Historic and Iconic Bellingham City Hall Captured on Camera

A company called Light is introducing a new compact camera that uses new technology. They enlisted some photographers to mention it in their blogs and to write about one of their favorite locations to shoot or a unique spot in their city.  I was one of those contacted  for Light’s #VantagePoint project.

The towers of Bellingham's old City Hall rise above a modern day mural depicting the days when the historic structure was built. My photograph was made in 2012 using a Nikkon D700.
The towers of Bellingham’s old City Hall rise above a modern-day mural depicting the days when the historic structure was built. My photograph was made in 2012 using a Nikon D700.

A request like this isn’t easy for me because I have so many favorite spots and so many favorite images that I’ve created over the years.  But I thought I’d take this opportunity to talk to you about one of my favorite local subjects (besides the people I photograph). And that is Bellingham’s old City Hall building, now part of the Whatcom County Museum of Art.

It’s an iconic building in town and safe to say probably the most photographed in Bellingham.  Completed in 1892, it served as the town’s official city hall until 1939 when new offices were built and the museum moved in.

I've photographed the iconic old Bellingham City Hall from a variety of angles and spots. This image made in 2008 with my Nikon F5.
I’ve photographed the iconic old Bellingham City Hall from a variety of angles and spots. This image made in 2008 with my Nikon F5.

 

The noble red-brick and Chuckanut sandstone structure was designed by local architect Alfred Lee in the Second Empire style of Victorian architecture.  According to the City’s website, is “currently one of this style’s most exquisite example in the Pacific Northwest. This building epitomizes the general characteristics of this French inspired style, which are tall, bold and purposely three-dimensional. Some of the design elements are also an eclectic mixture of the Queen Anne and Romanesque Revival style.”  It includes a high mansard roof, classical columns on either side of the main entrance, and a prominent, central bell tower, all of which draw the photographer’s eye.

Walking out of the museum one evening, the silhouette of the old City Hall's towers with the new moon just appearing behind it caught my eye and my camera. This was taken with my Nikon Coolpix S3500 point and shoot.
Walking out of the museum one evening, the silhouette of the old City Hall’s towers with the new moon just appearing behind it caught my eye and my camera. This was taken with my Nikon Coolpix S3500 point and shoot.
This senior's vintage clothing set the tone for his senior photo session at the old City Hall building in Bellingham. It was photographed using my Mamiya RB 67 film camera in 2007.
This senior’s vintage clothing set the tone for his senior photo session at the old City Hall building in Bellingham. It was photographed using my Mamiya RB 67 film camera in 2007.

I have photographed the building, or elements of it, from a variety of spots, angles, times of day and year. It has been the setting for many of my senior portrait sessions and the choice of seniors who want their portrait to reflect something uniquely Bellingham.  And I’ve used a variety of cameras over the years from my Mamiya RB67 and Nikon F5 film cameras, to my digital Nikon D700s to (yes,) my cell phone cameras. It all depends upon what I may happen to have with me or what I’m using at the moment.  The images included in this post were taken on all of these various cameras.

The building now houses part of the museum’s collection and its spacious Rotunda Room is frequently the site for concerts, including the Bellingham Festival of Music‘s popular free lunch-time chamber concerts.  I even photographed one of those this past summer.

Two young concertgoers sit patiently waiting for the Bellingham Festival of Music lunch time program to begin.
Two young concertgoers sit patiently waiting for the Bellingham Festival of Music lunch time program to begin. Taken with my Nikon D700 f3.5 1/50 sec ISO 3200 28-200 @28 mm

When you visit Bellingham, which I hope you’ll do one day, be sure to stop by the old City Hall. It’s likely to be as memorable for you as it has been for many photographers and visitors before you.

I’ve not seen or tried out the new Light camera but according to the company’s website, the camera, Light L16, is sold out until 2017. You can check it out yourself.

 

A Model Senior

Every now and then I feature in a  blog post one of my  wonderful senior portrait clients.  It’s so much fun to hear about the activities they are engaged in and the dreams that they are pursuing.  When gettintg to know my seniors, I strive to engage them in a way so that their personality or interests are expressed in my portrait of them because it is, after all, a portrait about them. Earlier this summer, I put a ‘shout out’ for a senior model.  One of the first to respond was a young woman who attends Bellingham High School–Maya Norton.  Maya came to my studio, as do all my seniors prior to scheduling their sessions, so that I could meet her and learn more about her.

Maya's big smile is infectious to anyone she meets and it certainly was in her senior portraits.
Maya’s big smile is infectious to anyone she meets and it certainly was in her senior portraits.

She walked in my door with a big smile on her freckled face, a sense of poise and confidence, and an exuberance that is highly contagious. As we talked, I was even more impressed by all that she had already accomplished in her young life.  Last winter, for example, she went with her mother to Mexico, then stayed by herself to live with a family and volunteer with an organization that was helping women entrepreneurs start their own businesses.  Her high school culminating project, she told, will draw from that experience in a presentation about micro-financing. In addition, Maya has volunteered here at home for the Red Cross, the Bellingham Food Bank and as a tutor at Sunnyslope Elementary School.

As captain of her high school cross country team, Maya doesn't haven much time to sit.  Fortunately, running is her passion!
As captain of her high school cross-country team, Maya doesn’t haven much time to sit. Fortunately, running is her passion!

She’s also an athlete who has participated in track, soccer, the annual Ski to Sea race here, and cross-country running.  In fact, Maya, who’s now captain of her high school’s cross-country team, was recently featured in an article appearing in the Bellingham Herald’s sport section.  Here’s the link to that article:  http://bit.ly/1eWj7Cp. So it was that I selected Maya as my studio’s senior model for this season.  We scheduled a session down by the water, a location that we determined together.  I gave her the same guidelines that I give to all my seniors about clothing, expectations, props and other tips to better prepare her for working in front of the camera.

The dress, the long hair, the water, the rocks, the sky. the stance all lent to create a sense of romance in this senior portrait of Maya.
The dress, the long hair, the water, the rocks, the sky. the stance all lent to create a sense of romance in this senior portrait of Maya.

As it turned out, Maya was natural.  She brought with her a favorite dress that we used to create a romantic feel on the rocks.  She slipped on a simple, elegant black outfit sassied up by a pair of purple rain boots and umbrella for another set.  And naturally, she had to include her Bellingham track jersey for at least some of the shots. Each clothing change seemed to bring out another dimension of her personality which is, I suspect is indicative of Maya herself–a young woman who has depth and several facets to her.

The purple boots set off her black outfit perfectly and the passing train added an element of motion to Maya's senior portrait.
The purple boots set off her black outfit perfectly and the passing train added an element of motion to Maya’s senior portrait.

Her mother has kindly said:  “Your photos of Maya are great! The Herald’s photos are good action shots, but it’s hard to look ‘photograph-able’ when exerting oneself in a race! We’re so thankful for how you captured Maya in her racing jersey, in the town she loves. Thank you! ” Thank you, Maya, for coming into the studio and for giving me the chance to photograph such an exceptional young woman.

You can view more images from my session with Maya, as well as other senior portraits, underway now, that I’ve photographed by visiting my website gallery at  http://bit.ly/1avw5Ec

Local Drive-Ins Delights Locals

Sonic Drive-In announced today that it is opening several locations in Seattle. The Oklahoma-based hamburger drive-in chain already has one in Ferndale, Wa., near my Bellingham home that opened a couple of years ago. I’m familiar with the chain from my visits to the Midwest where they seem to be present in nearly every small town along the my routes to and from the Kansas City and Tulsa airports.

I usually make a stop there to buy one of its thick and creamy milkshakes and an order of onion rings when I’m in the Midwest or visiting my hometown and when there’s no local alternative. But I still prefer our locally owned drive-ins. There are several in Seattle–Dick’s (not the best hamburgers), Burgermaster (yum) and By’s in SoDo (which has gotten rave reviews) among others. In Portland, my friends favor the family owned Burgerville which started in Vancouver, WA. and now has 39 locations in Oregon and Washington. They serve great onion rings made with Washington’s own Walla Walla onions.  I indulged in those on a recent trip back from Oregon.

Boomers was one of Zach's favorite places in Bellingham so we both agreed it would be fun to stage his senior photo right there!
Boomers was one of Zach’s favorite places in Bellingham so we both agreed it would be fun to stage his senior photo right there!

Bellingham, where I live, also has a locally owned drive-in– Boomer’s.  Boomer’s has become something of a local landmark since opening in 1989.  http://www.boomersdrivein.com/  Although not as old as some Northwest drive-ins (Bellingham also once had Bunk’s but it’s been defunct for years), its white outdoor canopies, supported by fire engine red slanting metal poles, with black and white checkerboard borders and red-lettered in red menu items are classic. I have staged some senior portrait sessions there and love do so. I have even driven my 1954 Plymouth Belvedere station wagon over to be a part of the set.

I parked my '54 Plymouth behind Zach, shown here on his scooter, to give Boomer's even more vintage flavor during his senior portrait session.
I parked my ’54 Plymouth behind Zach, shown here on his scooter, to give Boomer’s even more vintage flavor during his senior portrait session.

You can pull up and park at the outdoor stalls, check the menu order board then turn on your lights and a car hop will come out to take your order.  No screaming back and forth through scratchy intercom boxes. Or, you can go inside, place your order at the little service counter and sit around the circular fireplace or at one of the tables and eat.

Boomer’s serves legendary burgers–my personal favorite is the Swiss/mushroom burger–and waffle fries. They also have a long list of milkshakes made by hand using real premium ice-cream from Whatcom County’s own local Edaleen Dairy.  I go for the chocolate-banana shake but the chocolate raspberry, when in season, is pretty tasty as well.  Kids meals are packaged in cool little box trays that look like vintage 1950s cars. It’s worth ordering a kid’s meal just to get the box.

The place is a gathering spot for vintage car club owners, high schoolers, families and people like me who just want to relive the golden era of drive-in hamburger stands once in a while.

Boomer's is on the must-go list of many of my out-of-town friends such as Elizabeth and Darsie, shown here enjoying their Boomer's baskets.
Boomer’s is on the must-go list of many of my out-of-town friends such as those shown here enjoying their Boomer’s baskets and shakes

Boomer’s is also a ‘must-go-to’ for several of my out-of-town buddies whenever they come to visit. You might want to add it to your own list and help keep locally owned drive-ins part of the American food scene. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’m going to have to go get a burger!

Where’s your favorite drive-in burger joint?  Let me know!

 

http://www.boomersdrivein.com/

All Aboard!

Today is National Train Day.   I have a long history, as well as a love, with passenger trains.  I grew up in a town where the Missouri-Kansas-Texas railroad had its regional headquarters. The company was one of the largest employers in town.  Two beautiful, brown brick three-story buildings owned by the railroad sat in the middle of town. One housed the company’s regional offices, the second was the station.  I still remember the marble floors, the tall, pane glass windows and wooden oak benches of its interior.

Sarah had just returned from spending a semester studying abroad in Europe and missed the trains that she took there to travel. When I suggested we stage her senior portrait in the old train station, she instantly loved the idea.
Sarah had just returned from spending a semester studying in Europe and missed the trains that she took there to travel. When I suggested we stage her senior portrait in the old train station, she instantly loved the idea.

Many passengers departed from this station; soldiers on their way to the World War II, sisters on their way to visit family in Kansas City or Chicago, or kids, like me, taking a short ride to the town only 20 miles away just so I could spend the day with a girlfriend.

Sarah was in search of a setting with a Bellingham landmark for her senior portrait.  The beautiful orange brick round towers of the abandoned Georgia-Pacific plant seemed ideal made even more perfect when  when the Amtrak made an appearance!
Sarah was in search of a setting with a Bellingham landmark for her senior portrait. The beautiful orange brick round towers of the abandoned Georgia-Pacific plant seemed ideal made even more perfect when when the Amtrak made an appearance!

On another occasion, my aunt bravely packed me at age 7 and my brother, age 4, onto the train for a cross-country trip to the coast of Oregon.  And what a trip it was.  I took lots of black and white snapshots with my Brownie Hawkeye as we passed through farmland, cr ossed mountains androde through ranches until we reached the spectacular shores of the Pacific Ocean.

The old train stations evoke a nostalgia of a romantic travel time gone by, at least in many parts of the country.  How wonderful if this country could have as many high-speed passenger trains as elsewhere in the world.  Perhaps as gas prices continually rise and fuel for cars becomes even more expensive, trains will once again come into widespread use and get people where they need to go.

Ferenc was safely perched on a pile of rusty old iron pieces when the Amtrak's train to Seattle went whizzing by.
Ferenc was safely perched on a pile of rusty old iron pieces when the Amtrak’s train to Seattle went whizzing by.

I love to stage photo sessions in the historic train station here in Bellingham whenever possible and always with permission. In recent years, there has been a trend among some photographers to use railroad tracks as a background.  This has been an especially popular location among the high school seniors.  I explain to my senior clients who come in with that idea in mind that it’s dangerous to shoot on the tracks and refuse to shoot on an active train track.  I have safe spots where I  shoot where the trains or the tracks are in the background.  But again, you must be extremely cautious even in these situations.

So here’s a big salute to National Train Day and all the choo-choos that pass your way!

His Guitar Gently Weeps

I have always thought that to be a great portrait photographer, you need create a rapport with the person to be photographed. That’s one reason why I include, in my preparations with my clients, a pre-session consultation here in my studio. This 30-minute time together, away from the client’s distractions of the day, gives me an opportunity to learn a little about them, their interests, their family, their passions, their lives.

I especially enjoy this time with my high school senior portrait clients because from them I hear about what they are doing at school, the classes they are taking, the activities they enjoy, the plans they have after they graduate and the dreams they hope to pursue.  This time allows me to become better acquainted with them and gives me a sense of their personality so as to help me to plan how to best photograph them. When you have only an hour, as I allow, in a senior session, you need to establish common ground and quickly be able to grasp the essence of their complex personality. Every one of them has a truly unique personality and that’s what I set out to capture when I work.

Marcus' eyes sparkled when we worked together during his senior portrait session.  I think he had as much fun that day as I did.
I tend to get pretty attached to the high school seniors I photograph, Marcus was no exception. His handsome dark eyes sparkled when we worked together during his senior portrait session. I think he had as much fun that day as I did.

As a journalist for TIME Magazine, I was very good at personal interviews. I knew how to ask questions to get the information I needed.  Of course, while this expertise is useful, I don’t use it in the same way in my studio consultations. My goal with my clients is to put them at ease with me as well as to learn about their life so that when they do step in front of my camera, we are working together in a way that ultimately produces the kind of results my clients have come to expect.

Consequently, I get pretty attached and close to the people with whom I work. This is true particularly with my high school seniors. Perhaps it’s because I listen carefully to what they tell me or because when photographing someone professionally, as I do,  I create a mutual trust in order for the person to comfortably reveal themselves to me.

I enjoy keeping up with the seniors even after they graduate. Sometimes I’ll bump into them at an event or somewhere they work and we’ll chat about what they’ve been doing. Sometimes I’ll hear from them on Facebook.  And sometimes they’ll drop by the studio if they are in town and in my area just to say ‘Hello.’ That’s the kind of relationship I pride myself and that I enjoy with my clients.

Marcus loved music and brought his blue guitar with him to his senior portrait session in Whatcom Falls Park
Marcus loved music and brought his blue guitar with him to his senior portrait session in Whatcom Falls Park

So when I received a phone call the other day from the father of one former senior client, telling me that his son, Marcus, had unexpectedly and tragically passed away, it hit hard. I saw Marcus several times after his graduation, mostly when  working at a local restaurant. I remember how much fun he was during his photo session. He chose Whatcom Falls Park as the location for his session because that’s where he spent a lot of his free time. When I learned during his consultation that he loved music, I asked him to bring his guitar too. It turned out to be a blue acoustic guitar that matched the blue plaid flannel shirt he wore that day.

His sisters, mother and father were also present on that day. The older of the two sisters had a great way of getting him to smile, although I don’t think it took much to squeak a smile from Marcus.  He also had this great little twinkle in his eyes that I feel I captured in his portrait. I can see why so he touched the lives of so many. He was personable, sincere and seemed to have a genuine concern for those around him. In fact, I read in his obituary, that he had just decided to study photojournalism at Western Washington University in order to expose the injustices he had seen in the places in the world he had visited. I’m sure he would have been a good one.

The park was a favorite place for Marcus to hang out and walk his dog so it was a natural location for his senior portrait.
The park was a favorite place for Marcus to hang out and walk his dog so it was a natural location for his senior portrait.

My heart goes out to Marcus’ family. I am honored to have been the photographer they chose to create his senior portrait. I’m happy that they have those photos, taken at a much happier time, to keep with them now. I hope they will help them through this tough time and bring them a smile or two, just as Marcus did to others in the 21 short years of his life.

You can read more about Marcus’s life by clicking on the link below and you can see more images of Marcus from his senior session on the Portfolio page of my blog.

Thanks for the wonderful memories, Marcus!

Therhttp://www.legacy.com/obituaries/bellinghamherald/obituary.aspx?n=ramon-marcus-garcia&pid=164688922#fbLoggedOut