What We Did: Dull Chinatown Day and Is It Art?

On the third day of my exploration of L.A. by bicycle I decided to set a somewhat less ambitious goal for myself. The first day, which took me all around South Central Los Angeles, had involved a lot of riding and photographing, filming and interviewing.

The second day in Little Tokyo had been less labor intensive, but more emotionally draining.

For the third day—really half a day, as I’d already decided to spend the afternoon getting a head start on all the digital media I’d compiled on the previous two days—I decided to return to an old familiar haunt: Chinatown.


The day was sunny, the ride was short, and I’d set my helmet camera to shoot one shot every three seconds.

Once there, I jotted notes over a steaming bowl of duck noodle soup for an essay I’ll probably never write contrasting Little Tokyo with Chinatown.

There is of course a direct Chinese translation for the word Melancholy, but I can’t come up with it off hand. The best I can do is “不够活潑”: “not lively enough.”  The colors in LA’s Chinatown are muted and faded.  Riding through the crowded main plaza of little Tokyo is difficult, not to mention rude.

In Chinatown, this is usually not an issue.  On Monday afternoon the central plaza is nearly empty, save for a small group of Cantonese men playing Xiangqi using a mismatched chess set and hand-drawn chess board on a piece of paper.

In any event, by that point the idea wasn’t so much to explore Chinatown, but to see if the helmet camera took worthwhile still shots.

The shots below are the best ones from a 20 minute ride @ one shot every three seconds. So @ 20 shots a minute, that’s 400 shots, of which these 25 are the ones I find interesting enough to show.

Assuming that they are interesting, or pretty, or otherwise worth taking a few seconds to look at, it raises the following question: Should I take pride in shooting photos that I did not consciously frame?  

Sorting through the shots my camera took that day with my friend Anna (who studied photography and speaks of images using terms like “vanishing point” and “strong vertical lines”), I found myself asking if it was fair to take any credit for having taken them. At no point did I stop and frame any of them, or if I did it was mostly an accident at having stopped and looked at something long enough for the helmet cam to do its job.

Done with the work of ad-hoc street-side photo-journalism for the time being (or so I thought—the next day I’d nearly be arrested covering a political rally in front of the hotel),  I rode back to the hotel to begin the arduous task of draining the digital swamp I’d created over 72 hours.

Next: A Moving Violation