Night Light of the North Coast: The Essence of Eureka, 1990

Post by David Wilson

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. Daytime not so much. Most photos you see were shot in daylight. Daytime images are so common that it’s a challenge for me to find something interesting to photograph in daylight, or some unique way to photograph it. Challenges are good, but I prefer the challenge of finding and using light at night. Night light is unusual, and the camera sees it in such a unique way, that people often think a photo I shot never happened, or could never happen. Or that a computer generated it. It messes with their minds, and I like it. That kind of image is fun to make. It doesn’t require a computer, either.

“The Essense of Eureka”: The LP pulp mill, as seen from beneath the north end of the Samoa Bridge, in Eureka, California, 1990. In-camera multiple exposure on 35mm film.

“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.

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 accompanied my foot movements as 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.

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 in to 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.

“The Essence of Eureka” exposure notes that I made in 1990, frame #12. I used Ektar 1000 color negative film. Back then you could not see the image you just shot until you had processed the film in chemicals, then you’d make prints and develop them in more chemicals. In the notes above, “dodge” refers to me shielding the upper part of the lens from the view with my hand during the exposure, because I judged that the upper part of the scene was too bright. I waved my hand rapidly in front of the lens to reduce the exposure on the top half. It’s a technique I borrowed from darkroom printing… So listen: Film and darkroom printing do not ensure that the resulting image will be anything that your naked eye — or the camera, in this case — would have seen at the scene. My thrill comes from making photographic images that neither the eye nor the camera sees without my own process added to the mix.

Through the month of August I have a photography show of recent night images up at F Street Foto Gallery, 527 F in Eureka (above Swanlund’s). It’s a combined show with Humboldt photographer Martin Swett. He does the beautiful daytime scenics, and I do the night. Stop by and check it out.

If you’d like to keep abreast of my most current photography or peer into its past, you can follow me on Instagram at @david_wilson_mfx . I update my website less frequently.

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  • Ha! I always thought Eureka was a poor man’s Disneyland. You’ve just proven it. I love the photo. It’s reality seen slightly off center.

  • What a great photo!❤️ I’m a sucker for film photography, there is so much more thought, attention, and skill required to produce interesting images than digital. I miss developing my own film and spending time in the dark room making prints. ❤️

  • Really Cool picture, that’s what the eureka looks like for the drug addicts all the time.😂

  • ❤️Always one of my favorites! The smaller image always catches my eye. So glad it’s not a ‘scratch n sniff’ – the pulp smell was

  • Sorry if this is a duplicate comment, I tried earlier and I don’t see it…

    Thank you very much for your comments, folks, I appreciate them.

    I fear I may have sounded as if I don’t appreciate a good image that was shot in daylight. I certainly do! I meant that since daytime photos are so common to see, it’s hard for me to find a way to make one that feels unique, which is what I’m most interested in making. That leads me to making the nighttime photos, which contain the kind of light that attracts me and which provide me a crucial opportunity to perhaps add my own touch with some creative light touches.

  • Such a treat ✨ Thank You .

  • Thank you for sharing your wonderful image!

  • Looks really cool! Does not look computer generated.

  • My favorite so far, is the Galactic Core and the Kneeland road photo, only because I have numerous memories on that road over my life time.

  • FILM…What is F..I..L..M…? Haha…Nice Old Skool Shot, David.

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