Slow Life: Santa Monica / by chris miele

It was my first sanctuary in the city.  

Perched atop eroding bluffs, Palisades Park in Santa Monica offered the peace and introspection I so often craved.  Early visits were mini vacations from the hectic and congested Koreatown apartment I shared when first moving to Los Angeles.  Gnarled pines, fragrant eucalyptus, and towering palm trees lined the landscaped park overlooking the never quiet PCH.  It was in this park that I record some of my earliest (and most important) images.  Throughout seven years in LA, these views were what I considered home.

Tourist free...momentarily.  Santa Monica, CA.

I love returning to LA for a laundry list of reasons, but my relationship with the city has definitely changed.  Before the landing gears even touch down I’m inundated with regret over not creating more images of this vast place.  I’m learning the only way to combat these feelings has been to accept that I’m a student of the city and to treat my time here with more diligence.  Week long visits now cruise by at an accelerated pace; often leaving little time time to plan photographic missions.  For this round I had but one day of down time; one afternoon really; and I chose to spend it revisiting the stretch I last called home.  Off season clouds made for a quiet and moody Sunday, a welcomed change frankly.  With a fresh rental from the new bike share program, I peddled out to shoot a leisure light study, a few hours spent watching the clouds wavering around in the hopes that I’d be rewarded with rare visions of color.

My preferred roadway.  Santa Monica, CA.

Ocean Ave hotels commanding the coast.  Santa Monica, CA.

The beginning of the light study.  Santa Monica, CA.

While my anticipated visions of color were playing out as I hoped, the residual effects of my mission were more striking.  Dozens of hours (stretched over years) spent observing life from the bluffs above had given way to new visions.  On the sand below life played out slowly and deliberately as cyclists weaved along the bike path, couples held hands on their afternoon stroll, and storm clouds danced between the canyons in the distance.  The nuances of LA and it's quintessential beach life had become more distinct, poignant, and peaceful. 

One of my most inspiring vistas, made better with some approaching turbulence.  Santa Monica, CA.

Not a bad day for a cruise.  Santa Monica, CA.

Not a bad day for a cruise.  Santa Monica, CA.

For years when I worked in Santa Monica this park was my mid-day retreat.  I’d let the sun soak my face and recharge me for the day, week, or even month.  I’d sip coffee at the same bench on weekends, and eventually every weekday after moving to the neighborhood.  Daily sunset bike rides would steer me right to the cliff's edge where I’d ponder the vastness of the Pacific and dream about the never ending adventures awaiting beyond the horizon.  It was my jump off point, both physical and mentally.  I loved it so much that I rarely photographed it.  In fact, some of my worst images, pictures that never made it off the editing desk, were shot here.

 

Life converges at the sand.  Santa Monica, CA.

 

I used to intentionally pass on shooting scenes like this.  Live and learn I suppose.  Santa Monica, CA.

Almost looks surf-able.  Santa Monica, CA.

Almost looks surf-able.  Santa Monica, CA.

It's uncanny how strong the draw of this place is for me.  Only NOW am I seeing not just the potential of these views and this location, but the potential for the continued study of life from this vantage point.  Nearly voyeuristic in the perspective, watching the simplicity of life play out is truly sublime.  Again, my time away has taught me to be a student of this city, but not just this city, every city, town, and view. 

The California Incline after its recent overhaul.  Protected bike lanes, swoon...  Santa Monica, CA.