Sacha Halona Baumann is an artist and photographer living in downtown Los Angeles. Her latest book, STEP and REPEAT (2022), explores the shifting dynamics and details of Downtown Los Angeles through hundreds of images––faded signs, traffic cones, street scenes taken from a bus stop––that she recorded on her smartphone. What connects the dots for her? Two words: Public transit. Read on to learn about the beauty of sitting back and enjoying the ride.
By Sacha Halona Baumann
I’m an artist and I consider LA my muse (and best friend). Walking and taking buses and trains are an essential part of my practice––both my source material and inspiration. From my loft on South Broadway in the Historic Core district of Downtown Los Angeles, it’s incredibly easy to access transit, and I avail myself to it, for work and pleasure, nearly every day of the week. I haven’t had a car for over 3 years, but even when I did, I rarely used it. Having a car downtown strikes me as a foolish and frustrating enterprise.
Although I was born here (Hollywood Community Hospital, represent!), I didn’t begin living full time in LA until 1993, when I moved to Skid Row in DTLA. I’ve been taking transit and making images of the city ever since. Over the last few years I most often use the 7th Street / Metro Center station, which is a 15-20 minute walk from where I live. I don’t rely on one route to get there. Instead, I turn this way or that depending on how the light changes. I inevitably take pictures on my phone along the way––often versions of which I have taken dozens of times for months or even years. I post many of the images to my Instagram stories as I’m walking. It’s part of my process of making art—a kind of performance, in which I am broadcasting my activity and sharing the way I observe my environment.
Although the Historic Broadway station just opened two blocks from my loft, I will likely continue to use the 7th Street / Metro Center station. I enjoy the walk there and often I will get off the train early so that I can explore the destination’s neighborhood by foot. I love that you can pop on and off a bus or a train whenever you want––it offers so many opportunities to see something new.
Four days a week I commute to Santa Monica via the Expo Line. I take the train nearly to the end, getting off at the 17th Street station. Having a passive commute is a treat—I can work, goof off on my phone, or just watch the view. The train is above ground 95% of the time and I enjoy the natural light and the changing scenery. Heading home I maybe smirk a bit when the train runs alongside the 10 and passes hundreds of cars stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Just as I take pictures on my morning walks to the station, I’ll often take a video of my reflection in the door of the train car when the train enters the tunnel as it approaches my stop. I like the moment when my image fades as the train enters the illuminated station, and the doors open again.
Recently I had a job that took me once or twice a month to South Broadway at 73rd. I took the 45 bus, one of my favorite routes. It starts in Lincoln Heights and I would catch it on the corner of Spring and 4th Street before it runs down South Broadway for miles and miles. Riding the bus is a fantastic way to see the city and I have a real fondness for Broadway, my street, where I can watch the high rises of the Historic Core give way to slick South Park to industrial buildings to the wonderful hand-painted storefronts as it continues south. The 45 is also great traveling northwards to Chinatown and Lincoln Heights, where I see government buildings transform into the vernacular architecture of Chinatown before they give way to the “cornfields” [now the Los Angeles State Historic Park] and finally become a residential neighborhood.
Transit is also my conduit to the galleries and exhibitions that form another part of my practice: standing…in front of art. Each week I go to exhibitions all over the city. If I’m visiting galleries in the southern Arts District, I’ll take the 18 or 60 bus. Both routes go through Skid Row and the views are intense, with blocks of unhoused people living in encampments and some of my favorite graffiti in the city. A few years ago I lived in the northern part of the Arts District and although I had a car, I opted to take these bus lines to my job on Bunker Hill. I’ve long felt that every elected official in Los Angeles County should be required to take the 18 and 60 lines at least once a year.
On both the buses and trains I have favorite seats, both for comfort and for the view they provide for making images. It always feels like a bonus if they are empty when I hop on. For the trains, it’s the first seat with a window view on the lefthand side of the train. It’s got extra legroom and a makeshift footrest made by the frame of the seats for disabled persons directly in front of it. On the bus system, I love the seat on the lefthand side of the bus that shares a row with the rear doors. When the bus comes to a stop and the doors open, a unique view of the street is suddenly revealed. I often have my phone ready to capture this never-quite-the-same perspective.
I’ve got my gripes with the system. Where are those benches and bus shelters at many stops? Why is it so dark in the stations? Why so much scolding on the PA system? Why often no janitorial services during rides? But I tend to focus on the positive in most things in life, including my means of getting around LA.
I appreciate public transportation because it is incredibly democratic. All passengers use the same vehicles, seats, and walkways. They all receive the same service. There is no hierarchy. I appreciate being amongst fellow citizens. Sometimes conversations strike up, or maybe just a nod of acknowledgement, but every trip on transit is an opportunity to interact. I believe the way to make a city work is to actively participate in it. Talk to strangers; offer your help; cast your ballot; walk the streets; take public transportation. (And, ALWAYS, thank the driver.)
Categories: Transportation News