David Garnick doesn’t remember how many times he drove back and forth over the Bay Bridge on a wet, windswept day to capture a particular photograph he was striving for, but he remembers the toll charges were pretty steep.
The result, a shot of the soaring cables and tower of the new East Bay span set against an ominous, gunmetal gray sky, is part of a show, “Thirty-Six Views of the Bay Bridge,” that opens with a reception at the Marin Museum of Contemporary Art, in Novato, on Saturday Dec. 12.
The series, a photographic re-interpretation of the famous series “Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji” by the 19th-century Japanese wood block print artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849), comprises often stunning shots of both the old and new eastern span of San Francisco’s “second bridge.”
And, because Garnick worked to find many interesting locations from which to take his photographs, there’s a “Where’s Waldo?” aspect to some of the images as the viewer scrutinizes the shot to find a tiny sliver of the bridge’s tower.
Garnick says he was inspired to create the series because he loved the new span of the Bay Bridge. But as he began to shoot it, he realized he needed a visual style.
“I didn’t want to do straight, realistic photography,” he says, “I wanted to reflect a woodblock feel.”
Garnick drew from the work of French artist Henri Rivière, who himself carried on Hokusai’s tradition with his series of illustrations of Breton landscapes and the Eiffel Tower. The Berkeley photographer also collected early postcards as he was enamored with their flat palettes using just a limited number of colors.
The photos, all of which are captioned with the location from which they were taken, were shot between Dec. 2014 and April 2015 and involved chartering an inflatable boat to take photographs from the water, as well as exploring spots from which to shoot as far-flung as Marin and Hunter’s Point.
Garnick estimated he spent about 50 hours processing and printing each of the 36 images in the Marin show to mimic the Photochrom printing process of the early 20th century.
“I probably used every processing technique I’ve ever heard of,” he says.
One effect of all the work — be it adjusting saturation, brights, exposure, or focus — was to bring out much more detail in the images than would have been apparent in a straightforward shot.
Garnick says the process reminded him of drawing, and redrawing as much as photography.
Garnick’s path to photography was unorthodox, and included studying drawing, as well as furniture making. For many years, he taught computer science at Bowdoin College. He then worked for Google in Norway for several years, until one day he woke up and realized he’d had it with the high-intensity world of high tech.
The regular trips he’d made for Google to Mountain View did have one benefit, however: introducing the photographer, who grew up in New England, to the Bay Area.
“I used to believe the stereotype that California was wild and crazy,” he says. “But I immediately felt at home in the Bay Area once I came here, and made friends easily.”
Garnick moved to San Francisco and, committed to making a career in photography, in 2011 launched the San Francisco International Photography Exhibition which he ran until last year, when escalating rents forced him to abandon the gallery holding the exhibitions of winning images. He is now looking at converting the competition into an online photography magazine.
Garnick doesn’t worry about purists who might complain that with his Bay Bridge images he has strayed too far from photography.
“I’m not setting out to portray reality,” he says.
He also agrees with a former art professor of his who used to say. “Every work of art is abstract.”
All 36 images can be viewed online, where there is also information about the series.
An opening reception for the show is at Marin MOCA Museum on Saturday Dec.12, 5-7 p.m. A gallery talk by the artist takes place on Sunday Dec. 13, 2-3 p.m. The show runs through Jan. 10. Museum hours are: Wed-Fri 11:00 – 4:00; Sat-Sun 11:00 – 5:00. Admission is free.
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