Photos of “unique” Lakewood, California

The New York Times takes a look at some of the photographs Tom M. Johnson has taken of his hometown, Lakewood, California. Here is how Johnson describes his pictures:

At a workshop in Santa Fe, N.M., Mr. Johnson learned of three steps for becoming a successful artist, ascribed to Horton Foote: Be competent at your medium, understand the history of your medium and come from a place.

“I thought about that driving on the way home,” he said. “I started thinking about Lakewood. This is sort of a unique suburb. I started to appreciate the qualities.”

Mr. Johnson’s parents moved to Lakewood in the 1950s. It was his mother’s dream home. At that time, he said, Lakewood was largely composed of a single middle-class stratum. Now, he said, even as the definition of “middle class” has broadened, so has the mix in Lakewood, where you can find run-down homes as well as manicured lawns.

Mr. Johnson is changing, too. “I see different types of pictures than I did before,” he said. “It’s probably something I’ll continue to work on forever.”

This sounds like it could be interesting: an artist realizes that his unique hometown has a lot of potential. But, looking at these 13 photos on the NYT website, I don’t really see much of the uniqueness of Lakewood at all. In fact, I think these photos could come from a number of suburbs. Maybe I think this just because of the 13 photos offered here.

Lakewood does have the potential to be an interesting subject. Here is a brief history of the community:

Lakewood is a planned, post-World War II community. Developers Louis Boyar, Mark Taper and Ben Weingart are credited with “altering forever the map of Southern California”. Begun in late 1949, the completion of the developers’ plan in 1953 helped in the transformation of mass-produced working-class housing from its early phases in the 1930s and 1940s to the reality of the 1950s. The feel of this transformation from the point of view of a resident growing up in Lakewood was captured by D. J. Waldie in his award-winning memoir, Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir.

Lakewood’s primary thoroughfares are mostly boulevards with landscaped medians, with frontage roads on either side in residential districts. Unlike in most similar configurations, however, access to the main road from the frontage road is only possible from infrequently spaced collector streets. This arrangement, hailed by urban planners of the day, is a compromise between the traditional urban grid and the arrangement of winding “drives” and culs-de-sac that dominates contemporary suburban and exurban design.

It might be difficult to take photos of “boulevards with landscaped medians” or convey the spirit of “mass-produced working-class housing” but, if this is what sets Lakewood apart, these are the photos I would like to see.

In general, it may be difficult to convey the unique character that individual suburbs have. While residents and community leaders certainly know what sets their community apart from nearby communities, picking this out in photographs may be a challenge.

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