I was out on a photo-walk after work the other evening and wandered through Georgetown with the Rolleiflexes. I walked down under the Whitehurst and through the riverfront park. If you pass beyond the end of the park, you go under Key Bridge and come to the boat houses. Across the street from the boathouses where you can rent canoes, kayaks and stand-ups to take out on the river, there are stairs that take you up to the level of the C&O Canal. There’s the remains of the Alexandria Aqueduct Bridge that crossed the Potomac just past the Potomac Boat Club building. The Aqueduct Bridge was originally built in the 1860s to carry canal boats from the C&O Canal to the Alexandria Canal. Later it was improved by adding a road bridge and a deck for electric trolley cars. It was demolished in the 1930s to make way for Key Bridge (which was so named to honor Francis Scott Key, the author of the US National Anthem, whose house was demolished to make room for the bridge). The Alexandria Aqueduct Bridge piers are a popular spot for young people to hang out, especially in the summer time.
I went out to the end of the pier with the thought of getting a shot of the west-facing side of Key Bridge while it was still illuminated by the setting sun. A bunch of teenagers were hanging out there. Another woman photographer who was there coincidentally at the same time and I were both out on the end of the pier, shooting the bridge and the riverscape. One of the teens asked what we were doing. The woman ignored him, but I told him I was taking pictures of the bridge, and whatever else struck my fancy. He returned his attention to his friends and the scene in front of them. Looking down, I saw this scene through the viewfinder of my camera and quickly composed the shot. While I’m not normally a big gear geek (at least in my writings- I hope!), this is one case where I will geek out on my hardware and talk a bit about the choices I made.
I had been wanting for a long time to capture scenes like this – something suggestive, a little mysterious, a little ethereal, where the viewer can insert themselves into the scene. I haven’t always been successful, at least not to the degree I was looking for, and hadn’t really hit upon the right combination of toys and technique to make it happen. Well, I’ve obviously found it. The camera is my Tele-Rolleiflex, coupled with the Rolleinar 0.35 close-up attachment. For whatever reason when they made the original Tele-Rolleiflex, Rollei limited the minimum focus distance to roughly 8 feet (2.5 meters). By itself, this makes the Tele-Rollei rather limited in usefulness especially as a portrait camera. To compensate for this, Rollei made available the 0.35 and 0.70 Rolleinar close-up attachments. Since one of my ambitions for the Tele was doing portraits, I felt it was incumbent upon me to acquire at least the 0.35, which I have, and used on this shoot. The net effect of the Tele plus the Rolleinar is seen here, and in the next image. They give an extremely soft, dreamy look to the out-of-focus background areas.
Being able to create that extremely shallow depth-of-field combined with the extremely soft out-of-focus area throws the “3-D” effect into high relief, and lends itself when used appropriately to creating fantastical scenes like the one above where the bridge in the background, while very distinct, is sufficiently soft and far-away-looking that it could be real or it could be a dream – which it is remains for the viewer to decide. Thus the title of the image.
At the same place and same time, I turned around to look up the river and saw a trio of very blond, very Germanic-looking young folks (Georgetown University students? Youth tourists?) sitting on the edge of the stone walkway. This boy turned sideways to look at the girl beside him and was momentarily caught with soft, subtle backlighting. If you look carefully you can make out some more kids lounging on the opposite side of the old canal bed. It’s a very romantic, mysterious, suggestive composition – what is he looking at out of the frame? Where is he? Why is he there?