The Science and Poetry of the Light in Los Angeles
In 1998, Lawrence Weschler, a transplant to the East Coast from Los Angeles, wrote for The New Yorker about an aspect of his home town that he missed so much that it could bring tears to his eyes: “That light: the late-afternoon light of Los Angeles—golden pink off the bay through the smog and onto the palm fronds. A light I’ve found myself pining for every day of the nearly two decades since I left Southern California.” The distinctive light of L.A.—the way it can cast the city in hyper-real relief or wrap it in a dreamy haze—is legendary. It’s one of the things that drew the movie studios there, it crops up in literature and art about the city, and it’s “a subject that Angelenos are endlessly voluble about,” Weschler wrote. And so he talked to a number of those Angelenos—from a scientist at Caltech, who described how L.A. pollution gives the air a particular shimmer, to the legendary sports announcer Vin Scully, who for decades wove descriptions of the skies over Dodger Stadium into his broadcasts of the games—gathering their readily poetic paeans about the way their city glows.
In this video, which first appeared on “The New Yorker Presents” (Amazon Originals), Weschler revisits his classic piece. The light has changed somewhat since he wrote about it, partially because pollution levels have dropped, but it is still “the defining character of the place—the soul of the place,” he says. Also appearing is the creator of one of the most iconic images of Los Angeles: Zoey Tur, the pilot of the news helicopter that followed O. J. Simpson’s white Bronco when he led the police on the famous low-speed chase through L.A. as the sun began to set, and the city lit up. “We shouldn’t show this to people back East,” Tur says as she takes the film crew up in a helicopter twenty years later, “because they’ll move out here.”