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Blue Collar Photography

Adam L. Brinklow | June 24, 2013 | Story

Like most San Franciscans, photographer Joseph Blum has opinions about the new Bay Bridge. His can be summed up as: Well, it wasn't the fault of the guys who actually built it. "My thing is all about human labor: the effort, the skill, and the courage," Blum says. "The workers didn't design the thing. But they did place every piece exactly where it was supposed to go, and I want people to know that."

Blum, a 72-year-old former welder and boilermaker, has been photographing workers on the Bay Bridge for 15 years, meaning he's been at work on the new span for as long anyone else. His new exhibit at City Hall, The Bridge Builders, features 85 color photos chronicling the construction (and dovetailing nicely with Peter Stackpole's photos of the original bridge construction at the Oakland Musem of California next month), with an emphasis on the men and women putting the pieces in place.

"It's a documentary," Blum says. "It's about labor. San Francisco used to be a significant place in terms of the iron industry and the shipbuilders, and I worked in those trades. Now I'm hoping the public will see the dedication and courage in that industry."

Megan Shiffler, Director of Galleries at the San Francisco Arts Commission, says that the bridge's recent woes are particularly disheartening for those working on the exhibit. "We've been devestated by the news the last few months because we're afraid it might overshadow the effort that's gone into this. We're working extremely hard to reach out to people about this the show, because it's the culmination of a 15-year endeavor."

The Bridge Builders opens today at City Hall. The Arts Commission plans to display Blum's images in other venues in the months to come. In this project, at least, they anticipate no delays.

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