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19 July 2007


Absolutely phenomenal.

Back in 1971, my friend, photographer Bruce Steinberg, was doing a photo book on the bay bridge crews and went up there. At the top he shot a series of overlapping photos, long before stitched panorama techniques where developed. I scanned his moldy old slides and was able to assemble a panorama.

This panorama can be seen here

It's amusing because many buildings are not there. Try to find the pyramid building -- it is there, in an interesting way.

I would love to shoot an "after" panorama from the same spot some time. Though he climbed the 1st tower, not the 2nd as Bruce did.

Beautiful stuff.

And Brad, I hit your 1971 stitch of Bruces shots then did the entire series at your site. Also beautiful, feel like I've been on walkabout, thanks.

Thank you, Brad! That's superb. I've added an update to the main post above.

You may recognize Unaesthetic as the guy who was popping Kryptonite bike locks open with Bic pens a couple years back...

Hi all --

My friend Evan Hunt down in Santa Cruz just turned me on to this cool posting by Unaesthetic, which he'd found already picked up on BoingBoing.net yesterday, and knew I'd find interesting because of my own photo work on the Bay Bridge back in the day.

Looks like Brad's already on the case as well, posting the link to his beautifully stitched panorama of my individual shots that I took one day back in 1971 in preparation for an envisioned panoramic treatment, long before there was any economical way of actually making one on my own. (Even the SF Chronicle declined to run it as a Sunday magazine foldout feature as I proposed to them -- it just would've cost too much by standard lithographic stripping techniques.)

Brad's an old friend, too, and one day a few years ago, we got to talking about his pano photos and it occurred to me that my old archived photos would be perfect for such a project.

So I retrieved and dusted off my old slides (and as Brad points out, in a few cases we had to deal with more than just dust, although they were still generally in excellent shape, especially for 30-year-old Ektachromes), and the rest is (visual) history.

In addition to the numerous then-and-now features that "Telstar Logistics" has already pointed out, there are numerous other cool differences one can see (aside from the overall Manhattanization of the SF skyline itself over the past 35 years) such as the conspicuous absence of today's giant TV tower on Mount Sutro off in the distance, which wasn't built until a few years later.

Even up on the bridge, things have changed. The platform shown in Unaesthetic's photos holding the wireless gear obviously wasn't there back in the day any more than the IP cameras they now support. And the red pulsing aircraft lights (represented by the one shown in his lead photo above) are the new kids on the block, having replaced the great old rotating red fog lights that had been up there since the bridge was built. I have up-close-and-personal color photos of those as well that I need to get around to scanning one of these days.

Maybe one of the most interesting artifacts of the panoramic image (if one wants to get into it in forensic, pixilated detail :) is the difference in time between the clock on the Ferry Building and the digital clock on the 76 Union tower next to the freeway.

The clocks themselves weren't off by that much; the time-delta represents the amount of elapsed time between my taking the respective individual shots in sequential rotational order, which was pretty time-consuming to do right -- hand-held using a 135mm tele lens in a stiff breeze up there, all the while staying mindful of getting sufficient overlap between each frame while mentally maintaining a consistent horizon line (even when there was no horizon visible) for the full 360-degree panorama I actually shot. (The part Brad and I decided to stitch just covering SF is clearly less than even 180 degrees of that full-circle sweep that included all the rest of the bay north, east, and south as well.)

As Brad mentions, this color panorama shoot was an anomalous adjunct to what I was actually doing up on the bridge in the first place: shooting a self-assigned B/W documentary series on the bridge painters. If you want to see just a few samples of the the hundreds of images I shot for this project (and read a lot more backstory on it), go to http://www.brucesteinberggallery.com and click on the first thumbnail link on the home page below the photo of me up on the cable. (And while you're there, the rest of the site is pretty cool, too!)

Or you can just go directly to that link's URL at http://www.rushcreekgallery.com/bruce-steinberg/index2.html (and check out the rest of that site as well!).

As Unaesthetic notes, things have changed a lot since 9/11, and sadly, no one will likely ever again enjoy the freedom I had working with the painters up there over a few months. After quickly showing me the ropes (literally) of walking up and down the main cables (main rule: don't fall off :), they pretty much cut me loose to wander the cables on my own (unless I needed access to get inside or on top of the towers), with the major concern being leaving myself enough time to get back down and meet the work trucks by 3:00 pm or I'd be stuck out on the bridge all night. :) (I got a lot of great night shots during a chemical spill years later, but that's another story for another time...)

That 1971 panorama of SF from the Bay Bridge is so interesting, thanks for passing this along. Such a quaint little city back then, and all those freeways!?! I remember when trains ran along the Embarcadero all the way to Ft. Mason.
aka Dizzy

BRUCE! Thank you so much for your fantastic note, and the superb work you did way back when. It's amazing what you captured.

Funny that you describe 1971 San Francisco as "quaint," Dave. I agree, and think if we've all got our own personal "golden age" for SF, that period is mine.

What's really sobering is that in checking out all the street details in this panorama of SF over the past few years, it's occurred to me that more time has now passed since I took those photos in 1971 than had passed since the 1941 San Francisco of Dashiell Hammett's (and Bogie's) "Maltese Falcon" at the time I was up on the bridge taking the photos!

Moreover, the Bay Bridge that's clearly visible from Sam Spade's office window in the movie (including the very tower from which I eventually would take the pano shots, if I recall the scene right) was only ~four years old~ at the time the movie was filmed (even if the bridge image was a backdrop in a studio down in LA).

Trippy. :)

BTW, if you're in SF, you can see prints of my Bay Bridge photos on long-term loan (and offered for sale, as at the online gallery ;) at Red's Java House (Embarcadero, at the foot of Bryant). It's the perfect venue for exhibiting the photos, virtually in the shadow of the subject bridge itself, and in fact, one of the pictures (of the inspection boat's crew having lunch) was actually shot inside Red's 36 years ago. You can still sit at that same table today and have lunch looking out at the bridge. :)

And to complete the circle, you can even make out Red's in one of the exhibited photos (both at Red's and on the Rush Creek web site) that was shot from the top of the SF tower looking down on the waterfront 500 feet below. Check it out.

Wow, very cool photo, and great to read the story of capturing the image from the photographer himself in the comments!

Another amazing panorama of the city from a similar vantage point was taken by George Lawrence just weeks after the devastating 1906 earthquake. Lawrence lifted his 50-pound, 24 x 55 inch panoramic camera over the bay using a series of kites and piano wire. I created a zoomable, high-res version of his panorama on the USGS earthquake web site:


To commemorate the centennial of the earthquake, I lifted a Hasselblad XPan II w/ a 90mm lens (rented from Keeble and Shuchat!) on a single kite and captured a modern, aerial view of the SF skyline in 2006:


Should be interesting to compare all three images.


I fell inlove with the photography that is taken from the top of the bridge.It's fantastic and the cars look so small.

I can't tell you how happy these photos made me, especially the 1971 panoramic shot. I'm old enough to remember when Proposition T was on the SF ballot. It was an effort to put a limit on the height of tall buildings (or skyscrapers, as we called them back then!). It failed miserably, but its proponents handed out these great coloring books, one of which I indeed colored in. If I'm remembering correctly, Prop T was a response to the proposed building of the Tranasamerica Pyramid, which, of course, can be seen halfway built in the photo.

Wow what a amazing photos,such a great job done by Brad,it is really wonderful thinking and it clearly shows the bridge and cars are look like very small from the top view....


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