LIVING WITH BRIDGES - PORTLAND, OR
I was born in Hamburg, Germany, a city of 1.7 million people.
I’ve been living there for 48 years before my family and I moved to Vancouver, BC, Canada in 2001.
Hamburg is located a the river Elbe, which gave Hamburg the opportunity to built the second larges port in Europe; but there is also the river Alster which cuts right through the city and spreads out into two lakes, several streams and many, many canals before merging with the river Elbe, also spread out into several arms and canals.
Due to this unique situation Hamburg is the city with the most bridges in the world and has inside its city limits more canals than Venice, Italy and Amsterdam, Netherlands combined.
But living in or visiting that city you really don’t realize how often you cross a small part of the river or a canal - either as a pedestrian, a cyclist or by car. The bridges are just unobtrusive.
Whereas Seattle, WA felt the opposite to me:
When my family and I visited Seattle, WA for the first time in 1996 we - of course - went down to the Pier as probably many tourist do to enjoy the city’s proximity to the ocean and to have lunch right at the water.
The first thing I personally realized was the noise from the huge highway bridges, which go parallel to the Pier and waterfront. In order to reach the shops and restaurants from downtown you have to cross the highways underneath the bridges. And I felt - and still feel - the noise level is very high and very annoying- at least to me.
But what did I care - I was just a tourist visiting.
Portland, OR however feels different; Portland’s bridges are neither unobtrusive nor are they just annoying - they are unique in a special way.
And here’s my story how I ended up shooting Portland’s bridges - fine art work with an editorial touch:
Fast-forward almost 20 years from my first visit to Seattle I started working with Brian Marki Fine Art at their Palm Springs, CA location.
Brian liked my approach to the landscape around Palm Springs and in particular my Joshua Tree National Park images, which had been part of the exhibition “The Desert holds the Sky” in April 2015.
Having been living for many years in Portland and also running a successful Gallery there for decades Brian asked me to visit Portland to capture the city the way I see it.
Living in Vancouver, BC now for more than 15 years but spending several months each year in Palm Springs, CA I had been in Portland before but only to stay overnight on my way down South. I had no real idea what the city might be like.
With that open mind - or you can say ‘that cluelessness’ - I spend five days in Portland at the beginning of May 2015 year and another four days in July the same year.
I stayed at a downtown Hotel since I wanted to ‘live’ the city, being able to just walk out the door and be right in the center of urban life - be it early in the morning or late at night - without the hassle of commuting.
When I came to the city I had no idea what to expect or what to shoot.
But similar to Seattle the bridges in Portland caught my attention right away;
But unlike in Seattle they did not in an annoying way.
Portland has twelve major bridges crossing the Willamette River to connect the western and the eastern part of the city:
• the St. Johns Bridge
• the Burlington Northern Railroad Bridge
• the Freemont Bridge
• the Broadway Bridge
• the Steel Bridge
• the Burnside Bridge
• the Morrison Bridge
• the Hawthorne Bridge
• the Marquam Bridge
• the new Tilikum Crossing
• the Ross Island Bridge
• the Sellwood Bridge
Starting my first walk at the western promenade at the river I was right away impressed by the bridges, impressed in different ways. At the same time I found the bridges beautiful and majestic but also scary, confusing and annoying, knowing that they are all necessary. That emotion got stronger the more bridges I looked at:
BEAUTIFUL like the Steel Bridge or the Broadway Bridge; not only the entire bridges are outstanding in their steel construction but the details of this material are amazing.
MAJESTIC like the Burnside Bridge with this enormous amount of concrete that makes you feel very small and unimportant while standing underneath it.
SCARY like the St. Johns Bridge, located downstream out of the city with its huge concrete pillars sitting right in the water.
CONFUSING like the Marquam Bridge with it’s different arms to keep up with the traffic on the I 5 and I 405.
ANNOYING like the Ross Island Bridge where the apartments are in arms length from the traffic passing the bridge.
The situation is similar with the Freemont Bridge, where the pollution from the cars crossing the bridge falls down right on the apartments and townhouses with their beautiful patios and balconies, built too close to the bridge.
NECESSARY are all these bridges. Portland wouldn’t be Portland without them and there wouldn’t even be one city without the opportunity to cross the Willamette River easily by using one of the bridges.
They are also necessary in a different way:
They give shelter for the homeless people, children play in the bridge’s shade, people park their cars underneath to get it out of the sun, garbage is stored in corners underneath and there are workshops between the pillars of the bridges - even the TriMet has a shop and a storage space for their trams there.
That all being said I got kind of hooked about bridges and their different usage and I’m looking forward to my plan to do different image stories about the city with the most bridges in the word - Hamburg, Germany - as well as Seattle, WA and, of course, my hometown Vancouver, BC, Canada.
I’m curious how that experience will be.
Vancouver, BC Axel Breutigam