If you rode in a car in Los Angeles sometime over the past several months and happened to look up, chances are you caught sight of a striking image — a man, illuminated by a celestial ray of light, floating ethereally in a turquoise pool, surrounded by cavern walls dripping with stalactites.
This stunning photograph, shot in one of the Yucatan Peninsula’s famous cenotes — the Mayan-derived word for the fresh water sinkholes that dot the region’s jungle terrain (and in which I have had the immense pleasure of swimming and scuba diving) — graced the streetlight banners advertising National Geographic’s recent exhibit at The Annenberg Space for Photography, entitled “Water: Our Thirsty World”.
Curated in connection with the venerated magazine’s April cover story on water, the show promised hundreds of images, displayed both in print and embodied in a film presentation narrated by award-winning photographers. Its goal was to document the deleterious effects our planet’s rapidly diminishing water sources are imposing on humans, animals and ecosystems from California to Kenya.
Addicted to all things National Geographic and never having been to The Annenberg Space for Photography, I was sold the second I’d read about the program’s opening back in March. Now it was June, the exhibit was about to close, and I was determined not to let procrastination cheat me out of the experience.
Generally speaking, I prefer going to museums on my own; doing so enables me to focus more on the exhibition and less on conversation with my companion. (Yes, I have self-diagnosed ADD.) But it seemed fitting that I attend this particular exhibit with Olivier Chatard.
A talented designer with a passion for conservation, Olivier conceived, produced and directed — among other related projects — “Awareness,” a short film utilizing sensually stunning imagery and music to elucidate excessive water consumption in the western world. It was recently featured at the prestigious Cannes International Film Festival and Los Angeles’ New Media Film Festival. (You can read about and watch the film here.)
Our plan was to meet on Friday at 2:00 p.m. in front of the museum.
After spending a hideously frustrating 1.5 hours in traffic — I’m pretty laid back for a New Yorker but severely abhor being late — I finally pulled into the museum’s underground parking structure at 2:15 p.m. (Notably, parking is $3.50 with validation, and something obscene without … $34? $44?)
Descending towards P1 and accompanied by the sound of tires squawking on the glistening surface, the parking lot seemed strangely familiar. It wasn’t until I emerged outside, dwarfed by twin office buildings that seemed to kiss the clouds, that I realized the museum was built at the base of the Century Plaza Towers — in which Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, the law firm at which I used to work, had an office.
How poignant, I thought as I looked down at my platform sandals and up at the museum’s glass doors; four years earlier, I would have been cloaked in business casual and cooped up in an conference room, reviewing documents on behalf of a corporate client.
I began to ponder how far I had come with respect to my shift in lifestyle, and where I still wanted to go in terms of utilizing my law degree, when the 2:22 p.m. display on my iPhone snapped me out of my reverie.
I dashed up the stairs towards Olivier. We hugged hello and breezed through the free entryway, taking seats just as the film presentation was to begin. (As my friend Monick likes to say, “My timing is perfect and elegant.”)
Over the next hour, we traveled to the Tibetan plateau, the Ganges, Haiti, the Dead Sea — and were deposited right back at home in California.
I witnessed Kenyan women making 5-hour odysseys, on foot under the blazing sun, to retrieve fresh water to haul back to their villages — every day. I was introduced to Asian farmers whose futures are in peril, due to the region’s rapid desertification. And I learned about how Southern California’s Owens Lake — which in 1924 was 108 square miles and, on average, 25-50 feet deep — was reduced, in roughly a decade, to a dry lakebed after its sources were diverted to the Los Angeles Aqueduct.
I had known that our planet’s water issues were critical. But this barrage of visually arresting images and fascinating historical perspective was astonishing. And seeing it in the wake of the Gulf oil spill made it all the more stirring.
I could feel the wheels in my head and heart churning, as I triumphantly located my validated parking ticket and bid Olivier goodbye. And as I drove home, looking up every now and then at one of those streetlight banners, an idea took root.
And now, as I dust off my resume, it is germinating…