Changing lives and landscapes along the LA River, as seen through photos

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Two men on the bike path in Vernon, CA. Credit: Mathew Scott.

Over much of its 50 miles, the LA River isn’t much of a river. But it's a home to wildlife and people, a backdrop for movie shoots, and a symbol of Los Angeles. Photographer Mathew Scott, who moved from Portland to LA, captures its myriad identities in his project "The Concrete River."


The sun breaking through the clouds of one of the winter storms that floods the LA River near Griffith Park. Credit: Mathew Smith. 

The project changed Scott's idea of what a river is. "When I learned the history of it, I was pretty impressed," he says. "If you see it in the winter after a big storm in the mountains, for like two or three days, it's a genuine, real, rushing river. And then it goes back to a small trickle again. It's really interesting." 

An abandoned shopping cart just outside of Frogtown. After the storms pass, the river is filled with
an assortment of debris from all over LA. Credit: Mathew Scott.

This photo of an overturned shopping cart is a personal favorite of Scott's. For many, the cart may symbolize LA's homelessness crisis. "It has such a beautiful stillness to it, but there's a little reminder that you're still in the middle of a huge city with lots of issues," he says. 

 A man and one of his two cats outside of his tent in Frogtown. Credit: Mathew Scott.

Scott says this was the first time he got to hang out in a homeless encampment along the river, and he spent several hours chatting with this man, who didn't want his portrait taken. 

"But he had three cats. And he loves them a lot. And he has them on leashes. He takes good care of them. So finally, he let me take his portrait, but it was from the back. And I saw the cat kept wanting to crawl on his shoulders, so I just let it happen and positioned it and shot it," says Scott. 

Scott says the interaction in this photo shows how much the owner loves his cat. And while you can see his tent in the background, that's not what the photo is about. "It's about the people," Scott emphasizes. 

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A man sitting under the 5 freeway underpass fishing for carp. Credit: Mathew Scott.

Some people go to the river to fish, but Scott says he's never found someone who eats their catch, and instead they throw the fish back in the water. 


An old door used to repair a broken section of the fence that leads to someone's backyard on
the bank of the river just outside of Atwater Village. Credit: Mathew Scott. 

Scott says he's trying to capture life as it's changing, but he recognizes that change doesn’t always mean things gets better. "I don't like seeing people displaced. I didn't like seeing the hardships that come with it." 

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A kid with his tree fort, which he built with his friends. Not long after this photo, it washed away
during one of the winter storms when the river flooded. Credit: Mathew Scott.

--Written by Amy Ta, produced by Rosalie Atkinson