Monday, March 15, 2010

Overpass Mecca Part 2

Last night we returned to San José's Overpass Mecca, a glorious snarl of concrete ramps and streaming car lights that offers stunning photography opportunities. Once more we set up our D5000 to capture long exposure images, this time feeling a bit more confident in our process. Even so, the night was cold and we shivered with each set-up. Jenny'd take about ten minutes to compose her shots and try a few experiments while I'd scout the next location. During my turn, she'd search for her next inspiration (and update her Facebook pals!). Like that, we leapfrogged from site to site.

When doing night photography, I feel less guilty about employing photographic tricks to capture a sense of what I see. After all, the image in the camera viewfinder is almost invisible. The long exposures necessary to capture any kind of light already represent a sort of cheating. Then there's the choice of white balance, a tough issue when working under the city's yellow lamps, since different settings produce entirely different results. Finally, is the necessity of post-processing when the in-camera image is transformed to be viewable on a computer. More art that journalism, night photography is about capturing feeling rather than reality.

Taking these sorts of shots is not without some degree of risk. Remember, we're stumbling about a dimly lit crosshatch of road arteries that are not designed for pedestrian use. Abandoned junk and detritus, along with patches of dense, spiky vegetation, require careful footwork. Add a few wandering street-folk, and we pay close attention to our surroundings and our exit strategies. Then sometimes we'll spot a swell vantage point that requires us to hike along a high-speed roadway, the cars whizzing with only a concrete strip between us. When we get the shot, it's worth all the hassle.

I love the feeling of hoisting our reassuringly heavy tripod over my shoulders as Jenny and I search for new positions to set up our shots. Sometimes we'll spot a perspective and march towards it with confidence. Other time we'll wander aimlessly, searching for the right feeling. It's all for the production of dreamy, ephemeral images, but we also gain a genuine feeling of work and accomplishment as we climb up grassy hills and slide down rocky embankments. Jenny and I are continuing our tradition of urban exploration with theses photo shoots, and I can't wait to see what turns up next.

(Photographs by Andrew and Jenny Wood)

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