Water Is Thicker Than Blood

Water Is Thicker Than Blood

Beihua Guo, 2024 Finalist

“Water Is Thicker Than Blood” is a story of settler colonialism, the displacement of indigenous people, white supremacy, and the violation of civil liberties. The project attempts to illuminate the ignored and forgotten history of the Los Angeles Aqueduct and the California Water Wars, a story of greed, violence, oppression, and disastrous environmental consequences.

St. Francis Dam ruins, San Francisquito Canyon, 2021. Projected text: the names of the 411 victims of the 1928 St. Francis Dam Disaster (Ann Stansell, 2018).

Castaic Junction Bridge, Santa Clarita, CA, 2022. Projected text: the 1928 article Where Death Raced Through Valley as Dam Collapsed” illustrates the flooded area of the St. Francis Dam Disaster. The main highway bridge at Castaic Junction was destroyed by the flood on March 12, 1928 (San Francisco Examiner).

An unlined canal, Manzanar, CA.

Approximate location of a Paiute irrigation ditch along Baker Creek (Julian Steward, 1933), Big Pine, CA, 2022. Projected image: a photo of a group of young Paiute women (Andrew A. Forbes).

Jawbone Canyon, 2022. Projected image: a 1913 photo of Jawbone Siphon under construction (DWP Photo Collection).

Lone Pine, CA, 2022. Projected text: the 1981 book Vision or Villainy describes the historical controversy between Owens Valley residents and Los Angeles government officials over the Los Angeles Aqueduct (Abraham Hoffman, Texas A&M University Press).

Owens Lake, 2022. Projected text: the 1997 article Sucking the Lake Dry” emphasizes the severe dust problems and ecological damage caused by the Los Angeles Aqueduct at Owens Lake (Chicago Tribune).

Manzanar National Historic Site, Independence, CA. Projected text: Those Sent to Manzanar Center Find Rich Soil and Fine Scenery Instead of Dank Prison Cells” was the subtitle of the 1942 article Japanese Get Breakin Owens Valley Move,” which propagates the governments narrative on the benefits of the internment camps (Tom Cameron, Los Angeles Times). Projected image: a 1942 photo of incarcerated Japanese attending Memorial Day services at Manzanar (Library of Congress).

Keeler Swimming Pool, 2022. Projected image: a photo of swimmers in Keeler swimming pool (courtesy Susan Frazee-Kurner).

Mono Lake, 2022. Projected text: the newspaper insert The Destruction of Mono Lake Is Right on Schedule” raises awareness of Mono Lakes environmental condition as a result of water diversion towards the Los Angeles Aqueduct (Special Collections, The Claremont Colleges Library).

Mono Lake, 2022. Projected Image: a 1982 photo of activists carrying water to Mono Lake from its tributary streams in the Rehydration Ceremony (Stephen Johnson & Mono Lake Committee).

Abandoned grain silos, Poleta, CA, 2022. Projected image: a photo of fresh produce from the Owens River Valley (Rich McCutchan Archives).

Big Pine, CA, 2022. Projection image: a 1939 photo of the abandoned Sam Meredith farm in Big Pine, CA (Department of Archives and Special Collections, William H. Hannon Library, Loyola Marymount University).

Los Angeles, CA, 2022. Projected text: the cover design of the 1905 brochure Water Delivered 250 Miles to You for 5 Cents a Ton” published by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (UCLA Library Special Collections). Projected image: a 1906 map of the first Los Angeles Aqueduct (Los Angeles Herald).

Nine Mile Canyon, 2022. Projected text: the 1907 article Stupendous Aqueduct Project Will Make Los Angeles Great” lists the financial details and engineering features of the proposed Los Angeles Aqueduct (Los Angeles Times). Projected image: a 1909 photo of a trench digging machine for the Los Angeles Aqueduct (Workman-Temple Homestead Museum Collection, University of Southern California).

The Cascades, Sylmar, CA, 2022. Projected text: on November 5, 1913, 40,000 people gathered at the Cascades for the opening ceremonies of the Los Angeles Aqueduct. As the water started flowing, William Mulholland shouted: There it is. Take it” (LAWDP). Projected image: a 1913 photo of William Mulholland speaking at the opening ceremonies of the Aqueduct (Los Angeles Times).

Alabama Spillway & Gates, Lone Pine, CA, 2022. Projected text: the 1976 article Blast Rips Apart Spillgate on Owens Valley Aqueduct” reports the bombing of Alabama Gates by 17-year-old Mark Berry and his friend Robert Howe (Michael Seiler & Jack Jones, Los Angeles Times). Projected image: a 1924 photo of Owens Valley ranchers releasing water from Alabama Gates into the dry Owens River bed during a protest (Department of Archives and Special Collections, William H. Hannon Library, Loyola Marymount University).

Noname Canyon, 2022. Projected text: the 1927 article Aqueduct Dynamited” compiles a series of conflicts between Owens Valley residents and Los Angeles, including the repeated dynamiting of the Aqueduct (The Gridiron). Projected image: a 1927 photo of the blast-damaged Los Angeles Aqueduct siphon in No-Name Canyon (Los Angeles Times Photographic Collection, UCLA Library Special Collections).

Photographer's Statement: 

Prior to the arrival of white settlers and the construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, the Owens Valley Paiute had lived in harmony with nature since time immemorial. The LA Aqueduct project began in 1905 and opened in 1913. By the mid-1920s, Owens Lake was drained by Los Angeles, and toxic dust storms swept across the dry lakebed; the Owens Valley was financially and ecologically destroyed, farms and ranches abandoned; furious Owens Valley residents repeatedly attacked infrastructure and dynamited the Aqueduct. Even today, people living in the Owens Valley still have to deal with the environmental consequences of the Aqueduct. 

During the California Water Wars from the 1890s to the present, land and water rights along the Aqueduct were secured through corruption and deceit. The height of the California Water Wars occurred when furious armed ranchers seized the Alabama Gates and repeatedly dynamited many parts of the Aqueduct during the 1920s. Another story of conflict and resistance occurred at Mono Lake, which is 300 miles north of Los Angeles. In 1940s, the LAWDP extended the Los Angeles Aqueduct system farther northward into the Mono Basin; 40 years later, the water level of Mono Lake had dropped more than 40 feet. Numerous court battles and protests were fought between the City of LA, and environmentalists and non-profit organizations, and thanks to the protestors and organizations, mitigation and restoration efforts along the Aqueduct are starting. 

I photographed infrastructures and landscapes along the Aqueduct and made archive-based art; l also used an outdoor projector to project newspaper headlines, texts, and historical images onto the surfaces of ruins, monuments, and engineering features along the Aqueduct.

The Owens Valley has been the site of numerous conflicts between the indigenous people and the federal, state, and Los Angeles government , including the Owens Valley Indian War between 1862–1867. In the Paiute language, Owens Valley (Payahǖǖnadǖ) means the “place of flowing water.” The valley was inhabited by the Owens Valley Paiute for centuries. Conflicts between the Owens Valley Paiute and the cattlemen in the Valley broke out in the 1860s, and US troops were sent to protect the land and water that settlers stole from the indigenous people.
The Owens Valley is also home to Manzanar, the first Japanese American Internment camp during World War II. The Los Angeles Aqueduct was completed in 1913. By 1929, Los Angeles owned all of Manzanar’s land and water rights; the town was abandoned within five years. In 1942, FDR signed Executive Order 9066, which led to the imprisonment of approximately 112,000 Japanese Americans during WWII. Families were forced to abandon their homes and live for years in the ten internment camps throughout the US, often located in remote and desolate places. A total of 11,070 Japanese Americans were incarcerated at Manzanar, CA. 

The sublime mountains, lakes, and rivers along highway US395 attract millions of skiers, fishermen, and hikers from Los Angeles to experience nature; however, most of them are not familiar with any of the history I mentioned in this proposal. The ugliness beyond the sublime landscapes and photographs cannot be easily seen—layers of tragic history and memories are buried beneath the natural beauty—genocides, inequalities, injustices. My social responsibility is to use photography as a tool to excavate the layers of the ignored history beneath the sublime and the beautiful.

Beihua Guo
BeihuaGuo's picture

Beihua Guo is a Chinese artist based in Los Angeles and Shanghai. He received a BA in studio art and environmental analysis from Pitzer College, California. His lens-based works explore humanity’s fragile relationship with nature, excavating the unseen and the unheard beyond the landscapes. His work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, including Three Shadows Photography Art Centre, Cleve Carney Museum of Art, Photo Beijing, Photo Open Up International Photography Festival, and Nizhny Tagil Museum of Fine Arts. He is the winning recipient of the Lucie Scholarship Program, Kurt Markus Photography Scholarship Fund, Scholastic Art & Writing Awards Alumni Microgrant, and Janie Moore Greene Scholarship Grant; he has received recognition in the Three Shadows Photography Award, BarTur Photo Award, and PDNedu Student Photo Contest, among others. He has been awarded artist residencies in Petrified Forest National Park, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Yangshuo Sugar House, and Sunyata Hotel Wuli Village.