North Coast Night Lights: The Essence of Eureka, 1990

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“The Essence of Eureka” captured on a single 35mm frame of film in November 1990. - DAVID WILSON
  • David WIlson
  • “The Essence of Eureka” captured on a single 35mm frame of film in November 1990.
In 1990, the LP pulp mill out on the Samoa Peninsula represented the essence of Eureka. Logging, of course — and the smell. Logging was economic king in those days, at least on the legal side. But I’m no historian, nor do I mean to stir up politics here. I’m a photographer, and this scene grabbed my attention for its striking light.

The attraction of night photography for me is the opportunity for unusual light. It grabs me, it pulls my eye, and it tugs at my imagination. Most photographs you see were shot in daylight. They are images so common that for me it’s a challenge to find something interesting to photograph in daylight, or some unique way to photograph it. While I acknowledge the benefits of a good challenge, I prefer that of finding and using light at night. Night light is more unusual to find in a photograph, and the camera sees it in such a unique way that people often think a photograph I shot never happened, or could never happen. Or that a computer generated it. It requires thinking differently, and I enjoy it. It doesn’t necessarily require a computer, either.

“The Essence of Eureka” is a photograph I shot on film in 1990 from beneath the north end of the Samoa Bridge, looking west-ish toward the peninsula. It’s a double exposure, made in-camera on a single 35mm frame of film. I was a photography student at Humboldt State University at the time.

It was muddy and mucky under the bridge that cold November night, smelling of low tide and bay bottoms. The tripod legs sank slowly into the softness, and sucking sounds in the mud grabbed at my shoes. It was a bit unpleasant. But the light! That was worth it.

My 35mm film camera — I’ve forgotten whether I used my Nikon F4s or Nikon FM2n that night — allowed me to take a photograph and then cock the shutter again without advancing the film, so that I could take another photograph on the same negative. That is what I did: I shot two photographs on the same negative. This is the essence of a double exposure. 
David Wilson's exposure notes from taking the shot in 1990. - DAVID WILSON
  • David Wilson
  • David Wilson's exposure notes from taking the shot in 1990.

Take a close look at the image. You’ll notice that the overall photograph is repeated in a smaller version in the middle. You see the smoke/vapor cloud in upper middle part of the image, and then you can also find its smaller version beneath it in the image at the center. Same with the two bright lights — you can spot their tinier merged glow repeated in the center. Note the rock in the water in the middle near the bottom of the photo —  you can find it repeated in the smaller version closer to the middle. The pampas grass on the left was almost lost in the brightness in its smaller version.

The image is repeated in miniature because the two pictures were shot at two different focal lengths. That is, I was zoomed all the way into 135mm for one exposure and for the second exposure I was zoomed completely out to 35mm (it was a 35-135mm zoom lens). The two exposures were on the same negative and they combined to make the image here. The zoomed-in image filled the frame, and the zoomed-out image fit neatly in the middle. Through the month of August, I have a photography show of recent night images up at F Street Foot Gallery, 527 F St. in Eureka (above Swanlund’s). It’s a combined show with Humboldt photographer Martin Swett. He does the beautiful daytime scenic, and I do the night. Stop by and check it out.

To keep abreast of David Wilson’s most current photography or peer into its past, follow him on Instagram at @david_wilson_mfx or his website mindscapefx.com, which Wilson says he updates less frequently.

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