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Then and now: Photographing the Bay Bridge

By dpreview staff on Jul 27, 2013 at 23:28 GMT

Peter Stackpole was just 21 when he brought his Leica A to the top of the still-under-construction San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. It was 1934 - safety regulations were not what they are now, and without any official authorization, Stackpole captured stunning images. He risked his life on a site where over three years of construction 28 workers lost their lives.

San Francisco bay has seen more bridge construction in modern times. The building of a self-anchored suspension bridge connecting Yerba Buena Island to Oakland began in 2002, replacing the eastern span of the bay bridge. It has not gone un-documented.

Photo by Peter Stackpole, 1935.
Photo by Joseph Blum, 2012.
Peter Stackpole, 1935.
Joseph Blum, 2012.

Photographer Joseph Blum has captured construction of the modern bridge, a project that's a decade over schedule and millions of dollars over budget. He brought much more gear with him than Stackpole to create his set of dizzying images - 25-30 pounds of equipment at a time. Safety regulations are also considerably tighter on the bridge construction site than they were in Stackpole's time. At times, Blum's location on the bridge required him to wear a full harness as well as standard-issue hard hat, boots and glasses.

Though the tools and technology have changed, both sets of inspiring photos document a modern marvel in the making. See Stackpole's work at the Gallery of California Art at Oakland Museum of California through January 2014; Blum's work is at the San Francisco Arts Commission

Via the San Francisco Chronicle and Wired.

Comments

Total comments: 29
iaredatsun
By iaredatsun (8 months ago)

Stackpole's photographs are relaxed assured and magical.

0 upvotes
TheChefs
By TheChefs (8 months ago)

Seems like over the years people forgot basics of composing and instead to compensate there are a lot heavier camera bags and lots of cluttered wide angle shots to add drama to every image. The issue is, tricks like that wear off quickly.

1 upvote
Shamael
By Shamael (9 months ago)

I have seen some of the shots online, only problem, they mixed Baybridge and Golden Gate shots. One can recognyze Golden Gate support towers at their two eyed top end, while bay bridge towers are just rectangular top end, like the one we see on the shots shown here.

0 upvotes
markie_jan61
By markie_jan61 (9 months ago)

PETER STACKPOLE: b. 15 Jun 1913 d. 11 May 1997

2 upvotes
jaygeephoto
By jaygeephoto (9 months ago)

Great images! B&W stuff is edgier, both stimulate my vertigo.

0 upvotes
wfektar
By wfektar (9 months ago)

Both sets are excellent, although like most here I find the earlier ones more compelling.

As for weight of gear, there's this: http://www.shorpy.com/node/5946. Must be pre-OSHA.

2 upvotes
dgeugene1
By dgeugene1 (9 months ago)

Why 30 lbs indeed. Practically everything at http://dennisgalloway.com was made with a pocket camera.

0 upvotes
onlooker
By onlooker (9 months ago)

This is my all-time favorite of his pictures from the Bay Bridge:

http://ww1.hdnux.com/photos/22/60/70/4918840/3/628x471.jpg

Breathtaking.

1 upvote
sfphotoarts
By sfphotoarts (9 months ago)

and it shows! But what has that got to do with anything here?

0 upvotes
Funduro
By Funduro (9 months ago)

Why does 30lbs of modern photographic gear seem extreme to some. Once he gets out there he can't just walk back to the car to get another lens or grip. He doesn't have that many sight lines on the narrow spans. Some areas are not open to him so he has so have BIG telephoto, telephoto and wide angle zooms plus some ultra wide primes. Add two pro DSLRs, filters and powerful strobe, yea I can see 30 lbs easy. Never mind lunch and water.

0 upvotes
AbrasiveReducer
By AbrasiveReducer (9 months ago)

The real problem is that it's not extreme. With our wonderful modern technology it should be possible to get these shots without so much weight. But you're right, it probably isn't.

0 upvotes
mapgraphs
By mapgraphs (9 months ago)

Agreed. Both are wonderful reads. Stackpole's description of his working method, waiting for the shot, is fascinating.

0 upvotes
InTheMist
By InTheMist (9 months ago)

Great read, thanks. 30 pounds seems a bit extreme, for that environment, tho.

0 upvotes
robjons
By robjons (9 months ago)

Having grown up in the area, you take the bridges for granted. I wonder why the new east span doesn't maintain the double-deck design of the original?

0 upvotes
acidic
By acidic (9 months ago)

Because the double deck design results in quite a depressing roadway when traveling eastbound on the lower deck, which was originally used for a trolley. People traveling in both directions should be able to experience the open sky and views of the suspension tower.

0 upvotes
DFPanno
By DFPanno (9 months ago)

Hmmm, I guess you don't need 30 pounds of gear to create iconic images.

2 upvotes
onlooker
By onlooker (9 months ago)

Yeah. Just look at Elliott Erwitt:

http://www.elliotterwitt.com/lang/en/index.html

Click on "Portfolio -> Snaps".

1 upvote
howardroark
By howardroark (9 months ago)

Photography is rarely a matter of need. However, there are some shots that, if you want to get them, NEED certain types of equipment. Not only that, you don't need much equipment if you can go walk around a bridge with nothing but a wish and a prayer to keep you safe. It probably took a call from God to get Blum on that bridge in the first place in these days of safety standards, insurance companies, and lawsuits. Then he probably had a minder and twenty safety lines holding him down.

Comment edited 54 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
Sean65
By Sean65 (9 months ago)

Note how, in spite of all our advancements in photography, the photos from 1935 are so much better. The framing, depth and clarity are all way more engaging.

9 upvotes
roomnoxii
By roomnoxii (9 months ago)

Pretty sure those are not dependent on advancements in photography.

2 upvotes
ManuelVilardeMacedo
By ManuelVilardeMacedo (9 months ago)

True, but I think the difference lies in the photographer's vision. Stackpole seems to be in a different league.

0 upvotes
starwolfy
By starwolfy (9 months ago)

I guess in this time being educated in art was more important than in our days.

1 upvote
MarkInSF
By MarkInSF (9 months ago)

Stackpole's father, Ralph Stackpole, was a once prominent painter best known for his work on WPA murals. Peter grew up surrounded by art and artists. Fewer people studied art seriously then than do now, and being exposed to it daily has always been the ideal way to learn. I met Peter Stackpole once, 30 years ago, in conjunction with the restoration of a mural by his father, of whom he was very proud. Seemed a delightful man.

2 upvotes
howardroark
By howardroark (9 months ago)

Are you kidding? Did you look at the images on Wired? Blum's images vary from ghostly and haunting to dizzying heights in the fog. The two aesthetics are completely different partially because the original images are from a bygone era where people and technology were wildly different than they are today. There are simple images in the new set but there are also images taken with all that equipment that weren't possible when Stackpole shot his images. And by the way, thirty pounds of equipment isn't really all that much. If you have to mount the camera somewhere that's probably fifteen pounds right there, then a few lenses and a couple of bodies and you're done. He was going somewhere that was hard to get to under requirements that were very hard to meet, unlike back in the day, and wanted to get some hard shots. He did simply and complex, colorful and colorless. Many of those options just weren't possible in 1935.

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
0 upvotes
lmtfa
By lmtfa (9 months ago)

The bridge builders, then and now, must have testicles the size of bowling balls.

6 upvotes
MarkInSF
By MarkInSF (9 months ago)

I don't much like that image (though I know what you mean). Bowling balls would be very much in the way. At least now the safety standards are much higher.

0 upvotes
LittleMonkeyMojo
By LittleMonkeyMojo (9 months ago)

Yes, that would definitely keep the center of gravity a little lower.

0 upvotes
garyknrd
By garyknrd (9 months ago)

How interesting. Great story and read.

1 upvote
Neloy Sinha
By Neloy Sinha (9 months ago)

If you don't have vertigo, if a roller coaster ride gives you enjoyable butterfly feeling in your tummy,go ahead, evade or bypass the security and grab the shot.A vantage point is not a vantage point for every photo grabber.Play right card, you will be at the right place, may it be a ring side view or a bird's eye view and you will come out with reasonable good result. Just frame it and your modern camera will take care of the rest.All you need a VIP pass.

0 upvotes
Total comments: 29