How many bridges do you cross in a day? In a week? A month? In your life? You drive across them on your way to work. You walk across them to go home. You rollerblade or bicycle across them on the weekends. They carry you across rivers, roads, railroads, canyons, marshes, and a whole list of other obstacles. Chances are most of us live near a bridge... or ten. Yet, due to this proximity how much notice do you take of all these bridges you use? How often have you paused to admire the architecture and form of a bridge? To wonder about the men and women who built it? To puzzle about that bridge's age and the changes in the world it has existed through? How often do you notice that bridge at all, instead of just concentrating on wherever it is that you are hurrying to go? Have you ever wondered what the world would be like without bridges?
Photography has the amazing ability to take an aspect of the visual world and to combine that with the imagination of a photographer to produce a form of art that can inspire people to pause, to wonder, to become curious or better informed. Photography can help fill in the stories that we did not even know we were missing. It can help us appreciate.
I started this project a few months ago for many of these reasons, but on a personal level. Portland is a city defined by its bridges (we have ten major bridges), so it is of little surprise that I spend a fair amount of time photographing them. But of all that time, a vast majority of it was concentrated on two bridges, the St. Johns and Fremont. Every once in a while I would venture off and photograph the Steel or the Marquam or the Hawthorne. Largely I ignored the Morrison, the Burnside and the Broadway. Forget about the Ross Island and Sellwood bridges, I barely even knew them at all.
So I decided I was going to get to know them all. I was going to force myself to spend a night (or several) with each bridge individually. I wanted to learn more about each bridge, photographically speaking. In the process, I started doing research into the history of the bridges too. I learned how to identify which style they were, from vertical lift truss (Portland has the two oldest bridges in this style still in operation in the U.S.) to bascule. I learned about the small group of people who built these structures (no the St. Johns bridge was not designed by Joseph Strauss, the same man who built the Golden Gate). I learned that three of the bridges will turn 100 years old within the next three years, beginning with the Hawthorne this December. And I learned to appreciate at greater depth the forms of these bridges as well as their function, even with bridges that were not considered to be terribly aesthetically pleasing (the Marquam and Ross Island come to mind).
As I said, I started this project with very personal goals, I wanted to encourage myself to open my own eyes a bit wider, to see these bridges from new perspectives, but as I am wont to do, I began posting the products of my nightly wanderings to Flickr. I enjoy sharing in that regard, and I was not surprised to discover the impact the images began having on others. It was not long before I had other photographers beginning to join me on my nightly strolls under these bridges. Now I want to catapult beyond the reach of Flickr. I want to reach a wider audience and to make something a bit more tangible out of this. This is where you come in. I already have the photography, now I want to turn this series into a gallery exhibition. An image gains a life of its own when printed, matted, framed, lit and hung on a wall where you can reach out and touch it if you want. It may seem a modest goal, but a well orchestrated showing can carry a lot of weight with an audience, and I want to accomplish that. You do not always need grand goals to have grand effects. I want to put something in front of people that will make them open their eyes a bit wider the next time they cross one of Portland's bridges (or a bridge in general for the ideas behind this project certainly extend beyond Portland's spans). Additionally I want to take the images and incorporate them into a book that includes more of the background stories of all these bridges, so that others too can answer those questions of when, who, what, where and why.
I appreciate the help, and it really does help. As I say in the video, a small group of people built these bridges, likewise a small group of people can help me turn this project into something grander than it is now, and help extend that ability to marvel to a larger audience.
The collection of images on my Flickr stream can be followed here:
- (40 days)