Thursday, July 10, 2008


About my name...

Small "p" parallax -- that is, not my shop -- is originally a scientific term that refers to the apparent movement of an object when viewed from two slightly different positions. Here's the Wikipedia article. But the best way I know how explain it is to show you:

Close one eye and hold up your index finger. Line it up with something across the room -- vertical is best, the edge of a door or window works great -- then, without moving your head or finger, switch eyes. (If you had your right eye closed, open it and shut your left instead) Suddenly your finger isn't lined up - it's as if it moved. It didn't of course, you just looked at it different.

I love the metaphor.

And now, I promise, I'm getting to the photography.

orange macro photograph close up of Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California
Anyone recognize it? Think before you scroll down. I can almost guarantee you've seen it before.

It's the Golden Gate Bridge, yep, that one

"According to Frommer's travel guide, the Golden Gate Bridge is "possibly the most beautiful, certainly the most photographed, bridge in the world"[23] (although Frommers also bestows the "most photographed" honor on Tower Bridge in London, England).[24] " (Thank you, once again, wikipedia -- informative, and a bit snarky, catching Frommer's hyperbole)

Somewhere I have the same photograph as everyone else who's been to San Francisco with a camera. You know the one, even if you've never been near California, the bridge cuts left to right across the bay --with or without fog -- with the Marin Headlands in the back.

(Fisherman's Wharf, a tourist-y area a good photographing distance from the bridge actually has the spot to take it marked with a Kodak-yellow "Photo Spot" sign. There are a couple of these, apparently to help hapless tourists to take their vacation snapshots of Alcatraz -- not very photogenic -- and the sea lions -- even less photogenic)

Now, there's a chance someone else picked the exact same bit of the bridge, and focused exactly the same angle, with exactly the same light to cast exactly the same shadow. But, well, I doubt it. And that's what's so cool about the idea of parallax, and about photography. Everyone's seen that bridge, but you look at it a little bit different, and everything shifts.

People might not "ooh" and "ahh" when they see this photo. But they take a second to look at, tilt their heads, study it. That beautiful picture from the "photo spot" -- no-one studies it anymore, we've see it so many times we stop really looking. I doubt people stand at the "photo spot" and study the bridge very long. Which is a shame. Looking at a thing of beauty shouldn't be quite so perfunctory. Getting this not-so-dramatic, close up, angular, abstract, not-quite-recognizable picture, made me take a second look at the (maybe) most photographed bridge in the world.

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