What's the dark California history behind HBO's True Detective?
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Deeper into the photographs in Season 2 of 'True Detective'




The Topanga Ridge Microwave Relay Tower, as shot by Spencer Harding for his
The Topanga Ridge Microwave Relay Tower, as shot by Spencer Harding for his "Long Lines" series. It appears about 25 seconds into the opening credits of True Detective's second season.
Courtesy Spencer Harding

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Subscribe to Welcome to Vinci, our podcast about "True Detective" in iTunes and Stitcher. We're also mapping the show's significant and lesser known locations.

In its second season, True Detective's opening title sequence illuminated a Los Angeles not frequently seen in movies or on TV. Yeah, you see the occasional palm tree, but also the yellowed out cityscape, the dry, drought plagued landscape, convenience stores, and of course, freeways:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GJJfe1k9CeE

Like the first season of True Detective, the opening sequence this season incorporated a lot of work that’s already out there—like that gravelly Leonard Cohen song—and recontextualized it. Last year, Clair and his company used the photography of Richard Misrach for the first season’s opening credits. This year, they went to the work of David Maisel, a photographer based in California. The show's title card utilizes one of his photos:

Maisel describes the freeway photos as "aerial photographs that are made in and around Los Angeles that are black and white and actually they're tonally reversed, so actually they're sort of like negative versions of themselves."

The sequence also features Maisel's extensive work photographing California's Owens Lake from above.  

One other thing that stuck out to us in the opening credits was this weird looking, graffiti covered tower — it's about 25 seconds in and you can see it above. It took 3 California natives brainstorming and about 30 minutes of googling to figure out what it was.

Turns out, it's an “abandoned microwave relay” -- an old backbone of the American phone system -- in the Santa Monica Mountains. There's hundreds of these things all over the country, most are out of commission. But one photographer - Spencer Harding - was inspired by the very same tower in that title sequence.

"I was actually taken up there in high school by a friend of mine," Harding says. "He told me it was a air-raid siren from the Cold War. I didn't really believe him, so I did my own little research."

Harding decided to photograph as many of these towers he could find in California, and he made a project out of it

The area around the tower is hikable, you can see it yourself or if you want to see it closer than anyone else does, watch this video of a guy scaling the tower (and probably trespassing - the tower itself is privately owned):​

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fSqPbAyN7Vw