Without a Car pairs photo portraits of 100 L.A.-area residents (including me!) with brief quotes from their interviews about car-free living. Far from a simple hurrah for automobile-free living, the exhibit features interviews both from those who are proud of their car-free lifestyles to others who sound deeply unhappy about a car-lessness that’s been imposed on them, whether due to financial concerns, disability, or other reasons.
In fact, the juxtaposition of these points of view is what makes Without a Car especially poignant. One Angeleno talks about how taking public transportation’s so much easier and convenient than people think it is. Another expounds on the difficulties of getting around by bus — how long it takes, how unreliable the system seems.
Without a Car shows a diverse group of Angelenos from all walks of life, and the simple, short quotes from the car-free people quite effectively expose and explore L.A.’s race and class issues, whether it’s a mother who rents a car because her daughter’s too embarrassed to show up to take a standardized test via the bus, or a girl who proudly rides her unicycle in Santa Monica.
What the exhibit makes clear is that going car-free is an extremely individual experience — and that race and class play heavily into how pleasant that experience is going to be. It’s one thing to be a relatively lucky freelance writer who first moved to a nice part of Santa Monica where everything — including an Enterprise rental office — is within walking distance before getting rid of her car (that’s me — although I now have a car again). It’s quite another to be a teenager from a working-class family living in a relatively dangerous part of L.A., who has no choice but to transfer on multiple buses to get to school and work before relying on a late night, infrequent bus line to get her back home.
The artist Diane Meyer, who’s an assistant professor of photography at Loyola Marymount University, is herself car-free. See the exhibit yourself at the 18th Street Arts Center, 1639 18th St., Santa Monica, before it closes on Dec. 11, 2009. A number of public programs — including a discussion about walking in L.A. with DJ Waldie and a panel discussion on the future of transportation in L.A. are planned. Check the 18th Street Arts Center calendar
for details, as dates and times of the events — including the panel I’m on, currently planned for Nov. 14 — will likely change.