Archive for September 2013

Powell Street Promenade

September 20, 2013

In July I headed to the Bay Area for a few days, camera in hand, to visit one of my sons. I had one full day, and several mornings, to devote to photography in and around where I was staying – the Union Square area of San Francisco. Yup, near all those “little cable cars.”

San Francisco, Powell Street Promenade

The cable cars’ routes include one up and down Powell Street, turning around at the BART station of the same name. iPhone photo via Hipstamatic.

I was planning primarily to shoot architectural sights while there (and some of those will be featured in a later post). Imagine my surprise when right outside my door was an innovative landscape project by Walter Hood, the Powell Street Promenade.

Underwritten by Audi at a cost of $890,000, the Promenade consists of eight six-foot-wide “parklets,” carved out of traffic lanes and abutting the sidewalk.  Given the huge numbers of tourists travelling Powell Street on a regular basis, having an attractive, protected spot to step out of the flow of people and chat with friends, sit down for a bit, or park your bike while you make a call or stop in a store is a great idea.

Powell Street Promenade, San Francisco, Walter Hood

These aluminum structures can be used as little tables for a snack or to rest your packages on.

Powell Street Promenade, San Francisco, Walter Hood

A bike rider takes a break to chat with a friend on the Promenade.

There are a few built-in benches, which always seemed in high demand.

Powell Street Promenade, San Francisco, Walter Hood

A pedestrian takes a break, out of the flow of the constant sidewalk traffic.

All of the structures are fabricated from aluminum, which forms “rail ribbons.” They include planters with narrow borders that can double as a seating area in a pinch (I recognized a few plants such as Mexican heather and Yucca, others were not familiar to my East Coast eyes), guardrails to protect against the busy Powell Street traffic, and the “tables” and lower versions that Hood has suggested could be used for sleeping as well as sitting benches. No advertising is allowed in the areas, which boast free Wi-Fi. (How very Silicon Valley!)

For more details on this project, check out this blog post from the San Francisco outpost of Streetsblog. And the next time you’re in the City by the Bay, in the vicinity of Union Square, be sure not to miss this innovative design feature on Powell Street!

Love Letter to the Live Oaks

September 6, 2013

The first time I visited Charleston for a photography workshop, in 2009, I didn’t fully appreciate the grandeur of the live oaks (Quercus virginiana) that seemed to be everywhere. Spanish moss dripped from many of their branches, and even wisteria could be seen rambling through them along the roadside. This year, the oaks themselves became actors in the scenes I saw, and I came away quite overwhelmed with their size, appearance, and place in the landscape.

The largest and most stunning specimen we saw was Angel Oak, located on Johns Island near Charleston. The City of Charleston has owned both the park where it is located and the tree  (which is estimated to be between 400 and 500 years old) since 1991.

Angel Oak

Angel Oak (or most of it) on Johns Island.

The day we visited, there were a moderate number of visitors around. You’re asked not to climb on the tree, set up tripods under its canopy, or walk around in  high heels, so the root area is protected (I didn’t see anyone wearing heels!) So we stayed back a respectful distance. Some of our group shot panos, while I stuck with an HDR approach to capture the image above. But I think I like it in black and white (below) almost as much.

Angel Oak

The same image of Angel Oak, rendered in black and white with an infrared treatment in Nik’s Silver Efex Pro.

Another destination of ours, Old Sheldon Church in Beaufort County, is the ruined remains of a stone and brick church surrounded by live oaks. We were there in the late morning, so the light wasn’t the greatest. Since I didn’t have an infrared camera, I made do by shooting and color and converting to black and white to minimize problems with the strong light. Without the surround oaks to add an air of mystery, I think the scene would have been far less interesting.

Live Oaks, Old Sheldon Church, Charleston SC

Live oaks surround the ruins of the Old Sheldon Church.

A short drive away, our leaders took us to photograph the live oaks lining the drive to a private home, Tomotley Plantation. Before we set off, Alan and Colleen stressed that we would be photographing on private property, and that the gates might be closed or we might need to leave if the owners asked us to. Since returning, I’ve done a little on line research and read that the owners are quite gracious about photographers. We didn’t linger too long, but what we saw was beautiful indeed.

Tomotley Plantation, Charleston, live oaks

Tomotley Plantation’s allee of live oaks, viewed from the side.

The line of live oaks was apparently planted in 1820. The original plantation, burned by Sherman’s troops, was rebuilt in the late 1800’s. The view down the driveway from the front gates (kindly left open by the owners), was gorgeous. With no wind to disturb the moss on the oaks, we shot to our hearts’ content.

Tomotley Plantation, Sheldon SC

Looking down the allee of live oaks at Tomotley Plantation

It was at our last stop on the trip, Middleton Place, that I found myself once again appreciating the beauty of these trees in a more “garden-like” setting. Their majestic size and the way their branches bend and arch make them a perfect foil for a waterside setting.

Live oaks leaning over a pond at Middleton Plantation

Live oaks leaning over a pond at Middleton Plantation

And in a more intimate setting, their presence lends just the right air of mystery and enclosure.

live oaks, Middleton Place

Live oaks and Spanish moss sheltering a bench and statue at Middleton Place

For more information about live oaks, including their usefulness in shipbuilding in the past, check out the article in Wikipedia. And if you have an opportunity to visit Charleston or other Southern states, keep an eye out for them in the landscape. They’re quite a sight to behold.


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