The people in Diane Meyer's photographs are doing what many Angelenos find unthinkable: They are living in L.A. without a car.
The Loyola Marymount University photography professor set out a year ago to document this often-ignored population. The resulting exhibition, "Without a Car in the World: 100 Car-less Angelinos Tell Stories of Living in L.A.," runs through Dec. 11 at 18th Street Arts Center in Santa Monica. It includes 84 portraits (some with more than one person), each paired with a quote about the joys and trials of living without a car.
"I think the assumption is people without cars are poor or have no choice," said Meyer at her Santa Monica apartment. "I wanted to show that there are professional people with active, busy lives who take the bus."
Among those featured is magazine editor and single mom Paula Hess, who engaged her two school-aged children by plotting bus routes to their favorite destinations. Joshua Haglund, a computer programmer, said that his co-workers "freak" when they learn he doesn't have a car. And April de Stefano, assistant director of UCLA's Center for the Study of Women, is proud that her young son's earliest memories will be on a bicycle.
Meyer, 33, came up with the project after going car-less herself in January 2008 to save money. "It just made me feel more like I lived in a city," she said. "It made me feel really independent."
Striving to include as many points of view as possible, Meyer started with cyclist friends and activists she met through environmental blogs. To find those for whom being car-less was not a choice, she turned to the "gigs" section of Craigslist, where people often advertise for rides. She also began approaching strangers on the bus. She had expected to be rebuffed but found that, "people were sort of glad to talk about their experiences and maybe complain about issues they had with the transit system," she said.
She got a grant from the California Council for the Humanities and initially planned to include just 30 people but soon realized that the story was much bigger. Through her subjects, she saw how transportation problems limited access to resources and opportunities. One woman she interviewed, college student Joanna Ingalls, spends six hours a day on a series of buses to home, school and work because there are so few routes through her South Central neighborhood.
By giving voice to such stories, the project is a form of advocacy. "Reading the text and seeing the images made me want to get out of my car," said Damon Willick, an art history professor at LMU. He sees the work as an example of eco-art that seeks to raise awareness of environmental problems. "It's also part of a tradition of L.A. artists who are interested in commuting," he said, like Ed Ruscha and Dennis Hopper. But he thinks Meyer's project differs significantly from their works, which have tended to reinforce car culture.