The most interesting thing I learned reading “The Left Coast: California on the Edge” with text by Philip L. Fradkin and photos by Alex L. Fradkin is that the primary purpose of Santa Monica Pier when it was built in 1909 was to take the city’s sewage and dump it behind the breakers. This revelation comes on page 48. Astonishing as it may seem, this notion was considered progress a century ago. Not so astonishing is the fact that it didn’t work. The outfall did not keep the sewage from seeping onto the other side of the waves and the beach, and the pier was within five years suffering from being pounded by the surf.
The Fradkins—father and son—spent three years traveling the California coast to research and photograph the book, and the time taken shows. They divide California’s 840 miles of ocean coast into eight regions and show each in interesting words and pictures. However, as detailed as their histories and developments in those eight areas, it seems that there’s an astonishing amount of detail that’s not included.
There’s nothing, for instance, on Santa Barbara, arguably the most majestic of California’s coastal cities. Or San Luis Obispo, another gem of the central coast. Or Eureka, which mixes commerce and the coast in a way which other California port cities do not. Newport Beach doesn’t get a mention, nor does Laguna Beach.
But what is in the book is good, interesting stuff—Santa Monica’s efforts to stash its waste in ways that wouldn’t sicken the visitors it hoped to attract; San Pedro’s place overlooking a harbor with the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach; Marin County’s agricultural past and present; the untamed North Coast and its Native American heritage. The tales are largely geared to the environmental, reflecting Philip Fradkin’s history as an environmental journalist, California Resources Agency staffer, and author. The photos are more deliberative than spontaneous, a function of Alex Fradkin using a view camera, a large, heavy film camera that makes the photographer think deeply about each shot.
The Left Coast: California on the Edge
Text by Philip L. Fradkin Photos by Alex L. Fradkin
116 pages (plus photograph pages)
2011, University of California Press
List price: $29.95