in our basement stairwell. When I first moved to the neighborhood, I’d be nervous about looking out-of-place. I wouldn’t walk down my block with headphones on, for example, and just felt vaguely uneasy sometimes. Now I’m perfectly comfortable, although a few of my friends tell me they feel a bit uncomfortable in the neighborhood.

    I suspect your risk of being a victim of violence in your neighborhood is relatively low, so it’s cool that you could get out and become more familiar with it.

  4. LP says:

    Rogan, I liked the way you’ve cropped these photos with curved corners to look like snapshots from the ’70s. Which, in fact, many of them could be.

    Not sure I’m with you on enjoying watching things disintegrate – it makes me sad, actually – but that RTN art is pretty amazing. The dead Ronald McDonald is also quite a sight to behold. Great photos, and I’m glad your excursion left you feeling less afraid.

  5. swells says:

    I love how you “decided to feel safe.” I remember the exact second I made this decision, sometime in my early years in San Francisco. It totally works! I don’t mean to sound naive, but once I made that choice, I never felt unsafe again, even walking alone at night in sketchy neighborhoods, for the many years I lived there. Perhaps I was just lucky. I made the same decision after the first few days in Mexico City last month, after being indoctrinated that I would definitely get kidnapped in a taxi and maybe have a finger cut off. I didn’t. It totally works. I didn’t even get swine flu.

    As for your photos, I loved them (and even more so after you compared them to Rauschenberg), especially the Handsome Tacos one. I thought Scott was going to have a heart attack of joy this morning, they were so up his alley.

  6. Dave says:

    Two Rauschenberg references in two weeks. We’s a high-class blog.

    Also, does anyone else keep reading the post title as “CHUD”?

  7. lane says:

    old crappy typography is really cool.

    i got to go to a cocktail party at the rauchenberg studio on monday night. it was pretty awesome. he has a “cropped” church at the back (the building used to be the rectory) so that’s where the party was. full height cathedral ceilings but only as wide as the building itself. the rest of the original church foot print is a parking lot.

    and in the building an exhibition of 6 late transfer works (all 2006) and 3 of them were really good!

  8. lane says:

    fuck rauchenberg.


  9. lane says:

    steven schorr too, nice.

  10. Scotty says:

    Lane, first Bowie, then Rauschenberg. What is it with you and my idols. Do you hate Virginia Woolf too? Jane Goodall? Let me guess–Barack Obama?

  11. swells says:

    whoops, that was me, not scotty.

  12. Oscar says:

    Life is sweet. Keep it coming. I’d love to get a tour of other GTWer’s cities this way.

  13. Adriana says:

    10. no no no i love robert r. i really do. but, not unlike bowie, it’s an over production issue. more than bowie, really (that’s just a taste thing, i just don’t like opera-rock) i LIKE rauchenberg’s work. but seriously everyone knows that his output is four times as large as most artists and frankly filled with TONS of mediocre work.

    That’s what I meant by 6 pictures and 3 of them good. That’s just how he did it, he didn’t edit himself very much.

    and then I looked at those photos again and they brought to mind William Eagleston or Steven Shore. Both great “American Scene” type photograhers.

    AND ROUNDED CORNERS! Nice touch Rogan!

  14. lane says:

    that was lane

  15. Thank you for the comments!

    1. “Stroke Targets by Color” would be a find album name. Sign glut has a way of mixing up words to give the city a voice all its own.

    2. It took me a while to get comfortable in my home, never mind the neighborhood. It didn’t help that within the first year of moving to our house some pretty serious violence went down on our street. People get jumped too often (my neighbor, a middle aged Mexican woman, got jumped for her groceries). On my rides there were definitely folks to be avoided, and I seldom got off my bike. It isn’t Mr. Roger’s neighborhood. Hell, it isn’t even Seasame Street. This is the ‘hood, yo. Everyone checks their six. But I feel pretty good being in public places where there are a lot of eyes on the street. Plus, I’m clearly ‘up to something,’ which tends to spark curiosity and conversation.

    4&14. Yes, I like the rounded corners. I’ve been digging on them for a while now, in all kinds of photos, and not just of scenery that has looked the same since the ’70s. I like how they soften the window. Plus, in printed photos, they are practical.

    5. Deciding to feel safe is definitely a bridge one crosses in the mind, but it makes all the difference. It is a tricky bit of mental gymnastics that balances the odds (violence, even in rough neighborhoods, isn’t the norm) a plan (stay close to the bike and be ready to burn rubber… otherwise be friendly, warm and open) and accepting the outcome of the likely worst case scenario (I get jumped and have my bike and/or cameras stolen.)

    lane: Rauschenberg did some fine work that should exempt him from your contempt. Hate the game, not the player. ;)

    10. (no doubt! What is up with lane, crapping all over Rauschenberg? What a punk.)

  16. LP says:

    What does CHD mean? And why does every post have at least one acronym / abbreviation that’s impossible to figure out? Is that a requirement now?

  17. It is shorthand for ‘crack house diaries,’ a title I have used for a few years now when writing about those experiences that develop out our choice to move into a former crack house (as described by neighbors) in South Central LA.

  18. lane says:

    hey come on, i’m not “crapping all over him” it’s just the “rauchenberg problem” everyone knows it. too much stuff.

    and hey what about my props to other really cool artists here. shore and eagleston? i’m not such a bitch.

  19. Natasha says:

    I love these. When I moved to Cali, I didn’t know anyone. The first place for rent I found was in OC. LA seemed so big and confusing and I thought that OC was a part of LA. When I paid my rent, I didn’t have any more money and had to find a job. The only job I found (based on my previous waitressing experience) was at a night club in LA. Since I didn’t have a car and didn’t know how to drive, I took the bus at 5:00PM in Costa Mesa to be downtown by 8:00PM (the bus took 3 hours). I worked my shift and came back to the bus stop at 2:00AM to wait for the bus to arrive by 5:00AM (that route did not run at night). At 5:00AM I took the bus and was home by 8:00AM to get some sleep and be on the bus by 5:00PM again. I had a lot of time to kill at night (the bus stop can get somewhat boring and the conversations with the homeless redundant), so I walked the streets. I thought I was tough and always had a knife up my sleeve, but I was probably stupid. I’m glad I got to be a part of it though. I saw LA back then the same way you see it through the lens of your camera now. It’s the way it welcomed me and the very thing I love about it.

  20. Scotty says:

    A knife up your sleeve? You are officially the baddest-ass commenter on the Whatsit.

  21. Natasha says:

    Lol. Thanks, Scotty. I never actually thought of myself as a bad-ass.