Early photographs of Los Angeles surprise for many reasons, but often what's most striking is how empty the city looks. Open countryside surrounds familiar landmarks. Busy intersections appear as dusty crossroads.
Southern California entered the photographic record at the cusp of a dramatic transformation in the region's landscape. When an anonymous photographer stood atop Fort Moore Hill circa 1862 and took the earliest-known photograph of Los Angeles, he captured a small town -- population 4,385 in 1860 -- within an open countryside. Vineyards, orchards, and other intensive agricultural enterprises occupy the land immediately surrounding the city. Obscured in the hazy distance, meanwhile, were sprawling cattle and sheep ranches, legacies of the region's Spanish and Mexican eras. In 1862, Los Angeles represented one of the few urbanized areas, as rustic as it was, in the entire region.