09/04/2013 03:21 pm ET Updated Nov 04, 2013

On the Steep Hillsides of Mulholland Drive

When I discuss my obsession with abandonments, people will often say, "Have you heard about," and in my work, it's just as important to listen as it is to see. Simply hearing a friend or stranger's story has led me to amazing places -- sometimes hard to find and sometimes hidden in plain sight -- but one of those stories revealed the forgotten relics in these photos, car wrecks littering the steep hillsides descending from Mulholland Drive.

These ruins proved a little more difficult to discover than I had originally expected. As a result, I found myself proceeding in increasingly random patterns, grabbing at roots, close to tumbling down the hillside like the cars I was hunting. After one near fall, I looked up and saw a color that didn't quite fit with the greens and browns of the hillside. It was a little off. A rust color. It was the first of the car wrecks that I would find. Judging from the lack of trees above it, it looked like it had barrel-rolled down the hillside. And it had been here for a while, I think. There was no leather interior, no plastic, no upholstery. Just the red, rusted metal and the shoots growing out of a long-ago crushed tree that still managed to survive and flourish.

I was on one bank of a hairpin turn, and just the one car was there. I crossed to the other side and climbed up the creek that ran down that canyon, and I was astonished at what I found. First, a disintegrating section of crankshaft, half-buried in the creek, then big sections of plastic bumper, semi-buried in the walls of the narrow canyon and in the creek bed. And when I crested the next rise, I saw entire cars. Some were almost completely buried. Some were totally exposed. I saw at least seven that were mostly visible. I wondered how many more were buried, and in one section of debris, there were three cars, stacked haphazardly on top of each other. One car had a splintered loop of cable tied to its bumper. A friend later told me that the city had tried and failed to pull some of these cars out of the canyon. With the expense, lack of success, and lack of outcry, they apparently gave up. I understood what he meant. Unreasonable expense is an unexpected, but grand protector of modern ruins.

I most frequently hear the words "morbid," "creepy," and "eerie" when people talk about my photography. These words certainly identify a central theme in my work, but what struck me as I looked on the rusted machines dotting the hillside was the very stark contrast between death and new life, how the two occupy and define one another. There was certainly heaviness I felt in walking through this potential graveyard, but there was also a sense of life and renewal, of nature's reclamation. The tree shooting up through the wreckage may have been maimed, but the bent trunk accepted the heap of twisted metal with open arms and grew into it. I thought again of the passengers and wondered if this was symbolic of their fate? I thought about this car, perhaps racing on the very top of the natural world, on the crest of Mulholland Drive. This car represents the victory of our intellect and also our frailty. Racing in nature, racing against nature, and this time losing.

Jason Knight's Photos Of Abandoned Canyon Cars