Los Angeles-based photographer David Yoon has always loved the city, but yearned to live car-free (good luck on that buddy!). Well he managed to accomplish that goal…in Tokyo. No, not in the City of Angels, but the longing survived. So now he uses his digital camera, laptop, Photoshop and Wacom tablet to transform the city he lives in into the city he’d like to live in, tightening up the wide car-first boulevards into closely knit pedestrian-first promenades. Although the urban engineering alterations would lay havoc on traffic, it certainly would make our fair city a more beautiful, unsprawled, walk- and bike-friendly metropolis. NarrowStreetsLA is his venue for his fantasy urban makeover photographs, well worth a gander…
What was the inspiration for your Narrow Streets project? What was the epiphany that brought it into existence?
I was walking along Montana Avenue [in Santa Monica] during a 4th of July holiday weekend one day. Everyone was out of town; the city was free of traffic. The street itself was almost totally car-free, and the sudden void made me realize how much asphalt we reserve for the singular purpose of auto travel: a swath six cars wide. And yet many would consider Montana to be a small, “cute” local street. But I’d just come back from Paris, so I guess my calibration was thrown off by 10 days of super charming, super narrow streets. So I thought, why not bring Paris to Montana? Street-narrowing quickly became a compulsive habit.
Worldwide, where have you gone that most fulfills your attraction to narrow streets, or fills you with glee?
I lived in Japan for four years, finally fulfilling my wish to live car-free — a wish I’ve had ever since growing up in the car-crazy maze of Orange County, where I would routinely drive two miles just to play video games at the 7-11. I also went to Venice, Italy recently, only overnight. I could stay there for months. Maybe I will!
Hit the Jump to continue the Q&A with David Yoon…
“I’d love to see more casual, whimsical mashups of our urban environments…most people care more about their city surroundings than they themselves realize.”
I spent my early years in Spain in a small village, and since then small narrow roads have always strongly appealed to me. It’s one of the more esoteric reasons why I’ve always been attracted to the Hollywood Hills area. Is there any area in LA that strikes you for this reason?
I like the Old Bank part of Downtown, and Old Town Pasadena especially. Funny how both those locations have contain the word “old”! Those sorts of areas, however tiny, represent LA’s barri gotics — the timeless, instinctive way of building that people did without thinking before cars arrived with their traffic engineers.
What do you hope to gain from the project? Is there a “sustainability” factor involved?
Mostly what I’d love to see happen is more casual, whimsical mashups of our urban environments. My photos draw out passion from both sides: those who hate it, and those who love it. The point seems to be that most people care about their city surroundings more than they themselves reailze. We already spend hours and hours sketching out makeovers for our homes, interiors, the next big Apple gadget, and even our bodies. Why not do the same for urban design? The current visual discourse is still pretty confined to ivory tower status — it’d be great if more ordinary citizens played around more with the design of their neighborhoods. Sure, some ideas would be bad, crazy, outrageous…but I think the more discourse, the better.
What’s your technique? How long does it usually take you to assemble one of your images?
I head out to locations early in the morning on Sundays, before traffic picks up. I have to do it then because taking these pictures requires me to stand in the middle of the street, which is kind of nerve-wracking in a way — but thrilling, too! Standing in a space normally dedicated to neverending travel, you realize the lack of quiet, open places in which to simply loiter.
Anyway, my wife usually spots me. I take a shot along the left side, mark lines on my viewfinder with a wet-erase marker for the sake of composition, and dash across the street to take another shot from the opposite side. I layer the two images later in Photoshop (with small Wacom tablet) and use the lasso, brush, and mask tools to create as seamless an image as possible. The easy, single-point perspective ones take about 15 minutes, but the more complex ones (like one involving shrinking all four points of an intersection) can take an hour or more.
Do you often work with music in the background? If so, what inspires your work or makes the labor more endurable?
I usually listen to whatever pops up on the iPod. The Shins are a favorite, or Erlend Oye, Vampire Weekend, Nine Inch Nails, or The Futureheads. Pan Sonic makes me drop everything and become catatonic.
Lastly, if you were lost in a supermarket, in what aisle would we find you?
I wouldn’t be in an aisle. I’d be in the walk-in cooler behind the milk and orange juice, going “boo!” to every customer who reached in.