Then and now: Photographing the Bay Bridge


Peter Stackpole was just 21 when he brought his Leica A to the top of the still-under-construction San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. It was 1934 – safety regulations were not what they are now, and without any official authorization, Stackpole captured stunning images. He risked his life on a site where over three years of construction 28 workers lost their lives.

 Photo by Peter Stackpole, 1935.  Photo by Joseph Blum, 2012.
Peter Stackpole, 1935. Joseph Blum, 2012.

San Francisco bay has seen more bridge construction in modern times. The building of a self-anchored suspension bridge connecting Yerba Buena Island to Oakland began in 2002, replacing the eastern span of the bay bridge. It has not gone un-documented.

Photographer Joseph Blum has captured construction of the modern bridge, a project that’s a decade over schedule and millions of dollars over budget. He brought much more gear with him than Stackpole to create his set of dizzying images – 25-30 pounds of equipment at a time. Safety regulations are also considerably tighter on the bridge construction site than they were in Stackpole’s time. At times, Blum’s location on the bridge required him to wear a full harness as well as standard-issue hard hat, boots and glasses.

Though the tools and technology have changed, both sets of inspiring photos document a modern marvel in the making. See Stackpole’s work at the Gallery of California Art at Oakland Museum of California through January 2014; Blum’s work is at the San Francisco Arts Commission

Via the San Francisco Chronicle and Wired.



Having grown up in the area, you take the bridges for granted. I wonder why the new east span doesn’t maintain the double-deck design of the original?


Hmmm, I guess you don’t need 30 pounds of gear to create iconic images.


Note how, in spite of all our advancements in photography, the photos from 1935 are so much better. The framing, depth and clarity are all way more engaging.


Pretty sure those are not dependent on advancements in photography.


The bridge builders, then and now, must have testicles the size of bowling balls.


How interesting. Great story and read.

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