Under a bridge in Santee, you could see rust, darkness and a mix of the assorted goop left after a storm. Shannon Switzer saw art.

Switzer snapped a picture of the underside of the bridge crossing Mast Park as part of a project showing how water flows in San Diego County. Her photo assignment features lagoons, wetlands and other natural phenomena you’d expect to see in a series about water. But Switzer also included shots of the seamy underbelly of the region’s watershed, the spaces under bridges or around storm drains.

“It’s just so much more of a visceral reaction than someone getting up in your face about pollution,” Switzer said.

When we usually think and write about streets, sidewalks and storm drains we consider their functional use or, sometimes just as often, their dysfunction.

Photographers, however, are starting to get play out of infrastructure art.

New York-based photographer Davide Luciano’s series of scenes staged from potholes in New York, Montreal, Toronto and Los Angeles made international news. His Los Angeles photos include a Baywatch-esque lifeguard running toward a water-filled pothole with an arm sticking out of it. Luciano got the idea to make pothole art after running over one too many of them.

Another New Yorker, Martin Sobey, has wrapped colors around sections of sidewalks and drain pipes.

Toronto’s Michael Cook takes spooky photos of his city’s sewer pipes. Fewer rats live down there than you’d expect, he says.

Like Cook, Switzer used her photos to increase awareness about environmental sensitivities. When she used to walk by storm drains, she felt a void. Now, she pays greater attention to what’s happening around them.

Cities, she said, could use more public art to emphasize the importance of its otherwise uninspiring infrastructure. A good example already happening in San Diego is the city’s Think Blue campaign for storm drain pollution. The campaign involves education and community outreach programs, but also includes stencils of waves, Think Blue’s logo, on actual storm drains.

“It’s the continuity of branding that reinforces the message,” said Bill Harris, a city spokesman on storm water issues.

A tip of the hat to Voice of San Diego member Omar Passons for turning me onto Switzer’s work.

Photo courtesy of Shannon Switzer
Water rushes into a storm drain in Vista

Liam Dillon is a news reporter for Voice of San Diego. He covers how regular people interact with local government. What should he write about next?

Please contact him directly at liam.dillon@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5663.

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Liam Dillon

Liam Dillon was formerly a senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He led VOSD’s investigations and wrote about how regular people...

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