We expect our neighborhoods to change over time. Maybe your favorite bagel shop has been replaced by a Subway or the old Blockbuster is now a bike shop. In my California suburb changes were limited to names switching from one business to another. For Kwasi Boyd-Bouldin and many people of LA, the change is drastic. Buildings are torn down, landscapes are erased and communities are displaced. Gentrification turned old neighborhoods into unrecognizable areas that hold no links to the past.
Kwasi Boyd-Bouldin's first book, Forsaken #1 from Kozu Books, focuses on his urban landscapes of the greater Los Angeles area. He captures what's left of the diverse landscapes that make LA so unique. "The character of these neighborhoods are being replaced by a generic nothingness" Kwasi says about the effect of developers changing the landscapes of Los Angeles in a recent podcast with Jon Wilkening.
His images capture portions and snippets of neighborhoods that haven’t changed much in his life. The mini strip malls with restaurants and liquor stores. The large Korean grocery store in a building it was never designed for. The oddly shaped buildings and parking spots that are used by necessity rather than design.
That's the the cruel irony to gentrification. The beauty of these neighborhoods comes from the individuals living their using what they have access to build communities and businesses. They repurpose these buildings and areas for their usefulness and not their aesthetics.
As time passed in the 00's the cost of living closer to cities increased across the nation and these areas that were once blighted for being close to city centers became fertile grounds for investment and gentrification. For these new tenants, the last thing on their mind is preservation. Kwasi asks with hope, "How can we develop the area, so that it benefits the area and not change the area?"
Kwasi's work follows a lineage of photographers like Walker Evans and Stephen Shore capturing landscapes and people for future generations. The difference is those photographers entered these neighborhoods as outsiders and Kwasi approaches it as a Angelino trying to capture something he knows is disappearing.
Even he doesn't know how much longer these places can hold on. "I'm documenting this process and I don't know where this process is going." Growing up in Southern California you get used to change and buildings going up and coming down at speeds you don't see throughout the rest of the country. But it's harder to deal with changing whole neighborhoods to attract outsiders, leaving out those who never wanted to leave.