Monday, March 29, 2010

Overpass Mecca Part 3

Jenny and I took advantage of the warming springtime weather by returning to San José for another adventure in nighttime long-exposure photography. This time we set our sights on a highway interchange on the southwest of the downtown core, amazed at how many more vantage points and complex composition opportunities this one has over our previous experiments [check out my new overpasses label].

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We started near the Guadalupe River Park, which frankly depressed me with its murky and unlit pathways. My thoughts drifted to memories of San Antonio's River Walk, and I wondered if San José would ever mount such an impressive display or urban planning. Here, the only pedestrians we saw seemed to be pushing carts with all their earthly belongings. Locking the car on a lonely road far from the towering hotels and friendly restaurants downtown, we bypassed fences and hugged the inside of busy on-ramps, heading for a spot that felt right. As the sun began to dip beneath the mountains, we dropped our gear at last.

We'd arrived with enough light to allow for some individual exploration, so Jenny and I split off to wander the cavernous space in search of shooting positions. Not being intended for pedestrian use, this site is prickly with overgrown brambles. Thus we were sometimes forced to barrel across damp islands of vegetation, shouting across to each other as the cars rumbled a few feet above us so loudly that we could not communicate otherwise. Every few minutes, planes would roar overhead too, sounding only slightly more fierce than the cars.

The columns reminded me of grand Roman spaces, the horizontal and diagonal lights forming ethereal lines and arcs like some sort of superimposed geometry. A cathedral of movement, a San José's overpass seen from underside is pretty distant from the city that I know. It's a strange thing to remember that I drive over this place almost every working day, which is the coolest aspect of urban exploration: seeing the everyday in a new way.

I've decided that I particularly love the thrill of setting up a camera alongside a busy highway, feeling the wind of cars racing by. We take reasonable precautions to allow for some space between ourselves and the vehicles. And we never use a flash, for fear of startling drivers. Indeed, I believe that our choice of protected position renders us invisible to anyone but the most eagle-eyed motorists. And by the time we check our long-exposure shots, the cars are nothing more than brilliant lights, receding.

Not everything worked smoothly, of course. We managed to time our shots to capture the glowing trails of jets landing at the nearby airport, but we couldn't quite align our schedules with the lightrail trains that poked along less regularly. And then there was our own departure. We arrived with sufficient light to make our way without much hassle. By the time we'd wrapped up the shoot, though, we'd gotten thoroughly disoriented. With our flashlights illuminating thin corridors, we stumbled our way between the crackling hillsides and pulsing culverts until we finally saw a train track leading to surface streets. Exiting from our nighttime adventure, it seemed strange to walk someplace so normal.

(Photographs by Andrew and Jenny Wood)


Vienna said...

These are looking more and more incredible!! I love how you bring out the color of the sky. Is there any way to get the stars in there?

highway163 said...

Thanks, Vienna! Stars are tricky when the moon's out. We'll have to return sometime when it's a New Moon.

One other confounding variable, of course: our proximity to city lights, which drown out starlight.

So, it' do-able. But not easy.