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.
The orange hue and misty hills remind me of the poster for Apocalypse Now, but this is just the northern end of San Francisco Bay. In this age of upward-climbing property values and Silicon Valley rags-to-riches stories, I’m continually amazed that there’s room for industry. If these facilities had to be started today, I can’t imagine that they’d wind up in the same position.
In this particular corner of Connecticut in early spring, the rain and snow combined to make the perfect storybook fog. This image is so quaint and charming, I could swear I’d seen it somewhere before.
But this brings me to another idea: those particular locations in landscape photography so scenic that they are literally ubiquitous. Take the tunnel view in Yosemite, or shots of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Marin Headlands, or downtown Manhattan as seen from the top of Rockafeller Center as examples: is it even possible to make an original composition from such a photographically saturated place? But these places are also photographically saturated for a reason: they’re really, really pretty. Where does that trade-off between originality and beauty fall?
Berkeley is a pretty surreal place; as I process that, I thought my 400th post on Decaseconds might be a great time to really show it. The yellows of the birch tree are so sharp on a foggy fall morning, amid the hard, stained concrete of the past and the high-tech Li Ka Shing Building (one of my first-ever posts) materials. Visual contrast, both literal and metaphorical, align with the conceptual contrast of a place that prides itself on being countercultural while also being the birthplace of many of the technologies and ideas that make our modern culture possible.
Bit by bit, my memories of Berkeley are vanishing. I can justify that this phenomenon is, at worst, neutral: the daily grind and the stupid time I missed the bus vanish, and only the weekends watching the sunset from the Berkeley Hills remain. Not to be trite: this empty, early-morning, fog-shrouded, post-apocalyptic view of the campanile is now my memory of the place, as well as an operational metaphor for that memory… If that’s not too obtuse.
Rolling over in a strange hotel bed, in an an unfamiliar city, at 5:30 AM: not the time most conducive to photographic adventure. Seeing these dramatic clouds over Mirror Lake, and their drastic shadows, was enough to get me moving. Still, I ran into a problem rare on the west coast: it was so much warmer and more humid outside that I had to work quickly before the lens fogged.
Not far from Muir Woods, the Pacific coast cliffs of California are a starker, steeper, and foggier place than I expected. The nearly sheer cliff face, the scraggly trees hanging on for dear life, and the weather- (and person-) beaten railings make the whole place feel mythical. The fog density hit just the right soupiness on this particular day; we could just barely see and hear the waves crashing on the rocks below.
On the recent trip to Muir woods we took a trip over to an old coastal battery turned park overlooking the ocean. Well, not much really overlooks the coast on a foggy morning like this. It sort of makes one wonder how effective these overlooks were, at least early in the morning. Almost makes you wonder what’s hiding out there in the fog.
Even if it is more Silent Hill than Far Cry the view is a neat one.
Early in the morning, before another human has arisen, in the fog and rain and the sound of crashing California surf, the cliffs of Marin are strange and alien and haunting. They stagger out of the fog, all stunted shrubs and jagged rocks and decaying 20th century gun emplacements. I’ve always rather fancied the idea that America kept expanding until they reached the end of the continent, where the cliffs and the alien landscape drove us all a bit mad.