Interview with Jet Lowe

Photo taken by John O’connell Link: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/24/George_Washington_Bridge_from_New_Jersey-edit.jpg

If there is a word of advice to give to a person wanting to engage in the hobby of photography, it would be this:

1. Look the surroundings. What do you see beyond the naked eye? What is most unique about the surrounding that is worth photographing?

2. Choose an object and/or a person you find attractive. Why choose this subject and how unique is it from the eye of a photographer?

Photography has become a popular hobby for many people, as they find the best spot/subject for a good photo opportunity and after taking dozens of snap shots, find the best photo that they are proud of- that they display for others to see, and benefit from the prize money from the photo contests sometimes. 🙂

For Jet Lowe, photography has been a major part of his life for almost five decades. Ranging from skyscrapers to bridges, Lowe has produced some of the most unique shots of his subjects from angles that even some of the amateur photographers today can even dream of doing.  Lowe was selected as the winner of the 2014 Ammann Awards in the category of Lifetime Achievement for his role in photographing hundreds of bridges in the US, Europe and elsewhere, and the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles had an opportunity to interview him about his experiences and the secret to being a great photographer. Here is what we found out about him:

1.      Tell us about yourself: how did your career start, and how did it lead you to HABS-HAER?

I owe my career to an academic trip to Haiti in 1966.  A faculty member of the school I was attending loaned me his Pentax h3v with which to take pictures.  It was a one month trip, film was expensive so I rolled my own cassettes of 20 or more black and white tri-x, a dozen rolls of kodachrome and basically got hooked.  This was my first year of college, from that point on I knew I wanted to be a photographer, did not know exactly how to go about it so I ended up majoring in Art History which in retrospect was a great choice.  Straight out of college I landed a job as the staff photographer for the Georgia Historical Commission doing museum photography as well as photographing historic districts for the then new federal program of the National Register of Historic Places.  It was working for the Historical Commision that put the bee in my bonnet about how it might be neat to work for HABS some day ( I did not know about HAER at the time which in retrospect was a much better match).

2.      How did you become interested in photography?While traveling in Haiti with my professor’s loaned camera I found myself ending up in places that I might not have been in had I not been in search of images,  and meeting people.  The Haitians although quite poor economically have a strong and magical spirit.

3.      A large portion of your photos posted on HABS-HAER have been historic bridges. Are they your primary targets, or do you also photograph other historic places, such as buildings, stadiums, etc.?As the staff photographer for HAER our mandate was and is to photograph the engineered and built environment of the United States. From windmills to the Space Shuttle,  No small mandate!  I like to think of bridges as a subject matter for HAER(Historic American Engineering Record) like houses have been for the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS).  Bridges tend to encapsulate the structural engineering thought of any given time period.  

4.      Which bridge you photographed was your favorite?The George Washington Bridge over the Hudson always comes first to mind for its complexity, significance, as well as photogeneity.

5.      Which bridge was the most difficult to photograph? How did you overcome this difficulty?  I would have to say the Brooklyn Bridge because it was my first major documentation of a nationally significant bridge.  The documentation was to involve getting to the towers via walking up the cables.  Never having done this caused me a bit of anxiety in the week leading up to the day of working on the bridge.  The maintenance men who were my hosts drily assured me they had not lost any one yet walking up the cables.  The Brooklyn Bridge was also the first one that I photographed from the air using a world war II vintage aerial camera.  One thing that helped in overcoming the more difficult hurdles of the assignment was a week spent in New York getting as many photographs completed on the ground before climbing the towers.  When the big day finally arrived I was at least fairly familiar with the structure.  One of the great privileges of my job at HAER was the opportunity to climb around on numerous other big suspension bridges,including the Takoma Narrows,  Oakland, Golden Gate, and Verrazanno Narrows to name a few that are now housed in the HAER collection.

6.      Which bridge that you had photographed but was later demolished was one that you wished to have preserved and why?The Bellows Falls (Vermont) arch suspension bridge was amongst the most elegant of bridges I have photographed and represented also one of the greatest losses to our patrimony.

The Bellows Falls Bridge: one of many bridges photographed by Jet Lowe. Photo taken before its demise in 1982. Source: HABS-HAER
7.      Many other photographers, including James Baughn (who finished second in the Lifetime Achievement category) and (Nathan Holth, who finished third) have done a great deal of contributions of photos for their historic bridge websites. How important has photography been in addressing the importance of historic bridges and ways to preserve them? Photography is still the most palpable way of showing us the way a bridge structure looked, and occupied its environment.  I think the photographer David Plowden deserves credit for being one of the first photographers to focus attention on the contribution and richness that bridges add to our built environment.

8.      If someone is interested in photography as a profession, what advice would you give him/her and what is the outlook in your opinion?I think there will always be a market out there for photographers that have a special vision and are obsessed with their work. Young photographers should look at the work of others and study the great prints in the museums and also think in terms of converting their favorite images in to a photographic print, not just an electronic entity.   It is probably even more difficult to break into the discipline as a means of making a living now because of the dilution of the medium via iPhones and the internet.  The outlook is difficult, however I can not stress enough the rewards for following one’s muse.

 The last sentence stated by Jet Lowe could not be any clearer than that. With social networks and iPhones dominating our livelihoods, many of us have a canny for selfie shots, shooting events in our lives, or even getting some shots of places of interest while travelling. However, the quality of real photography has declined because of the flooding of pictures that would be considered null and void in the eyes of the professionals. However, it does not mean that professional and amateur photography will die off. Many of us will specialize in areas once considered unknown, such as night photography, landscape photography and forms of architectural photography (and in particular, bridge photography) because they are important for people  interested in not only looking at them on display but also to document the historical importance, using them as a springboard for preservation efforts. Therefore, one should not be afraid of engaging in such a unique hobby. It may not be a full-time profession, but it is one that will satisfy the interest of the photographer and those interested in taking a look at his/her work.  So to close the interview, take the camera, take your girlfriend out with you, take some shots of what you think is beautiful and show her life from your perspective- from your own lens. You may never know what your photos will look like, let alone be worth when selling them on the market or entering them in a contest. Henceforth, click-click!
Photo taken by the author in December, 2014


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Newsflyer: 3 February, 2015

Plaka Bridge in Epirus, Greece- now gone. Photo courtesy of Inge Kanakaris-Wirtl.

One Historic Bridge Gone by Mother Nature, Another Destroyed Illegally, Another Disappears but One is Restored and Reused

Greece has been a thorn in the side of the European Union since 2010, or rather the EU has been a thorn in the side of Greece, if looking at it from Prime Minister Tsipras, who was recently elected and has promised changes not pleasing to Brussels. Yet with recent flooding going on in Greece, he will have more to do at home, as clean-up efforts are taking place. This includes rebuilding historic bridges, like this one, the 1866 Plaka Bridge. That bridge was destroyed by flooding, while the other two bridges to be mentioned in the Newsflyer have also disappeared mysteriously. How this happened will be featured here in the Chronicles’ Newsflyer.

Plaka Bridge in Greece Falls to Flooding

INOANNINA, GREECE: Located 400 km northwest of Athens, the Plaka Bridge was one of Greece’s prized treasures. Built in 1866 by Constantinos Bekas, this vaulted arch bridge spanned the Arachthos River, and tourists had an opportunity to view the beautiful and steep valley. Unfortunately, rainwaters swelled the river to the point where flooding wreaked havoc in the region. This bridge collapsed on Sunday as a result of  flooding. Photos from a local newspaper shows that the entire arch span fell into the water, leaving the abutments remaining. A video shows the bridge remains while a Bailey Truss Bridge was constructed to allow for one lane traffic to cross. While Tspiras is sending aid to the region as well as experts to determine the extent to the damage in the region, experts from a polytechnical university in Athens are being summoned to the region once the floodwaters subside to look at the bridge remains and produce a design for a replica of the bridge. This is the second bridge of its kind that has succumbed to either mother nature or man-made disasters. The Stari Most Bridge in Bosnia-Herzegovina was destroyed in the Yugoslavian Civil War in 1993. It took 11 years to rebuild the Ottoman structure. It is unknown how long it will take until the Plaka Bridge is rebuilt. The Chronicles will keep you posted on the developments.

Oblique view of the Hammond Railroad Bridge. Photo taken by Nathan Holth

Historic Bridge Illegally Destroyed for Scrap Metal

HAMMOND, INDIANA: Police and local officials are looking for a group of people responsible for the dismantling and demolition of an abandoned railroad bridge spanning the Grand Calumet River in Hammon. Ronald Novak, director of the Hammond .Department of Environmental Management received a tip from locals on Thursday of a group of people taking the bridge apart, which was located west of Hohmann Avenue, using bulldozers and other cutting tools to pull the main span into the river. The fallen span presents a double danger, where cresolate, a chemical used to coat wooden rail ties could dissolve in the river, and the steel structure itself could cause blockage of the river. The Army Corps of Engineers has been notified of the matter. It has been suspected that the crew tore the structure down not because of its abandonment for over a decade, but because of the scrap metal, whose value has been sitting high for many years. Because the demolition process was not approved by the City, your help is needed to find the people responsible for tearing down the bridge without permission. Any tips should be given to the police or the City as soon as possible. The 1909 railroad bridge itself was unique because it was a two-span Warren through truss bridge functioning as a Page bascule bridge. More information can be found here. With the Hammon Bridge destroyed, there is only one bridge of its kind left in the US, located in Chicago.

 

Abandoned Iowa Bridge Disappears

OSKALOOSA, IOWA:  Local pontists are looking for clues behind the disappearance of an iron through truss bridge spanning the North Skunk River at Yarnell Avenue, a half mile north of Iowa Hwy. 92. A product of the King Bridge Company, the Pratt through truss bridge with Town Lattice portal bracing had been abandoned for many years and was reported present in 2012. However upon recent visit by one of the pontists, the bridge disappeared. The question is now narrowed down to how the bridge disappeared, whether flooding washed it away or the bridge was torn down. More information is needed and leads should be posted in the bridgehunter.com website under Yarnell Avenue Bridge.

 

San Saba Railroad Bridge Restored and In Use

SAN SABA COUNTY, TEXAS: Spanning the Colorado River at the San Saba and Mills County border, this bridge received the Author’s Choice Award in 2013 after a fire burned the trestle approach span (all 800 of the 1050 feet bridge) to the ground. The good news is that the bridge has been rebuilt. JCF Bridge and Concrete Company, a local company, rebuilt the trestle last year in order for the Heart of Texas Railroad to resume rail service. A gallery of photos show the finished work, which you can see here. Made of steel and concrete, this portion of the bridge will allow trains to run heavier equipment across the river at moderate speed. As for the Warren through truss main span, that bridge was spared from the fire as well as the replacement process and can still be seen from US 190, just a half mile south of the bridge.