Back in the Saddle (Again) and the Return of Pier 62

Volunteered for Kate on a photowalk to the Seattle waterfront recently. After spending the past few months doing lonely portraits to practice using strobes in 1, 2 and 3 light configurations, it felt good to go out and do some of the type of photography I’m most passionate about.

So, why did I volunteer and for what? Since Seattle is still under a pandemic lockdown that limits group sizes to 5 people, I chose to help by leading a group so more people could participate via proxy groups.

I walked straight into a shower; it began to precipitate as soon as I left my house and only got stronger as I reached the waterfront. A 5 kt, onshore breeze, with some 10-15 kt gusts, greeted me at the pier. In my infinite wisdom, I’d even changed from a pair of waterproof hiking pants to denim jeans just before leaving. Fortunately I stayed true on my choice of Belstaff Trialmaster and waistcoat instead of my lightweight Arc’teryx jacket, ensuring I’d be both dry and warm, but unable to kneel on the damp and puddled deck.

Kimwipes proved to be invaluable, as usual, but I was fortunate to see the rain let up about an hour after arrival and 45 minutes prior to sunset. As the clouds began to part, the intense highlights limited the effectiveness of my 10-stop ND for longer exposures but my camera was able to cope without having to resort to bracketed shots to contain the dynamic range within my compositions. The weather conditions resulted in some of the best cloud formations I’ve ever seen during golden hour while being prepared to photograph it.

Despite being an asocial curmudgeon, being back out in the weather and meditating over my camera and tripod while waiting for conditions my pessimistic self are sure won’t occur on my watch, and even if it were, my abilities would surely result in an image barely presentable for sharing on social media at no more than a 150 pixel wide image despite using a 51mp, medium format camera, resulted in a rare display of emotion that some may describe as “not asshole-ish.” The conditions were cold, windy and wet, and despite the pedestrian setting, resulted in the potential for beautiful shots that I could feel in my bones (aside from my arthritis).

The chosen location, Pier 62, has been closed for years now, reopening only days ago after a multi-year reconstruction. It had always been a city park; just a large, wooden pier with a few tables, trash and homeless scattered about for 360 days. Then not-so-suddenly, for 5 days a year, the location is hijacked for a “Summer Nights at the Pier” concert series, consistently featuring a lineup of wannabes and has-beens of 1980’s adult contemporary scene nobody would pay to see, so it’s free for all. While it’s been closed, a giant Ferris wheel as been erected, the Alaskan Way viaduct has been removed and another pier of similar vintage only a few spots away collapsed into the sound.

Back to my enthusiasm, for lack of a better description, I found myself seemingly emulating an extrovert, admittedly in only a few short bursts between my long stretches swinging between pensive silence and frustration. I spoke with a few people using more than 2 words at a time and bothered to attempt being helpful. Surprisingly, I also lacked any hint of contempt in my voice, even when my attention was forced away from a potential composition. Hell, I even lent out some of my gear and gave someone money. Maybe I was drugged (more than usual and with a compound other than what I prefer). Or maybe I had been woken up green and furry, on Xmas morning, by Cindy Lou Who? Whatever it was, I managed to have a decent time amongst people that weren’t me.

Thinking back, it was probably because I’d heard from Lori for the first time in almost a year, offering both emotional overtures and a mea culpa, the latter being only the second I’ve ever received from her in the nearly 20 years we’ve known each other.

Whatever the case, I’d managed to lend out a couple of my Polar Pro ND+Polarizer filters to complete strangers, after demonstrating their potential to them only just prior. I even managed to reply to one via Instagram, who inquired about photography shortcut cards and my ND filters, hours after the photowalk ended. Maybe for you this sounds like a completely average, weekend afternoon, but for me it was weirdly both optimistic and social as I’m the type of person who’s afflicted with “resting fuck-off face” and pretends to not speak English just to avoid saying “fuck off” out loud.

Sorry for the weird detour. Back to photography, Pier 62 reintroduces a location and perspective that’s been missing since it closed for reconstruction. While somewhat pedestrian, the addition of new attractions and changes to the skyline have given it more value when compared with similar locations, both old and new. However, like those other locations, it offers a limited perspective and thus limits its overall value, long term, as a photographic location. It’s one that will become over saturated by the end of the summer as a landscape and cityscape destination, even during a time of reduced foot traffic due to the pandemic, but will easily persist as a street, tourist and especially portrait photography location for years to come. Once the new waterfront master plan is completed, Pier 62 could become one of the premium destinations for environmental portraiture and street photography, due to its prime location, identifiable backdrop and potential for high foot traffic.

On a negative note, I hope the current art installations improve over time. They seem designed to appeal solely to social media “influencers,” who prefer filming and photographing themselves interacting with artworks than appreciating it. For adults who actually like art, they’re a tripping hazard at best.

Beware the chairs and tables. Note that some of the chairs are durable with a simple, timeless design. Others are clearly just props, designed to collapse under load for the amusement of friends and bystanders, I assume. If the chair (all of which are helpfully painted blue so locals can quickly and easily differentiate them from a table, which are all painted yellow) features an underpinning that looks like leftover mousetrap parts that are both oversized AND undersized at the same time, do not sit on it as it’s designed solely to return to its original, resting form and will maim you. Instead, use these only for your man-purse so thieves can snatch it more easily.

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