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Arts and Entertainment

Photos: How Skid Row Has Changed Over 30 Years

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Photographer Camilo José Vergara has been taking snapshots of Skid Row for almost 30 years and has seen the area evolve through his lens. In his "Skid Row L.A." project, he's taken photos that illustrate homeless life in the city—from the people living in it to the art on the walls and police arrests.

"I've spent all my life photographing the poorest places in the country—urban places—so it was just natural for me to find Skid Row," he tells LAist.

Although Vergara began taking photos of the area in the 1980s, he didn't start systematically shooting this project until 1995. Ever since then, he's flown to L.A. one to three times a year to photograph the same corners, talk to the people living there and hang out at the missions.

Skid Row is a 50-block neighborhood in downtown with a population of about 5,000 transients living on the streets, according to Marketplace. It also has the largest concentration of homeless people in the nation. The area, which had been left alone for the most part, began to change in the 2000s as housing developments and restaurants started popping up downtown.

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"I think that the statement about Skid Row being the largest public concentration of human misery in the United States was more true in the '90s and I would say it peaked around '96, '97," Vergara says.

Though, he has noticed that the police presence is much greater and more visible now, as can be seen in the later years of his photography project.

Although Vergara isn't trying to change the world with his project, he believes taking photos helps people "find out what's happening to a place."

Vergara shoots other cities such as Chicago, Brookyln and Detroit. He recently released in December his book, Harlem: The Unmaking of a Ghetto (Historical Studies of Urban America).

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