MTC ART GALLERY
Joseph A. Blum
Building the New East Span
Ironworkers on Yerba Buena Island by Joseph A. Blum
Former Blue-collar Worker Goes Out on a Limb to Photograph New Span
Joe Blum may live in a house in San Francisco’s Bernal Heights, but his second home is out on the Bay, on the construction site for the new East Span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Since the start of soil sampling, he has been spending a couple days a week in sometimes precarious perches photographing the men and women who are putting the bridge together, humongous piece by humongous piece.
Blum brings an insider’s viewpoint to the task of documenting this monumental public works project. He worked as a boilermaker, shipfitter, and welder for 25 years before trading in his laborer’s tools for a camera. He started out photographing the shipyards and metal trades before turning his attention to bridge construction — both the new East Span and the Al Zampa Memorial Bridge across the Carquinez Strait, which opened in 2003.
“I try to get as close as possible to the work and when lucky get an image that almost seems to be taken from the point of view of the worker in the midst of his or her labor,” Blum says in his artist’s statement.
Like the skilled workers he’s covering, Blum is impervious to fog and rain, and can be found out on the Bay at all hours of the day and night. His preferred medium is black and white film (shot with a 35 mm Nikon or larger format Pentax), although he also has been known to shoot digital color images. By intent, his images evoke the great Depression-era photographers, and especially those who captured the building of the original Bay Bridge in the 1930s. The esteemed Bancroft Library at the University of California Berkeley campus has taken notice, acquiring many of Blum’s bridge photos – which now number more than 25,000 -- for its Pictorial Collection.
“I have chosen
to document the construction of this bridge with
black and white film, and to develop and print
archival fiber prints, not merely for the inherent
beauty and clarity of this photographic process,
but to attempt to carry on the tradition and show
solidarity with the people who photographed the
original construction of this extraordinary bridge,
Gabriel and Raymond Moulin and Peter Stackpole,” Blum
Like the bridge itself, this exhibit and my project are works in progress. I hope to continue photographing the construction of this bridge until it is complete.
First and foremost my over-arching goal is to document and honor the labor of the men and women who are building this bridge. This marvel of modern engineering and technology is being constructed by thousands of rank-and file unionized workers — pile-drivers, operating engineers, laborers, carpenters, ironworkers and others — whose skill, effort and determination are transforming the architectural and engineering plans into a fully functional structure of concrete and steel, which will be used by hundreds of thousands of California residents daily.
The primary objective of my project is to produce
a collection of black and white archival photographs
that concentrate upon the relationship between
these workers and the large-scale structure they
are building. I try to get as close as possible
to the work and when lucky get an image that almost
seems to be taken from the point of view of the
worker in the midst of his or her labor.
The second objective of my project is to document the landmark engineering events which constitute the history of the building of the bridge. This exhibit is part of a larger project in which I have photographically recorded almost all aspects of the construction of this bridge, from the taking of the first soil samples in the Bay, to the raising of the latest deck section.
Finally, I have chosen to document the construction
of this bridge with black and white film and to
develop and print archival fiber prints, not merely
for the inherent beauty and clarity of this photographic
process, but to attempt to carry on the tradition
and show solidarity with the people who photographed
the original construction of this extraordinary
bridge, Gabriel and Raymond Moulin and Peter Stackpole.
Metropolitan Transportation Commission • 101 Eighth Street, Oakland, California 94607
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