Reimagining an Icon


The Bridge, Reconstructed

“I’m not interested in shooting new things, I’m interested to see things new.” – Ernst Haas

The Golden Gate Bridge is an icon of San Francisco.

A 1.7 mile-long engineering marvel declared one of the Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers, and as important to the cultural and aesthetic identity of the city as it is to the thousands of Californians who it serves as they travel back and forth across its span every day. Cutting a fiery orange path across sparse Golden Gate strait, it is to San Francisco what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris, or the Opera House is to Sydney. It fronts tourism campaigns and tops ‘must see’ lists, is the subject of numerous documentaries and TV appearances, and has been destroyed by countless Hollywood tsunamis, earthquakes, meteor showers, mad tyrants and even Godzilla.

The Frommer’s travel guide describes it as “possibly the most beautiful, certainly the most photographed, bridge in the world” and therein lies the problem. Google image search ‘Golden Gate Bridge’ and you’ll find the same type of image over and over again. Panoramic views shot from the same handful of vantage points, edited in the same few ways. We inevitably become numb to its undeniable grandeur and beauty. We’ve seen it all before. The icon becomes the cliché in a case of over-exposure apathy.

Enter Canadian photographer Michael Yuan who, while biking across the bridge with a visiting friend, looked up and noticed a perspective of the bridge he’d never seen before. A tightly cropped, up-close perspective that highlighted its distinctive art deco geometric details and stylized street lamps. A view that imbued the bridge with a fresh and renewed beauty. Not something new, but something seen anew, to paraphrase the opening quote by the great photojournalist Ernst Haas.

And so began a project of passion – countless trips to the bridge, at all times of the day and in wind, rain and shine, to find its hidden perspectives – cascading curves of cables, parallel lines of bolt-punched girders, waves of chamfered cladding, and silhouettes of characterful globular lamps. Form, line and color. The result is a body of images with a satisfying minimalist and mathematical rigor, that celebrate its graceful features that get so easily lost in the whole.

It’s a reminder of just how remarkable the bridge is – ‘reconstructing our perspectives’, as Yuan elegantly puts it, of a landmark so easily taken for granted. He sums up the satisfaction in this act of rediscovery perfectly: “Working on this project has made me realize that there’s beauty everywhere and we can always add new perspectives to popular subjects. I’ve learned to appreciate my surroundings and be present a lot more. I hope this can also serve as encouragement and inspiration for people to explore their environment and be creative.”

All images © Michael Yuan

See more at www.ilikecalculus.com and follow him on Instagram @ilikecalculus. Michael has also recently [as at October 2020] launched a Kickstarter campaign for a book of the project. Check that out here.