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"Aspirations." Original Print of Photograph Revealing an Essential Meaning of Simon Rodia's Towers

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Entitled "Aspirations." This view of the Watts Towers of Simon Rodia from the inside of a lower patio-sized structure, looking up at one of the tallest towers, inspires a vision of escape from a web that has you entrapped. The photographer chose that as a name for this image not just because aspiration can mean to aspire or have hope and dreams, but it also means "to draw a breath."

The artist Alison Saar, in an interview for LACMA’s Unframed in 2012, spoke about how the Towers had a strong influence on her. She remembered her mom (also an accomplished artist) taking her and her sister there. She said she must have been about age 3 and “we must have been under one of the main towers, and when we looked up, it was like a spider web.”

This photograph by Ron Sterling utilizes what is called a “fish-eye” lens which gives a very wide view of subject matter. Such a view can provide an immersion experience rather than just an observation. The roundness of the image gives a feeling of entering a different world, or a world apart.

Shot originally with 35mm B&W film, it was converted to digital with high resolution scanning using an Epson Perfection V700 scanner. It is part of a series of photographs taken in August 1972 during the 6th Annual Watts Summer Festival and just before the legendary WattStax** concert held at the Coliseum in Los Angeles as the finale to the Summer Festival.

The artist, Simon Rodia, spent 30 years (1925 to 1955) building and sculpting his complex set of 17 separate pieces on a residential lot in the community of Watts. Two of the towers rise to a height of 100 feet. The sculptures are constructed from steel pipes and rods, wrapped with wire mesh, coated with mortar, and embedded with found items of porcelain, tile, shells, and glass. His intuition guided him, and his energy to "make something big" was unstoppable and inspirational. The Towers were adopted by the community of Watts as a symbol of hope, transformation, and fulfillment long before the Watts Rebellion of 1965, and have continued to stay close to the community's soul. The Watts Summer Festival began a year after the rebellion and continues to this day in the second week of August.

** WattStax is often referred to as the Black Woodstock. A documentary of the concert exists in two different versions. I recommend the version that includes Richard Pryor doing commentary about every 10 minutes that is classic and very smart Richard at his best. The "Stax" part of WattStax refers to what then was one of the best black recording studios of that time, rivaling Motown. The artists appearing at WattStax included The Staple Singers, Rufus Thomas, Carla Thomas, Albert King, Luther Ingram and Isaac Hayes. In those days, the Coliseum could seat over 100,000 and WattStax kept it at standing room only for the entire 12 hours of music (112,000).