It was a chilly February night, and the crowds had only begun to show up. The Portland Winter Light Festival was the draw and with a messy snowstorm in the forecast, this night was prime to be popular.
I had an ulterior motive. Night photography is something I’ve done little of, and I’d long had a hankering to photograph the city bridges by night, with city lights reflecting in the water. As the Winter Light Festival was on the waterfront, and several of the bridges were within walking range the choice to check it out was a no brainer.
(Click on any picture for a larger view)
You might see “winter lights” and think “Christmas lights”, but you’d be wrong. Think artisans, think folks with imagination and an inclination to include a lighting aspect in their creations.
The Light Festival had displays on both sides of the Willamette River. We opted to walk the esplanade on the east side, taking us from the Hawthorn bridge south to the Tilikum Crossing, passing OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry) on the way. The downtown city lights provided a backdrop as we looked across the river.
We came across various displays, each unique. Like moths attracted to light, bystanders wandered in to have a closer look.
The crowd was eclectic, the light electric. But even the very young were looking for deeper truths.
Butterflies don’t do it for you? How about horned sea horses?
Multiple choice: what is the following?
A. An Igloo from a hipster Eskimo trying to channel the aurora borealis
B. The top of a pumpkin after a night of heavy drinking
C. A fountain, caught in a time warp
D. Your guess, in the comments
I mentioned that our path would take us past OMSI. In the river outside the museum, we have a submarine first launched in 1959 called the USS Blueback. She was the last non-nuclear combat submarine to join the United States Navy and was decommissioned in 1990. The sub is available for tours. Just sticking your nose in its cramped spaces is claustrophobic, it’s hard to believe 85 men would live on it for months at a time.
Next to the museum is the propeller from the sub. It’s been ground down, polished, and silvery. I suspect it didn’t look like that while in service; now, it’s a work of art.
But when it really comes down to it, I came to photograph the Tilikum Crossing bridge at night. It’s the newest bridge crossing in the city, opened in 2015. What makes it unusual is its limited use. They restrict it to public transit (light rail, trolley, and buses), pedestrians, bicyclists, and emergency vehicles. The thinking was they needed a new river crossing for a new light rail line, but the street infrastructure at each end of the bridge wouldn’t support the additional traffic a full usage bridge would bring.
Whatever the thinking was, it’s a picturesque bridge at night.
Night lights. They come in many guises, each a creative expression, intentional or not. For some, they are a safe harbor, an escape from the dark. For others, they’re a beacon that says, “party here!” For the artists of the Winter Light Festival, they’re a way to bring their inner light to an outer world.