Earth, Water, Air, Fire: A Historical Look at SoCal's Troubled Relationship with Nature

Earth, Water, Air, Fire: A Historical Look at SoCal's Troubled Relationship with Nature

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Is Southern California a paradise? According to classical thought, what distinguishes a paradise from a wild wasteland is a proper balancing of the four elements: earth, water, air, and fire. A desert suffers from a plethora of fire and earth, for example, and a jungle from too much earth and water.

We can only guess how Aristotle would judge Los Angeles, but our region's history recounts many struggles to achieve a desired balance of the four classical elements.

Viewers of "Chinatown" or readers of Mike Davis's "Ecology of Fear" will know that those struggles to control nature -- from canals that drain far-off river basins to debris basins thatcatch the crumbling San Gabriel Mountains -- can backfire with unintended social consequences and catastrophic "natural" disasters. As the selected images below show, Southern California's photographic archives richly document the region's troubled relationship with the four classical elements.