Ecology of Dreams – Interview

We speak with Ewan Telford, author of Ecology of Dreams, to discover the story behind his project:

Firstly, please tell us the journey behind Ecology of Dreams ? What led you to making it?

It started as a project about walking the length of the 110 freeway/ Arroyo Seco Parkway, the first freeway to be built in the Western US. The 110 cuts across the middle of Los Angeles, more or less, but not across the well-known parts – it goes from the ports, through South Central and Downtown and up to Pasadena.

I saw it as a means to look at the ordinary (yet extraordinary) city, not the image exported to the world of Hollywood and beaches and so on, but its history, its various social and economic groups, its unusual relationship with nature, whatever I could prize from beneath the surface.

I abandoned the idea as my pictures were not very interesting and the project was too limiting to allow me to convey the strangeness of the city as I saw it. It needed a more abstract, less linear approach so I started working with the idea of dreams. Some of the original 110 images survived, but not many. Cars and freeways remained important.

How did you find your first image behind this idea and what does it show?

I can’t remember the first image, but one of the first was the house at 54th Street which now sits where the SLA siege occurred in 1974. The incident connected a number of themes that interested me – the Patricia Hearst saga and her family’s history, the then-nascent militarization of the police, the media and modes of representation. Hearst alone tied in a lot. Her grandfather, William Randolph, had a media empire, but the family fortune is based on gold – George Hearst was a pioneer from the east, of sorts, and made his fortune in western gold with the direct assistance of the US military’s clearance of American Indians.

Hearst history is US history. Hunting domestic terrorists in the 1970s or international ones today progresses naturally from hunting native tribes in the nineteenth century; it’s a national mindset, a cowboy mindset gone global, if you will. The birth of SWAT units in Los Angeles is consistent with that. The irony of Patricia’s involvement with the counterculture, which went to war with the state, and her denunciation of her family couldn’t be made up, though her reversion to type and subsequent pardons probably could.

The New Left dream of some kind of redemption for the US, however naive or misguided, was brutally put down at 54th Street, live on television, and the nation was already drifting toward repression.

Could you tell us how you landed on the title The Ecology of Dreams

The title is inspired by Reyner Banham’s book The Architecture of Four Ecologies, in which he studied Los Angeles in terms of what he saw as its four ‘ecologies’: the beaches, freeways, flatlands and hills. Los Angeles’ fifth ecology, I propose, is extra-dimensional: that of Dreams, which are famously central to the city and to the nation but which can mean a lot of things.

Discover Ecology of Dreams by Ewan Telford