The Bridge Builders by Joseph A. Blum
San Francisco, CA 94102
The SFAC Galleries Art at City Hall Program presents The Bridge Builders, a photography exhibition featuring 70 of Blum’s large-format color photographs that give viewers an all-access look at the making of the new bridge.
Joe Blum has been hard at work on the Bay Bridge’s newly constructed eastern span, but his tools look a bit different than the men and women that surround him – his tools are a 35 mm Nikon camera, and occasionally a large format Pentax camera. From the Bridge project’s inception in 1989, Blum has been dutifully documenting the process of its expansion, and intends to continue until the Bridge’s completion and formal opening sometime this year.
Twenty-five years as a boilermaker, shipfitter, and welder, provide Blum with an informed eye, an expansive mechanical vocabulary, and a unique ability to focus on the important human component of the bridge’s construction. While the artist has photographed all aspects of the structure’s erection, the people who labor to build the new bridge hold the greatest interest for Blum. He explains, “In so far as possible, I have attempted to photograph the building of this bridge from their perspective and I think that the public should get to see their work from that point of view and hopefully honor and celebrate it, as I do.”
Arresting height and gargantuan scale assault the viewer in images that often seem inconceivable. Blum’s images capture the sheer physicality necessary to work in the midst of rebar cages and tower cranes. Men and women are documented in rapt attention as they leverage their weight against steel and concrete, muscles taught and eyes focused. The photographer has infused each of his photographs of the Bridge’s laborers with distinct nobility. It’s clear from the artist’s treatment of his subjects that these individuals are an imperative piece of the project’s puzzle. Blum states, “There would not be a bridge without the men and women who are building it. They are the ones who have transformed the ideas of the bridge designers, architects and engineers from blueprints and drawings into a living structure of steel and concrete.”