The great city of Los Angeles sprawls at the northern edges of its namesake basin, which itself is bordered by the Pacific Ocean south and west, with mountains to the north and desert to the east. The climate is famously Mediterranean: bright, hot, and arid. These are the perfect ingredients for an environment that welcomes wildflowers that bloom in spring and spectacular seasonal trees and shrubs that are abundant—sometimes riotous—in the urban landscape.

These photographs are part of a larger body of work which explores the relationship of Los Angeles—chaotic, ad hoc, rapacious—with the mass of land on which it sits. In some cases, the signature attributes of the geography are accommodated, as when houses cling to hillsides; at other times those features are transformed entirely by feats of will and engineering. One example of this is the LA River, which today is a 48-mile cement flood channel.

Nevertheless, the desert underneath always asserts itself: bubbles of desiccated earth and harsh foliage break through the cracks and seams in the city’s built environment. A common sight is a wall of stratified hardpan—a cartoon cliff—looming above a strip mall, sloughing roots and pebbles into the parking lot.

These photographs feature bougainvillea and other brilliant spring flowers in recent bloom throughout the city, where they cling, unbidden and often unwanted, to fences, walls, telephone poles, and hillsides in neighborhoods of every kind.

—Thomas Alleman

This project was a Finalist in the Magnum Photography Awards 2017. Discover more inspiring work from all 41 of the winners, finalists, and jurors’ picks.

If you’d like to see more work like this, we’d recommend the following articles—Pray LA, portraits of members of a Baptist church in Los Angeles who come dressed to impress; In This Beautiful Bubble, dreamlike images from a carefully manicured neighborhood in Southern California that consider the perspective of children who grow up in sheltered, pristine surroundings; and Offcut: The Edge, an outsider’s perspective on his bizarre new home—California.