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‘We need to acknowledge it’ Photographer reveals problems California is facing through billboards

If you’re driving in the Palm Springs and Cathedral City, you may see some unique billboards around town depicting wildfires, drought and housing.

“My one goal with this project is to get people just to look, just acknowledge what's going on," said photographer Thomas Broening.

Two years ago, Broening came up with the idea to create billboards showing what he says is the crisis that California is facing.

“I’ve lived in California for 30 years, it's not the California I came to. It's not the California my daughters have inherited. So I felt like I had to do something.” 

He began his journey in Northern California and began moving his way down the state. He takes pictures of the damage of drought, the impacts of wildfires and the homeless encampments that every city sees.

“We're standing on the same ground we breathe, breathe the same air and we're drinking the same water. So I think it's a problem that affects all of us. And my ultimate goal is to show that work throughout the state.”

Rather than turning a blind eye to these problems, he believes that we need to acknowledge they exist before coming up with solutions. “All I want people to do is just look. You know, just acknowledge what's going on... I'm not trying to preach it to anybody. I'm not trying to tell people to do anything wrong. That doesn't work. But just we need to acknowledge it.”

He calls this project The End of the Dream. “I was able to support a family and have a life and be married. And I don't know if that's possible for my children. That was always the 'California Dream'. And I feel like it's coming to an end, that something needs to be done.”

There are 22 billboards up, spanning from Oroville to Oakland to Palm Springs.

Courtesy: Thomas Broening

On Gene Autry, you can see one of them depicting the devastation left by a wildfire. “This billboard was taken at the Dixie fire last summer in a town called Greenville. Thousands of homes were destroyed.”

Another one shows a homeless encampment, “Now I've spent a lot of time in there... I see it differently. I mean, people really care about this... I'm trying to have a little bit of compassion.”

Broening's ultimate goal is to put up these billboards throughout the entire state. “I feel like I have to do something. I see these wildfires grow out of control, and these encampments. And I feel like this is one thing I can do is show this work.”

Driver will be able to see these billboards through the beginning of September.

Broening funds these boards out of his own pocket. If you’d like to help or donate towards more in the making, click here.

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Samantha Lomibao

Samantha joined KESQ News Channel 3 in May 2021. Learn more about Samantha here here.

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