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Cover Story

Water, Water, Everywhere

Black and white photo of a waterfall on an mountain.

Our dramatic cover image, made by legendary landscape photographer and environmentalist Ansel Adams around 1948, captures the raw majesty and power of water — the life-giving force that sustains our planet and is the subject of this issue of USC Dornsife Magazine.

Adams’ photograph — which he considered one of his finest — is of Vernal Fall in California’s Yosemite National Park.

Although it stands just 317 feet tall, Vernal Fall is among the most powerful of Yosemite’s celebrated waterfalls. Its thundering grace has succeeded in captivating many visitors, including Adams, who wrote of his beloved Yosemite Valley, “I know of no sculpture, painting, or music that exceeds the compelling spiritual command of … the thunder and whispering of the falling, flowing waters.”

It’s not hard to share Adams’ admiration. Our joy and fascination with water is lifelong. We love to be near it, to play in it and on it, and above all to look at it. Water delights our senses.

And nowhere more so than on a baking hot day, as captured in the photograph below of a New York streetscape, where the cooling spray from a fire hydrant provides welcome relief to children playing in the summer heat. Look at their sheer joy!

But water can also inspire many other — often diverse — emotions, ranging from fear to awe. Afterall, water has the power to soothe and terrify us, amuse and challenge us, and to both nourish us and harm us.

In this issue of USC Dornsife Magazine, we explore water though many lenses — from our scholars’ innovative work to find solutions for global challenges related to water to the real-life Los Angeles “Water Wars” that inspired the neo-noir movie Chinatown — one of the greatest films about L.A. ever made.

We also look at how water in all its many forms has served as artistic inspiration since before the written word. And for those of you who may, on occasion, read this publication in your bathroom (you know who you are!), we have a special treat: a feature devoted to the amusing — and often astonishing — history of plumbing through the ages.

We hope you enjoy the issue and that it leaves you with a new appreciation for this truly remarkable element that is, as our first feature demonstrates, “Simply Complex.” — S.B.

Cover Photo Courtesy of the Collection Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona

©The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

A black and white photo of children, some wearing bathing suits play in the street with a fire hydrant spraying water.
Children escape the summer heat by playing in the refreshing water spray from a fire hydrant in this 1943 photograph taken on New York City’s East Side. (Photo: Roger Smith / Courtesy of Library of Congress.)