Found Image: Toxic Over-Time



Creative Commons Licence


Created date

November 26, 2018

Critical Commentary


This is a triptych that includes a set of three photographs of downtown Los Angeles. Each of these photos were taken by different photographers, John Malmin, Fitzgerald Whitney, and Robert Durell, in 1955, 1973, and 1990, respectively. The years correspond with important events:

1955 Air Pollution Control Act (the first U.S. federal legislation that pertained to air pollution)

1970 Clean Air Act

1990 Clean Air Act Amendments (important ones)

These photographs attest to the ways in which ‘smog’ has continuously been perceived as a social problem in Los Angeles for half a century. They all focus on the significance of smog as a risk and the visual experience that a smog hovering over a city’s center can produce.

Design Statement:

  • Historicity

  • Infrastructure

I organized this triptych in order to provide a sense of narrative, from left to right, without being accompanied by text. The increase in the density of buildings and the change in the color scheme of photographs enables the audience to intuitively understand the flow in time. The triptych, hence, demonstrates the historicity of air pollution as an ethnographic subject. This is different from capturing moments in time where smog was present in Los Angeles. It conveys to the audience that air pollution was a persistent social problem that perhaps had its own trajectories of development.

These photographs are also interesting in that they show images of infrastructures that blend with the smog, creating the overall cityscape. For instance, the vehicles in the right-background of the the photograph in the far-left (1955) demonstrates how automobiles have historically been the main source of transport in Los Angeles, as opposed to public transportation, contributing to the city’s smog problem.


Chris Megerian. 2017. “California's vow to reduce auto pollution may be setting up a full-out war with Trump.” In Los Angeles Times, photographs by Fitzgerald Whitney (1973), John Malmin (1955), and Robert Durell (1900).