The California Coastal Records Project

526 One of 11,823 images of the coast on display at the CLUI, as part of the California Coastal Records Project. Shown here is El Segundo, with the Mattel World Headquarters (upper left) and the Chevron Refinery (middle), with a sliver of Manhattan Beach’s residential area (on the right). Ken Adelman, photo

THE CALIFORNIA COASTAL RECORDS PROJECT is a photographic portrait of the coast of California, composed of nearly 12,000 aerial images taken in the past year and a half by Ken and Gabrielle Adelman, a husband and wife team from Northern California. The Project was featured in an exhibition at the Center’s Los Angeles Exhibit Hall this Spring, as part of the Center’s Focus on the West Coast. Though originally designed as a web site, the Adelman’s project was shown as a digital projection at the CLUI, with each image displayed for three seconds, similar to the rate at which they were taken. At this rate, the entire portrait of the California Coast, from the border of Oregon to the border of Mexico, takes 9 hours, 51 minutes and fifteen seconds to complete. The Adelmans assisted with the presentation of their material at the CLUI by providing all the images, scaled to the right resolution for the projection.

The low altitude, high resolution, oblique images were recorded digitally during more than a dozen flights in 2002 and 2003 by Ken Adelman, from a helicopter flown by Gabrielle. The helicopter maintained an altitude of around 500 feet, allowing a few hundred yards of coastline to be visible in each image. Each image overlaps a bit with the adjacent images, so that shown together as a sequential projection at the CLUI, objects travel from right to left, as the view moves down the coast, creating a mesmerizing display of information-packed images, from a perspective unavailable to the land-based traveller.

527 Ken and Gabrielle Adelman, creators of the California Coastal Records Project.

The project was conceived to be a baseline of data, available to anybody. While presented at the CLUI as a continuous image, it may be read as resembling the work of photographers and conceptualists like Robbert Flick, or Ed Ruscha, and have some of the qualities of German typological photography. But it was conceived by the Adelmans to help advance the preservation of the coast. “Our goal is to create a aerial photographic survey of the California Coast and update it on a periodic basis,” says Ken Adelman, who was inspired to create the project while involved in the (successful) effort against the massive Hearst Corporation’s proposed coastal development near San Simeon.

The web site, online since October, 2002, has already had an impact on development by providing evidence of unauthorized building projects and seawall construction. Architects and developers have been complaining about the project, while code enforcement agencies and the Coastal Commission have praised it. Some consider having their home visible on the internet as a violation of their privacy, and the “rants” listed on the project web site are exemplary. Barbra Streisand has recently filed a $10 million suit against the Adelmans, who maintain that they can’t help it if people’s houses happen to be on the coast that they are documenting. “We have little sympathy for those who would feel that in order to enjoy the beauty of the coast that they must deny others access to it,” says Ken. A hearing on the case is scheduled for August 28th.

The only part of the coast not represented in the exhibit, or on their website, is the 35 miles along Vandenberg Air Force Base. Permission to fly through this active and sensitive military zone has not yet been granted by the Air Force. But the Adelmans will keep trying, and will be updating the existing images with future flights. They are also currently working on a similar project for Oregon.

The California Coastal Records Project was presented at the CLUI as part of the Center’s Independent Interpreters series of presentations. The exhibit ran continuously at the Center, visible during normal public hours of noon to five PM, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Special showings of the complete portrait were scheduled by appointment, during which refreshments were made available. Additional information on the project and access to the Adelman’s website,, was also available in the exhibit space.