Secret scenes of a silent city

Secret scenes in a secret world – that’s how Rockford has always felt to me. I’ve been a hopeless romantic about downtown Rockford for as long as I’ve lived here – ten thousand days. The romance has always been an alluring, yet elusive feeling that something great is just about to happen here; that great things have happened here; that the places can tell stories about the people who built them, the people who worked in them, the triumphs and tragedies that swirled around them.

But like a long lost romance, I can never seem to escape the sense of desolation, the sheer loneliness here. I’ve walked around watching scenes of downtown unfold, then fade away – often without any camera at all. Often, I just want to absorb the quiet, empty streets and alleyways while the buildings are all painted by fleeting light, reflections, the dying day and looming night. I want to remember it for another day, and then return to make a photo of it so maybe we never forget how much we’ve all really loved this place.

For residents of this quiet little river city of Rockford, Illinois, it’s as if we’ve found ourselves on some strange movie set – with days and nights of hustle and bustle of cast and crew rehearsing for a movie that hasn’t premiered yet. And then, suddenly the set falls quiet, empties out, and looks like a city abandoned for lack of any sign of life. While my commercial photography has taken me all over the country and world making shots of places just like these, few of these shots of Rockford are in my portfolio. Could it be that like so many others in Rockford, I’d forgotten to see the secret beauty, the secret scenes of our little city, and instead let them fall forever to this film’s cutting room floor? I hope not.

Looking for dynamic abstracts in the financial district

Sometimes I don't have much time to explore or study a subject, so I simply go out and look for photos I can make of what I see in passing by. While I was shooting new timelapse tests in the San Francisco bay area, I took a break one afternoon and ventured on foot into the heart of downtown's Financial District. I took one prime lens, a tripod and just started walking. All I wanted to do is capture the dynamic slivers of light & shadow I saw in the building façades and streets between.


Initial 2-axis motion rig test

Port of Oakland - Ships passing cranes at night. Medium panning shot, assembled as a 24fps timelapse by QuickTime Pro 7, no further post processing. Using my DynamicPerception Stage Zero motion rig with a new Stage-R rotary block, I was able to guesstimate the panning speed needed to track the ship through the harbor. I think I need to decrease the angular velocity of the pan for this focal length and scene magnification so the final sequence is a bit smoother.

Discovering timelapse, compressing time - 1999

Ever since I can remember, I've wanted to make my photos move. Early on, it was just a daunting dream really, since it would have required access to a true motion picture film camera, and a lab that could both process it and digitize it. But the digital age really changed all of that. While I had a great 35mm still film camera setup all throughout the 90s, I knew the writing was on the wall when Kodak announced their DCS (Digital Camera Science) SLR cameras in the mid-90s. But, luckily I got my hands on a more affordable Kodak DC260 that had a timelapse feature built into it. So, one day while Stefan and I were on our photo adventure to Iceland I was watching the amazing clouds gliding by this Icelandic dale in the North, I decided to try out the feature. There are lots and lots of things wrong with this first timelapse movie, and many more technical hurdles I had to overcome in the intervening years before I'd try it again, but I can honestly say this is where it all started for me. Have a look:

Cycles of a storm

While this was a simply a technical test to see how well a time-lapse rig would do during a thunderstorm, it does show just how violent and unpredictable such weather can be over a five hour span of shooting in extreme weather. I was lucky enough to have the building overhang protect the lens from the elements, but it demonstrated just how important a good vantage point and proper protection of the optics will be for a real shoot at a remote location.