The city of Seattle, Washington. ©2013 Ken McAllister...when my wife encourages me to go out for an evening shoot—evening being the time when we frequently enter into an all-out battle royal with our five children in that titanic struggle of wills known as bedtime—I must take full advantage.
Photography for me is a hobby. Dearly loved and much enjoyed, but a hobby nonetheless. It has on occasion brought in a few dollars, but I doubt very much if it's been enough to cover the gear I've purchased over the years. In other words, it's not a very lucrative endeavour.
So when my wife encourages me to go out for an evening shoot—evening being the time when we frequently enter into an all-out battle royal with our five children in that titanic struggle of wills known as bedtime—I must take full advantage. When she gives me ungrudging leave to travel a hundred or so miles away from home, I most definitely will rise up and call her blessed.
Such was recently the case. A full-day photo training opportunity arose in the Seattle, and with it being a two-hour drive south of Vancouver, it meant an early start and a late return home. I was hesitant to abandon my wife for a full day, but she said I should go, and so it was that I found myself flying down the I-5 (within a reasonable tolerance of the posted speed limit) heading towards Seattle.
The training was good and worth the trip, but I confess that as the day wore on my mind wandered, contemplating potential subjects I could shoot while here. Unfortunately, Seattle seemed to be socked in with a layer of marine cloud that neither allowed for the dramatic atmospheric effects of fog nor permitted the sun to filter through with anything close to good light. It seemed that the weather of the Emerald City was in no mood to cooperate with my photographic hopes.
During breaks I wandered around a bit, shot some buildings and contemplating a bit of street photography. A few colourful characters loitering around the area may have been interesting subjects, but I was armed with a 35mm lens, and these guys looked like they'd welcome a camera about as much as a narc officer investigating the substance which they were smoking. I decided to heed the voice of wisdom (i.e. chickened out) and my street photography excursion came to naught.
The class ended in the early evening, and I mulled over heading out to the classic view of Seattle: the downtown skyline, Space Needle, Mount Rainier, etc. But the marine cloud had not relinquished its grip on the city, Mount Rainier was nowhere to be seen, and the Space Needle had been shot a million times from every angle imaginable. Besides, I had taken a few nice shots from that vantage point just a few years previous, and those shots would be almost impossible to match under the current conditions. Maybe it was time to just grab some dinner and go home.
I then remembered another view: less photographed but just as interesting, looking north towards the skyline from the south side of the downtown core. I took a look outside the conference room window and saw rising in the south the tree-covered slopes of Beacon Hill. I consulted maps and plotted a course towards where I guessed the viewpoint might lay. A short time later I had reached my destination, parked my car, and began to explore.
At first things looked promising, but soon it became apparent this was not going to be easy. I found a view close to what I was searching for, but each gap in the foliage seemed to have power lines stretching across it. I explored further, but found nothing suitable. Finally, I hauled myself off to a local establishment for some dinner and to think things out over a glass of beer....I had barely noticed the tower during the daylight. But now its floodlit art deco facade loomed out of the darkness like the lair of some deranged mad scientist....If lightning had suddenly split the sky behind the tallest point I wouldn't have been the least surprised.
Once again I pondered heading home, but I had come all this way, and decided it would be a waste to not give it one more try. Darkness had now fully descended, and perhaps things would look different. I drove back to the hill, got out of the car, and instantly became aware of the Pacific Medical Center building towering over me.
Despite its obvious dominance of Beacon Hill, I had barely noticed the tower during the daylight. But now its floodlit art deco facade loomed out of the darkness like the lair of some deranged mad scientist, bathing the hillside in a pale, sepia toned light. If lightning had suddenly split the sky behind the tallest point I wouldn't have been the least surprised.
I turned my attention back to the city, but nightfall had done nothing to improve the sight lines. The land fell away a few feet from the edge of the sidewalk, and there looked to be some potential viewpoints a hundred feet or so down the slope, but the area was covered in trees and didn't look all that accessible, especially in the dark.
I returned to the car and was about to pack it in, when I noticed a set of stairs leading down the slope. Apparently the forested area below me was a park. I grabbed my gear and was about to head down when I hesitated. It was dark down there, very dark, and the stairs led down into the very heart of the darkness. For a minute I felt a twinge of fear, and I peered into the shadows that loomed over the path for any sign of nefarious characters that might be hiding down there. It didn't help that the only illumination I had was the monster horror movie-like light coming from the aforementioned mad scientist tower behind me....I bucked up and began the descent, a firm grip on my tripod, ready to wield its heft to ward any attackers that might leap out at me to relieve me of my valuables.
But I bucked up and began the descent, a firm grip on my tripod, ready to wield its heft to ward any attackers that might leap out to relieve me of my valuables. As I walked on the fear was replaced by a sense of excitement. The trees thinned out, and the very view I had been searching for began to take shape before my eyes. I just had to walk down the path a bit further and....
Blast it all!!! What in the name of Ansel Adams was this chain link fence doing here, blocking my beautiful view??? It was too tall to shoot over, and the holes were't big enough to shoot through. I had done all this work, risked the dangers of a dark, unfamiliar urban park at night, lying in the shadow of a mad scientist's lair where who knows what evil experiments were happening at this very moment...I had braved all this only to be stymied by a stupid chain-link fence. It was enough to make a photographer cry.
It was then I saw the hole; a gap in the fence, about ten feet or so from where I was standing. Thinking it might be a mirage, I cautiously moved towards it. It was definitely a hole, cut deliberately out of the fence at about eye level. And there, through that beautiful space, with no obstructions to block it whatsoever, was the view I had searched long and hard for.
I laughed, for I knew at once who had done this deed, and precisely where those photos that had inspired me to begin this search in the first place had come from. It was this very spot. Another photographer, armed with foreknowledge, wire-cutters and willing to do a spot of vandalism for the sake of his or her art, had cut this hole. There was no other reason for it to be there.
I took a second to breathe a word of thanks to my unknown benefactor, then I set up my gear and began shooting.
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