In reading a proof copy of a soon-to-be-published meditation-like biography on the abstract painter Joan Mitchell today, I was struck by a quote of hers: “A bridge to me is beautiful…I like the idea of getting from one side to the other”. Mitchell’s grandfather was an engineer who was responsible for designing many of the bridges that span the Chicago River. She became fascinated with his drawings; bold and dramatic black lines on brilliant white paper. When one thinks of her work, you can clearly see what this early influence meant to her work as a painter.
I was raised in a city that was surrounded by water - Lake Ontario stretched for endless miles along the northern border and the dramatic Genesee River cuts a rugged path through the center of the city, tumbling over tall, rocky falls and passing under ancient aqueducts that once carried the Erie Canal. Water was an inspiration from an early day and continues to be a source of fascination for me. My being a Pisces should come as no surprise, if you believe in astrology.
Until reading that Joan Mitchell line, I had never thought about the meaning behind bridges or why I am so fascinated by them. Whenever I encounter a bridge, I am instantly drawn to it. I love the architectural beauty of stone arches stretching across raging waters. There is something sublime and quieting about them despite the roar of the rushing river. The metaphorical idea of a bridge, though, adds an interesting and intriguing dimension. I am always interested in getting to the other side. Accomplishments, large and small, important and inconsequential, are of equal importance. I am as happy with the joy of finishing reading a good book as I am at receiving a major honor. Cooking a meal for friends is as satisfying as printing a great new photograph. Having read what inspired Joan Mitchell, I am not sure I will be able to look at another bridge without thinking about it more intensely. Where does the bridge go? Where does it start? Why is it there? Who has crossed it? Why?
I’ve encountered many fascinating bridges, from the Chain Bridge that spans the Danube and connects Buda to Pest in Hungary, to Arlington Memorial Bridge that spans the Potomac and brings Virginia and the District of Columbia together. Richmond, Virginia is blessed with many wonderful bridges. As a major rail center, both now and in the 19th century, there are both active bridges and numerous ruins of structures that crossed the James River. I have captured images in the fog, during the chill of winter, and in the first light of morning. I look for their beauty, their history, and their romance. Often I shoot from high atop the bridges, looking down at the expanse of rushing waters, whirling eddies, and little islands with wonder and amazement. From the shore, I see bridges that once carried commerce and made Richmond a center of trade and more modern structures whose graceful arches carry the endless streams of traffic north and south.
Thank you Joan Mitchell for your enlightenment. I hope we will all look at bridges with a newfound sense of wonder. May we all successfully get from one side to the other.