Award of Merit:
Bay Bridge Old and New Serves as Muse for Three Visual Projects
October 22, 2014
The 75th anniversary of the original Bay Bridge in 2011 and the opening of the bridge’s new East Span a couple of years later in 2013 put the spotlight on what has long been considered the region’s workhorse bridge, and inspired three interrelated visual projects that together are sharing one Award of Merit. These unique and creative projects illuminate — quite literally, in one case — the beauty and majesty of the Bay Bridge old and new, and the rich ecosystem and history of the Bay underneath.
Bay Lights Art Installation Adds Sparkle to San Francisco’s Waterfront
The north face of the West Span of the Bay Bridge has become the canvas for a nightly light show that dazzles locals and tourists alike. (Photo: Noah Berger)
The Bay Lights is a massive installment of 25,000 energy-efficient LED lights on the West Span of the Bay Bridge. It is the product of the coordination and creativity of dozens of people who merged technology, infrastructure and art to bring something uniquely Bay Area to countless viewers. Artist Leo Villareal’s nightly light show adds sparkle to San Francisco’s skyline, and dazzles locals and tourists alike.
The kinetic Bay Lights display brings walkers and bikers to S.F.’s waterfront. “We all had high hopes but the reality vastly exceeded them,” said Ben Davis, Bay Lights visionary and CEO of the nonprofit Illuminate the Arts, which engineered financing and permits for the project. “It’s not just a work of art. It reorients us and creates a sense of connection, exemplifying the metaphorical powers of bridges.”
Photographer Joseph Blum Gets Up Close and Personal With East Span Construction Crews
Intrepid photographer Joseph Blum has crawled, climbed and walked all over the East Span construction zone to capture the workers in action. (Photo: Nick Greco) [thumbnail]
While Bay Lights creator Leo Villareal explored the lines of the original West Span, it is the new East Span — and the men and women who built it — that inspired photographer Joseph A. Blum. The laborer-cum-artist brought his Nikon to the construction site soon after work began on the span, and has since produced an unparalleled collection of film-based and digital images of the crews and their work. A former boilermaker and welder, Blum marries mechanical fluency with a keen sense of composition and color.
Aptly titled “The Bridge Builders,” Blum’s most recent photography exhibit was displayed by the San Francisco Arts Commission at S.F. City Hall before moving to MTC’s offices for an extended run. “I try to get as close as possible to the work and when lucky get an image that almost seems to be taken from the point of view of the worker in the midst of his or her labor,” Blum said in his artist statement. Now in his 70s, the photographer took the time to get to know each worker intimately and do justice to his or her strength, determination and courage — identifying each person by name in the captions accompanying his show.
“A lot of guys out here put in long hours, and you start to feel like a robot,” an ironworker told the Organized Labor newsletter. “Joe coming out here almost every day, even when the conditions were tough, meant something to us.”
Oakland Museum’s “Above and Below: Stories From Our Changing Bay” Exhibit
The launch of the exhibition “Above and Below: Stories From Our Changing Bay” was timed to coincide with the opening of the new East Span. (Photo: Shaun Roberts, Courtesy of Oakland Museum of California)
While the Bay Bridge is the centerpiece of both Joe Blum’s and Leo Villareal’s work, in another case it was just one compelling feature of a multifaceted project. Tackling state and federal mitigation requirements with creativity, the Oakland Museum of California collaborated with Caltrans to develop an interdisciplinary exhibit about the Bay and the beauty that surrounds it. “Above and Below: Stories From Our Changing Bay,” whose opening coincid-ed with the new East Span’s, explored the intersection of the natural and the manufactured, through oral histories, replicas, hands-on activities and artifacts from the bridge — including a twin of the infamous Bay Bridge troll statue.
“It was very much a collaboration between the art, natural history and science perspectives,” said Senior Curator Louise Pubols. “What was great was being able to work with so many different stakeholders, organizations and people who have such strong relationships with the Bay.”
A clear marker of success were the visitors who would sit and watch the Center for Land Use Interpretation’s 2.5-hour film of a flyover of the Bay’s 500-mile perimeter for 30 minutes at a time — “insane for a museum exhibit,” Pubols said.
— Natalie Orenstein