My most recent series, "100 Years of Dust: Owens Lake and the Los Angeles Aqueduct," documents the latest chapter in a century of legal battles over water rights and air quality in Owens Valley, California. Owens Lake lies in Southern California’s Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains, about 200 miles northeast of Los Angeles. This 110-square-mile lake began to dry up in 1913 when the City of Los Angeles diverted the Owens River into the Los Angeles Aqueduct. The new water supply allowed Los Angeles to continue its rapid growth and turned the arid San Fernando Valley into an agricultural oasis, but at a tremendous environmental cost. By 1926, Owens Lake was a dry alkali flat, and its dust became the largest source of carcinogenic particulate air pollution in North America.
In 1998, the Environmental Protection Agency mandated that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) take steps to minimize the toxic PM-10 dust pollution from Owens Dry Lake. At the time, this pollution was 100 times greater than federal air safety standards. LADWP began construction on the Owens Lake Dust Mitigation Project in the year 2000. They have installed 45 square miles of dust mitigation zones, including gravel cover, managed vegetation, buried drip tubing, and irrigation bubblers to shallow flood the dry lakebed. This dust mitigation program has cost $1.3 billion to date and requires so much water that it may not be sustainable as climate change results in a drier climate for California, which is currently experiencing the worst drought in recorded history.
The sordid history of Owens Valley and the Los Angeles Aqueduct is an important cautionary tale about modern civilization and the ill-conceived hubris of our water engineering projects. We cannot afford to forget how delicately interconnected ecological systems are as we deal with the impacts of climate change. The LADWP of today has not learned the lessons of its past. They are trying to mitigate the negative environmental impacts of the LA Aqueduct—the largest aqueduct engineering project of it’s day—with a massive, expensive, and extremely high maintenance new environmental engineering project that is the largest of our day.
Despite these devastating conflicts over water rights, Owens Valley remains one of the most majestic high desert landscapes in the world. This arid valley is nestled between the 14,505 ft. peak of Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the United States, and Death Valley, the lowest point in North America. I worked closely with environmental groups including the Owens Valley Committee and the Sierra Club while developing this series between 2012 and 2015. I interviewed Owens Valley residents, LADWP workers on Owens Lake, Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District employees, and members of the Lone Pine and Bishop Paiute Tribes. I lived in Owens Valley for two months during both the summers of 2013 and 2014, and I made repeated short trips there in the fall, winter, and spring to capture seasonal weather conditions.
I make large scale archival pigment prints of the images in this series using an Epson Stylus Pro 9900 ink jet printer. The majority of the series was photographed with a Nikon D800 digital camera and a Pentax 6x7 medium format film camera. My images create a thought provoking visual paradox by juxtaposing environmental devastation with the sublime beauty of the Eastern Sierra.
Jennifer Little's current photographic work focuses on social and ecological concerns and documents intersections between the natural and the man made.
Jennifer Little makes large scale color photographic prints using an Epson 9900 printer. Her work is produced using medium and large format color film or digital cameras.
Jennifer Little lives in Oakland, California. She received a B.F.A. in Photography from Washington University in St. Louis and an M.F.A. from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a tenured Associate Professor and Art Department Chair at University of the Pacific in Stockton, California.
Jennifer Little's new photographic series, "100 Years of Dust: Owens Lake and the Los Angeles Aqueduct," is receiving significant recognition from galleries, publications, and curators. It won the prestigious 2014 Critical Mass Top 50 Award from PhotoLucida. This series has also been selected for a solo exhibition at University of the Arts' Sol Mednick Gallery in Philadelphia from March 20 - April 24, 2015. Jennifer was invited to give a presentation about Owens Lake at the Society for Photographic Education (SPE) National Conference in New Orleans, LA, from March 12-15, 2015. She also presented at the SPE West Regional Conference in Los Angeles on November 15, 2014, with Kathy Bancroft, the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the Lone Pine Paiute-Shoshone Reservation. Jennifer's series about Owens Lake won the 2014 "Dotphotozine Award for Excellence in Photography" and is featured in the September, 2014, issue of the magazine. This series also won first prize in an October - November, 2013, juried exhibition at Book and Job Gallery on Geary Street in San Francisco: The Human Impact: New Directions in Landscape Photography.
Jennifer has exhibited her work at galleries and museums including Stanford University’s Thomas Welton Stanford Art Gallery; Tag Gallery in Bergamot Station Arts Center, Santa Monica, CA; Photo Center Northwest, Seattle, WA; Kala Art Institute in Berkeley, CA; The San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery; The LAB, San Francisco; Viewpoint Photographic Art Center in Sacramento, CA; Eisentrager-Howard Gallery at The University of Nebraska at Lincoln; The Marin Museum of Contemporary Art in Novato, CA; The Center for Fine Art Photography in Fort Collins, CO; and Jay Etkin Gallery in Memphis, TN.
Jennifer’s work has been published and reviewed in Dotphotozine, View Camera Magazine, ArtAscent Magazine, Camera Arts Magazine, and The Austin Chronicle. Jennifer has presented artist talks at University of the Arts, Philadelphia, Stanford University, San Francisco Art Institute, the Foto 3 Conference, Kala Art Institute in Berkeley, CA, and the Dimen Cultural Eco-museum Forum on the Preservation and Development of Ancient Villages, Dimen, Guizhou, China.
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