‘You can see the scars everywhere': Kwasi Boyd-Bouldin photographs LA’s communities of color during pandemic

Written by Danielle Chiriguayo and Amy Ta, produced by Angie Perrin

How do we celebrate and honor the impact of Black culture on LA? KCRW's new project “My Black LA” aims to tell the story of Los Angeles through the eyes of Black writers, artists and creators who’ve been documenting the history of the city. 

This first installation features landscape photographer Kwasi Boyd-Bouldin, who tells stories of the changing landscape of Leimert Park and the Crenshaw District. The collection is “Black Space: Los Angeles.” 

Boyd-Bouldin got into photography at age 19. His father, who passed away, left him an old Olympus PEN-F. Boyd-Bouldin then used it to document where he lived at the time, including East Hollywood and the neighborhoods bordering Koreatown.

Today, his landscape images tend to exclude people. He says people can be a distraction to what he’s trying to convey. 

“I really do try to focus on the physical composition of the neighborhoods that I document. [And] on the things that may be subtle, things that you may not notice if you walk by or if you're used to it. If you live in a neighborhood, you may walk by every day, and it may not jump out at you.”

Perfect Ride. Washington Blvd., 2020. Photo by Kwasi Boyd-Bouldin.

Boyd-Bouldin’s photo called “Perfect Ride” is an example of focusing on a space rather than a person. 

“When I walked by that car, it kind of all just clicked. It definitely seemed like it belonged there. But it also doesn't seem like the type of car or the type of ride you would see elsewhere in the city,” he says. “What is unique about this space that I'm going through? If I'm familiar with it, or if it's a place that I grew up in, does that trigger a memory?” 

This vehicle reminded Boyd-Bouldin of his father’s Buick Riviera. He guesses the two are about the same age, and both look like they’re treated with the same love and care.

History and a sense of quiet 

Boyd-Bouldin says photographing LA spaces is a way to connect with his past. 

He’s gone back to his old neighborhoods, including Leimert Park and the Crenshaw District, to see how they’ve changed over the years.

King Kutz. 2019. Photo by Kwasi Boyd-Bouldin.

Yacine’s Braid Solutions. 2019. Photo by Kwasi Boyd-Bouldin.

“Being Black in Los Angeles, that entire area has always had a giant cultural significance for me. And I've always felt the pull of the art, the music, everything that came out of that area. So I felt it was important to document it as it is, because things are changing pretty rapidly with everything that's going on in the city.” 

When taking photos, Boyd-Bouldin ditches his car and instead walks through neighborhoods, taking the time to absorb the environment.

“You really need that kind of sense of quiet, and you need that sense of space,” he says. “I like to present it in a way that someone from the neighborhood or someone who lives there would appreciate.”

The visible impact of the pandemic

Boyd-Bouldin says documenting neighborhoods has become more intimate during the pandemic, especially as he hears from community members who explain what’s happening there. 

“When you get to focusing on communities of color, whether that's East Hollywood or Leimert Park, you can see the scars everywhere. You can see these boarded-up businesses. You can see these mom and pop storefronts that are going, and they've been left out to dry.” 

West Angeles Counseling Center. 2021. Photo by Kwasi Boyd-Bouldin.

Worldwide Tacos. 2019. Photo by Kwasi Boyd-Bouldin.