Documenting the last days of Victoria’s old Johnson Street Bridge

The Blue Bridge, Victoria, 2014 (14-minute exposure)

The Blue Bridge, Victoria, 2014 (14-minute exposure)

Last week, I returned to photograph one of my favourite urban subjects: Victoria’s Johnson Street Bridge.

Since the decision was made in 2009 to replace the iconic, 92-year-old “Blue Bridge,” I’ve wandered around its vicinity on both sides of the Inner Harbour, camera in hand. In 2010, I cycled its slippery steel-grid deck on my “bike-dolly,” producing a video to illustrate the dangers facing cyclists on the existing span and approaches (see below).

Completed in January 1924 at a cost of $918,000, the bascule-type bridge has a 45 m (148 ft) opening section raised by a 780 tonne hollow concrete counterweight. A separate rail span, dismantled in the first phase of the replacement project, in 2012, operated independently.

Despite extensive repairs in 1979, including the application of blue-pigmented paint, chosen for its resistance to corrosion, this old bridge was deemed by engineers too rusty to repair.

Not all citizens were convinced by the engineering report that weighed the costs of repair versus replacement. Their arguments, broadcast by website and magazine, did not significantly affect the result of a 2010 referendum, when over sixty-percent of voters approved the request for funding a new bridge.

To the apparent satisfaction of the naysayers, the original request for $77 million has ballooned to nearly $100 million in total. Beset by contractor delays and substandard Chinese steel, the completion date has been pushed from late 2015 to 2018.

Engineer and poet Joseph Strauss, designer of the old bridge, later went on to design San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, itself the subject of intense opposition (though it was completed ahead of schedule and under budget).

Last week, I dragged myself away from a dreary spring-cleaning project to traipse Victoria’s downtown streets. Conditions were perfect : beautiful early March light and a sky enlivened by scudding storm clouds.

I wandered along the east bank of the harbour, below Wharf Street, intending to reprise the long-exposure technique I used on the west side, two-years-ago (see above). After all, the resulting photo was one of the most popular (i.e. lucrative) at my recent show.

Iron Horse (The Johnson Street Bridge, Victoria, 2016)

Iron Horse (The Johnson Street Bridge, Victoria, 2016)

During a 17-minute exposure on the Nikon D-800 (using 16-stops of neutral density), I made a few 1X1-ratio snapshots with the iPhone 6S, for use on Instagram and maybe the Phone Photo gallery. Back in the studio, however, I was more taken with preliminary exposure tests than the resulting long-exposure images. Influenced by the Instagram photo, I cropped the DSLR image to (nearly) match.

Without the counterweight, and structure for that matter, of the rail bascule to confuse the view (it can be seen in the video above) the remaining concrete weight stands isolated against the sky, looking for all the world like a massive horse’s head — it even has “ears” and beady eyes — attached to the Meccano monster’s body.

The DSLR version also benefits from the inclusion of a walking couple, positioned directly below the imagined beast’s maw — about, perhaps, to be sacrificed to my science-fiction fantasy.

Despite my support for replacement, I’m going to miss the old Blue Bridge, rust and all. Mind you, going on delays, it looks like there may be plenty of opportunities to continue my project.

Prints and greeting cards of these views are available for sale (sans watermark) through my Sales Gallery.

Raymond Parker
  • July 1, 2016 - 9:34 pm

    Marina - I would love to purchase a print of both photos of you took of the blue bridge. It is beautiful and will be missed.
    I hope this is okay to askReplyCancel

    • July 1, 2016 - 9:45 pm

      Raymond Parker - No problem at all, Marina. You can purchase through the store (landscape gallery) or, if you are in Victoria, save shipping costs by contacting me via Contact form in navigation menu above. Thank you for your interest in my work.

      ReplyCancel

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