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Bird’s-Eye View

The work of an Oakland photographer captured history as it was made.


Peter Stackpole

Peter Stackpole, a 21-year-old photographer, was looking for a project—a big project—to show what his small, newfangled Leica camera could do. The year was 1934, and the project the Oakland resident stumbled on was huge: the construction of the Bay and Golden Gate bridges.

Stackpole’s work did indeed show what the camera could do. So much so that Leica used his black-and-white photographs in its promotions. Stackpole’s work also got the attention of Life magazine editors, who hired him as one of their first staff photographers. There, he helped launch a documentary style of photography that became the standard for journalists to this day.

Although much of Stackpole’s work was lost in the 1991 fire in the East Bay hills, which destroyed his home, some of the bridge photos survived. Twenty-two of them are on display through January 26, in a small gallery at the Oakland Museum of California. The striking shots provide a wonderfully revealing look at the death-defying work it took to build the structures that forever changed life in the Bay Area.

For information, visit museumca.org.


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