Bainbridge photographer offers new view of old Port Blakely building
March 30, 2009 · Updated 2:14 PM
Noticing the artwork at Café Trios one day, Philip Meadows asked the establishment's Jay Hinchey if they ever showed photography.
"Yes, but the problem with photographs is, we have so much wall space," Hinchey told him. "We need big prints. Can you do big prints?"
"And I said 'Yeah!'"
The lesson: be careful what you wish for. Friday, Meadows will mount a series of large-scale photos that fill the length of each of Trios’ expansive main walls. A 25-foot-long print will be positioned perpendicular to a 15-foot print and interspersed with smaller photos, creating a panoramic tableau that’s the next best thing to being there.
"There" is the concrete generator building at Blakely Harbor Park which, having long since outlasted its original purpose, has become a living canvas for graffiti artists.
Meadows, an island resident who works as the lead photographer at Seattle's Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, has had a camera in his hands since he was 15 in one capacity or another.
As a child in his native Yorkshire, England, in later years living on the west coast of Scotland, and even during his tenure as an aerial surveillance photographer for the British Royal Air Force, Meadows always kept an eye on the landscape.
Catching sight of the generator building one day on a walk, he was struck by the contrast between the natural, marshy site and the hulking shell positioned in the middle of it. The building glowed with a magnificent, ordered chaos rendered by the untold numbers of spray cans opened and put to use over the years.
He went back soon after, taking a couple of days to walk around and get a handle on the building before returning again with a camera.
He first shot an interior panorama, which will comprise the show's two large shots. Then he drilled down on smaller elements within it: close-ups of particular graffitied images, a shot of a lone tree shooting up among the slabs of old flooring, and others.
To get one particularly dramatic interior-exterior shot at twilight, Meadows positioned the camera outside, ran in to fire up the portable strobe lights, which were fitted with colored gels, and then ran back out, dragging the shutter to get the image. Inside, a skateboarder climbed the walls. Outside, the sky glowed practically purple.
Once, someone named Victor was there, a guy who made a habit of collecting the metal balls from leftover spray cans. He was all over having his photo taken; his lighter and a can of paint that wasn’t quite empty made for some spontaneous, combustible theatrics.
Ten hours' worth of shooting later, Meadows began the process of processing, digitally speaking.
"The technical aspects alone are pretty huge," he said.
The panorama file in particular turned into a bear, a 5 gibabyte file that caused Photoshop to crash as soon as he started to print. That occurred on a Friday night; the following Saturday, after philosophically beginning again, he happened to lead a workshop attended by an Adobe employee.
"Oh yes," she said, "you have to save the file as a .psb, not a .psd."
"And I said, what is that, ps-BIG?" Meadows replied.
She just looked at him sagely.
With that information in hand, Meadows prepped the files for printing on a 11880 Epson Inkjet using pigment-based UltraChrome ink.
The printer itself is eight feet long and can handle a roll of paper up to 62 inches wide of unlimited length. He'll heave on a 100-foot roll of Epson semi-gloss photographic paper, a gallery quality stock that will emerge with ink instantly dry. Printing the big image will take about 3 1/2 hours.
Then, he'll transport it to the café...carefully.
"And just hope that we don’t drop it, scratch it, tear it. It'll probably take four or five people to mount it," he said.
Once it's up, it'll be up. Do. Not. Touch.
"Unless someone comes in and says, 'I want that one, and I want it now,'" he said.
Aside from the juxtaposition between structure and landscape, one of the things that struck Meadows about the generator building was the way in which it's been revised and repurposed by the younger generation. He believes that the art young people have created is accompanied by a sense of respect that is evident in elements like the sapling inside.
"If that had been in my home country, it would have been a bonfire long ago," he said.
Meadows also appreciates the way that, thus far at least, the powers that be have allowed the building to remain intact.
"Yeah, it’s just a ratty old building, but it’s pretty cool," he said.
Philip Meadows' photos of the Blakely Mill generator building are mounted at Café Trios, 772 Winslow Way, through June 1. Meadows also has an instructional photography blog and leads photography workshops locally and around the globe; see www.philipmeadows.co.uk.
More information about the generator building is available in the Bainbridge Island Park and Recreation District's 2001 Conceptual Plan for Blakely Harbor Park, available at www.biparks.org.