Cityscapes function best with depth: layers of structures and pathways for the eye. The Bay Area view from Grizzly Peak was one of the earliest cityscapes I experimented with photographing. In those early times, it was Berkeley and San Francisco in the distance that most interested me; after my sabbatical at Berkeley Lab, the winding roads where I rode the bus to work and the bright shapes of the Molecular Foundry and JCAP in the foreground hold my interest far more. I enjoy the way in which subsequent experiences can retroactively shift the meaning in an image.
In the Berkeley Hills, above the National Lab’s Advanced Light Source, the view over Oakland’s twinkling night sprawl entrances. Look at all of those light-emitting objects! As LED lights have replaced sodium vapor models, I’m particularly fascinated in the shift as cities glow white, instead of orange.
That skyline is recognizable, even shrouded behind 200 mm f/2.8 bokeh. Though many people in the Berkeley Hills watched this scene, and though I wasn’t the only one with a camera, the unique light-twisting effect of bokeh means that I’m the only one who captured this pattern and this moment. My favorite details are the individual pieces of grass, bright and sharp against the softness of the Emeryville background.
Much of the Bay Area, packed densely with people, perforates with light-emitting devices after sunset. When a volume avoids that, there’s a story and an active effort by conservationists behind it. At either extreme of this picture, Albany and Marin fall clearly into light-emitting category. In between, however, are special spaces: the Albany Bulb in the foreground and the Brooks Island Regional Preserve (the titular island).
Do you see the lone person, sitting on the hillside, on the right side of this image? People provide scale, but also something more in this context. In addition to watching the literal gradient of the sky at sunset, this picture is part of a set of images of the “civilization gradient” from wilderness to dense city center. I quite like the added layer of a gradient from the individual in nature to the greater mass of humanity in cities. Traveling between rural New York and the crowded Bay Area has made me more aware than ever of the contrast.