Archive for September, 2008

Taking Cover

Monday, September 29th, 2008

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Pause to Reflect

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

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The Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland, designed by Craig Hartman of SOM opened on 25th September.

When photographing the Cathedral early one morning across Lake Merritt, I was entranced by the reflective qualities of the adjacent sunlit buildings on the rippling water. I could have watched that all day.

The Empire Bites Back

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

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Just when I’d had my fill of golden sunsets through palm trees for the year, the siren-like call of the Inland Empire beckoned once more with another project at UC Riverside. Having just wrapped up the WSU shoot in Pullman, we flew straight from Spokane (where it was raining and cold) to Seattle (where the flight was delayed) to Ontario, east of Los Angeles (where it was hot and sunny)

Driving straight to the campus, we met with the project architect from Pei Cobb Freed + Partners to walk over the project, a classroom and office building for the Arts Faculty. Conscious of our need to fly back to San Francisco the following evening, we got to work straight away, capturing several views as the light dropped.

Like some weird déja vu flashback to an earlier episode of the same television drama, our evening meal was once again at the very pleasant Mission Inn located in the center of Riverside. In the warm evening breeze, under the gently swaying palms, sipping on a house margarita and knowing that tomorrow would be yet another clear, blue sky, the thought of spending every day like this began to take hold….

But we toughed out the Empire’s seductive charms and committed to make our escape on tomorrow’s last flight out.

The next day went well with loads of students walking through and around the building at all the right times. It was the first week of tuition, so we saw many of the same people again and again as they walked in confused circles trying to find their classes.

We did indeed make that last flight out but glancing down at the sea of bulk warehouses and parking lots as we climbed to cruising altitude, I knew, deep in my heart, that the Inland Empire would call me back before too long.

Window of Opportunity

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

A last minute request from the Academy’s Creative Director Rhonda Rubinstein, for an image that might be suitable for an opening day poster had us trawling intently through the files. Nothing suitable showed up that hadn’t been seen in publications previously so we set about working towards something new.

Rhonda wanted to show the unique form of the roof and include it’s connection to the exhibits inside, preferably with people involved. It had to be simple and graphic for the type, work at a variety of scales and erm…, be ready by tomorrow to be printed in time for opening.

Well, okay then..

The absolutely fabulous printing job was completed by Paragraphics in San Francisco using 100% recycled paper and VOC-free UV inks.

Maintaining Standards

Sunday, September 21st, 2008

So after Friday’s shoot at WSU Pullman finished up, we headed to a nearby place we’d spotted the day before.

Pete’s Bar and Grill was your typical local joint. Lot’s of sport playing on the plasma screens, a couple of diehards perched on the stools of the bar and a few small but vocal tables in the restaurant. We’d arrived as the kitchen was closing but managed to get an order placed before the grills were extinguished for the night.

We started on our meals and as the grills wound down, another new attraction at Pete’s was just warming up. A brand spanking new digital karaoke system.

From what we could gather, the guy who had installed the system (and no doubt convinced Pete is would be huge success) had brought a table of friends along to get the party started, as it were. They were the only table left in the place apart from us (and we were too busy eating to care about much else) because tomorrow was Game Day and every self respecting Pullmanian was having an early night in support of the football team. (Go Cougs!)

First, second and third (after a few miscued starts) song of the evening was a passable rendition of Sting’s Every Breathe You Take. I got the feeling this was the karaoke promoters standard opener. Thankful for the last breath that particular singer took, we were then treated to a few country ballads from another of the boisterous table’s vocalists, enthusiastically following the bouncing ball as the lyrics flashed up on the screen which only minutes before was reliving the greatest moments in Cougar football history. (Go Cougs!)

All seemed set for an endless night of rehashed top forty mediocrity when up stepped Larry.

Now Larry, who appeared to be a lively gent somewhere in his sixties, said he had just moved to Pullman and hadn’t really connected with any of the locals yet. But he’d heard the karaoke from his bar stool in the next room and saw his chance to mix it up a bit. Having been the new guy in a few cities myself, I can tell you how hard it is to take that first step.

So Larry has trawled through the list of songs on the machines DVD’s and comes up with Cole Porter’s Night and Day, a standard I know very well from my misspent youth. Not only does Larry pull off a great syncopated Sinatra-esque rendition of the classic, he nails all the words without looking at the screen once. Brings the house down!

iPhone image by Kyle Jeffers

Larry takes his seat, alone at his table and orders a double scotch. Looks like he’s settling in for the night.

There’s another country ballad sung almost in tune to endure before Larry’s ticket is up again. A slow, romantic standard that has the room held in rapt attention. I wonder about Larry and who he used to sing these tunes to. I feel bad that no-one from the boisterous table has asked him to join them. Something I think he’d probably love to do. I’d ask him over myself but we’re almost finished dinner, it’s Game Day tomorrow and we’ve got an early start. (Go Cougs!)

Next up from the boisterous bunch is the only guy with a decent singing voice. He did well on something earlier but this time chooses the endearingly titled I Hate Everything About You. Midway through this bleak and depressing song (which I’d never heard, nor care to again) I gaze over to the boisterous table to see them all mouthing the words in unison. I glance across to Larry who sits, looking a little crushed by the onslaught of blackness and wonder if he’ll even bother try again. We leave before the song finishes.

I still think about Larry and how gutsy it was to get up there and do it his way.

It’s just so hard maintaining standards these days.

Go Cougs!

Sunday, September 21st, 2008

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Heading south from Spokane, you drive through mile after mile of gently rolling hills with almost no trees to be seen. This is the Palouse region of eastern Washington State. One of the largest wheat growing areas of the United States.

Our destination in Washington State University in Pullman, where Pfeiffer Partners’ newly renovated and expanded Compton Union Building (the CUB) had just opened. As soon as we turned off the highway into Pullman it was clear that the town revolved around life at the university. The signboards, the banners, the book shops and coffee shops.., all reminding us that Saturday was Game Day for the WSU Cougars football team. Apart from its pivotal role in determining the general mood of the town, the impending game would provide us with greatly increased movement though our building and across the newly constructed bridge tower connecting it to the stadium.

After being closed for two years during construction, the CUB had quickly regained it’s place as the hub of all campus activity. The tide of students ebbed and flowed on the hour in sync with the class changeovers giving us a predictable timetable of sorts for the specific views we needed. Of course, the usual few unexpected blessings helped enliven things, such as the fire alarm (wasn’t me, I swear!) which emptied the building onto the main plaza for half an hour or so. I know we wanted people in the photographs but…

The CUB is located on a hilltop site so is there is limited scope for an overview of the project. Getting off the ground in the central pedestrian mall in the middle of lunchtime seemed the most outrageous solution, so that’s exactly what we did.

Right on cue, the classrooms emptied and the whole area became one randomly choreographed free-for-all. If nothing else, this is probably the photograph which best describes the entire building’s role on campus.

As Game Day approached, the air of anticipation around campus grew. Everything and everybody was crimson and grey. Over breakfast in the nearby Holiday Inn Express, the only topic of conversation was the game. Nobody looked twice at the morning TV news reporting on the evolving major economic collapse. The real problem at hand was that fragile right side defense.

Although we didn’t get the blue skies we had hoped for, the general sense of activity and excitement around the building was infectious as kick off time approached. We shot various activities around the CUB and caught the new tower in full use as the faithful trailed into the stadium.

With two losses to start the season, the Cougars had a point to prove. We stayed for the first half of the game. Long enough to see the home team draw ahead before heading back across the empty hills of the Palouse to Spokane. Over dinner that night at the Rusty Moose (of course!), the final scores were flashed up across the screens.

Washington State 49 – 9  Oregon State

Go Cougs! chorused the crimson couple at the next table.

Mr Universe

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008

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For the past few months the Planetarium at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco has been off limits to all but a few serious looking folk, toting laptops and piles of charts to and from the mysterious and dominating grey sphere.

Who knew that these people held the keys to another world?

Leading up to a big Press Review of the Academy, these apparent Masters of the Universe were working 24 hours a day to literally bring the planets into alignment for the premiere of the show. So when we asked about scheduling a time to photograph the space, it seemed the wondrous hour of 6.00am was the best option for them. I suppose I could console myself with the idea that it was probably cocktail time somewhere in the solar system.

My erstwhile associate Kyle and I arrived at the appointed hour and found our way into the depths of the darkened space. Indeed space was the only apt description because projected on the screen at the time was an enormous image of a slowly rotating Earth. One instantly felt very, very small in the whole scheme of things.

I turned in the direction of what I assumed to be the control booth and made our presence known to whatever particular entity happened to be guiding the universe that morning. Tempted as I was to blurt out “Major Tim to Ground Control…”, the gravity (or apparent lack thereof) of the situation got the better of me. “Take me to your Leader” wasn’t going to cut it either, so I settled on the inspiring “Hi, we’re the photographers”

After introducing ourselves to Jon, the programmer (known henceforth as Mr Universe), we discussed the image we were looking for. A side view of the steeply raked seating and as much screen as our lenses would facilitate in an attempt to convey some of the scale of the place.

“So where do you want to go?”, Mr Universe casually enquired.

“Uumm.. I’ve always liked the rings of Saturn” I blithely replied.

“No problem.” Mr Universe responded. “Just sit back for a moment while I get us out of here.”

With that, the room slowly slid away and we rose gently up and through the shaped roof of the Academy, looking back down onto Golden Gate Park, then greater San Francisco, then the entire Bay Area and more. I’ve looked out plenty of aeroplane windows in my time and nothing compared to this feeling of just floating gently above it all. We headed south for a while, passing Los Angeles and on down the Baja Peninsula.

“If it’s okay with you” Mr Universe chimed in, “As we’re a little pressed for time, we’ll skip the Galapagos for now and head straight out to Saturn”

“Right. We can do the Galapagos any time” I thought.

Once in orbit around Saturn, we toured about until we found some good light on the planet and its surrounding rings. “Can we go a little to the right and move in a bit closer?” I ventured, feeling just a momentary flash of omnipotence. Mr Universe complied with the grace and ease of an experienced hand at the helm.

“I’ve spent a lot of time in this neighborhood” he explained.

With Saturn in the bag and a bit of time still on the clock. we headed for Jupiter on Mr Universe’s recommendation.

“Good colour and contrast on Jupiter” he enthused.

“Yeah, I’d heard that” I lied.

Jupiter was indeed stunning and we decided that the sheer scale of it would create the best look in our final version of the image.

Admittedly, the still photographs just can’t do justice to a space such as this. So go experience the show if you can. It’s totally out of this world.

My thanks to Jon Britton and Tom Kennedy at the California Academy of Sciences for making time available for our shoot.

Wholly Trinity

Monday, September 15th, 2008

The addition of a new classroom and office wing to the Trinity School in Menlo Park, south of San Francisco required architects Mark Cavagnero and Associates to bring a renewed sense of place to the otherwise disjointed campus.

The new wing, opened for students just last week, established a new entrance to the school and opened out the public areas to the playing fields and views beyond. The sleek lines and simple materials of the addition unified both new and old sections of the school, lending a sense of quiet order to the campus as a whole.

That is, until the kids broke for lunch.

Make it snappy!

Saturday, September 13th, 2008

I’ll have an alligator sandwich thanks. And make it snappy!

I couldn’t help but have this old one-liner cross my mind as we watched the Academy staff fending off the (admittedly unmoving) alligators in the Swamp Tank. The tank had been partially drained to implement a few repairs to the landscape.

While Claude, the albino, remain motionless in the corner for the duration, the Academy handler, who was perched on Claude’s favourite heated rock, never once took his eyes off the beast, clearly not trusting the relative inaction below.

Sometime later, Claude got to resume his position on the rock, displaying his usual sunny and welcoming disposition. Funny, I never saw the handler after that.

Stall in the Right Lane

Friday, September 12th, 2008

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Today I had the opportunity to ride along with the KGO traffic helicopter for two hours around San Francisco. If time and breaking news permitted, we’d be able to do a few passes over Golden Gate Park for some aerial views of the Academy of Sciences.

The flight started with a diversion out east to Livermore where some Hells Angels were reportedly under siege at a gas station (as you do). We were soon joined in the area by several other news choppers, so cut out to report on a grass fire near Walnut Creek.

Having grown up in the expanding eastern suburbs of 1970’s Melbourne, I have a general distaste for suburban sprawl anywhere. But this development near Livermore just horrified me. I find it fascinating that a country with so much space feels a need to jam people together is such a way. Mind you, Australia does much the same these days. I’m guessing the property developer of this lot lives on a two acre block in the hills a few miles to the north, with a large garden, pool and a tennis court.

At least where I grew up, all the houses had a yard for us to play in and a decent distance between neighbours.

We couldn’t find the fire in Walnut Creek (turned out to be a false report) but did see some crazy driving by the Highway Patrol along the 680. “Happens all the time”, Kerry the pilot informs me.

Turning south, we followed Highway 14 towards the Bay.

“Now you’ll love this” says Katie O’Shea, the KGO reporter from the front seat, as we crested the Oakland Hills. The entire San Francisco Bay lay before us, backlit by the western sun. She wasn’t wrong.

We circled the Bay Bridge while Katie reported on a “stall in the right lane” which gave me some great views across town. I’m always enthralled by the different appreciation you get from viewing massive structures from unfamiliar vantage points.

We continued on to Golden Gate Park where, as planned, the low sun angle was sculpting the curved Academy roof nicely.

Kerry did a great job guiding the helicopter exactly where I wanted to be for the Academy shots before heading back to base in the East Bay. Many thanks to KGO, Kerry and Katie for a memorable flight.