Views like this one, capturing the marine layer rolling across the San Francisco Bay towards the Port of Oakland, are the kind that first attracted me to photography. I took this picture nearly four years ago, during my sabbatical to the Bay Area, when I was still shooting with my Nikon D7000 (already antiquated tech in 2017); I can’t want to be able to safely revisit Berkeley’s Grizzly Peak to capture more cityscapes with my new Sony a7R IV.
I took this picture two years ago, during a wonderful springtime in Berkeley when a rainy winter had made the hills lush and green. The view is enormous, overwhelming: Oakland, San Francisco, Emeryville, and Berkeley all packed into one. I like the contrast of the tiny path on the green hilltop on the left side of the image providing a quiet contrast.
Watching the summer sunset behind Oakland, San Francisco, Berkeley, and Marin is the perfect setting for a dinner picnic. This weekend is Memorial Day: the unofficial start of summer in much of the United States and the perfect time (i.e. time off) for picnics and barbecuing. Though this picture came from another big barbecuing holiday (Independence Day), the scene is likely to be replicated this weekend.
This panorama of the San Francisco skyline (seen from across the Golden Gate in Tiburon) is transient in two senses of the word: because the sunset light takes on this set of specular reflections for only a moment, and because civil engineering has already transformed the skyline to some new form in the time since I took this picture.
A history of design and engineering is visible from the Marin Headlands in the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco beyond it. That’s visible at every hour of the day, so I must conclude that the people jamming the roads earlier on the evening of this image were mostly there for the combination effect with the sunset. As the crowds decamped for dinner elsewhere, the blue hour brought my favorite views of the city.
Grizzly Peak’s superhuman view of the Bay Area seems so inaccessible; that we could drive there (albeit on steep, winding roads) is surreal. The alignment of mundane cars along the ridge seems like a different phase of matter from the glowing roads and epic accomplishments of civil engineering below. I suspect that those mundane cars will become a lot more interesting when I look back at this picture in 30 years.
Grizzly Peak’s high vantage point means that a plethora of Bay Area landmarks can be stacked together in one image: From the faintest shadow of the Farallon Islands beyond the bridge, to the Golden Gate, Alcatraz, the Berkeley Marina, the busy travelers on University Avenue, to the Joint Center of Artificial Photosynthesis atop a hill in Berkeley Lab.
Though photographing San Francisco became an everyday occurrence during my time on sabbatical at Berkeley Lab, I knew even then that it wouldn’t last. Back in New York, the trivial has again become (practically) impossible. This is the last picture that I took, just before I left California on another transcontinental drive.
During sabbatical, I posted a lot of views like the one below: A dramatic dusk view of Berkeley and San Francisco from Berkeley Lab’s Building 62, where I spent my days doing renewable energy research. Ending a productive day, I’d step out onto the balcony a 30-second walk down the hall from my office to find these views readily available (when the marine layer didn’t intervene).
But to my memory, I’ve posted few shots of that balcony that was so integral to the sabbatical experience. Circling around to the adjacent Molecular Foundry, I took this image that (in the top left) shows that small balcony (with sun conveniently reflecting), as well as some of the lab infrastructure around in it. In the foreground is the liquid nitrogen storage tank for the foundry with its radiator covered in ice.
Even in one of the most expensive real estate markets in the world, there has to be a place to store the equipment that makes everything run. In the foreground of this view from Berkeley Lab’s Building 62 are the shipping containers and assorted equipment used by the physical plant to keep the lab running. I’ve always found the contradiction—using very expensive land to store mundane objects—to be an engaging one. Of course, if all of the land were employed for its “valuable” use and the practical aspects were neglected, the result would be that the land would cease to be valuable.
I love finding the little details in epic landscapes that provide the sense of human scale and presence. (It’s a bit like a photographic “Where’s Waldo?”) In the lower center of this image, at the left edge of the Berkeley Marina, you can see light tiny lights of the restaurant where diners look out over the Bay and the sunset.