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Robert Hunt
Earthquake!
posted:
This week marks the twentieth anniversary of the Loma Prieta Earthquake in San Francisco. It was a 6.9 magnitude quake that happened minutes before the start of  game 3 of the World Series between the Oakland A's and the San Francisco Giants, a circumstance which caused far fewer people to be on the road and held fatalities to 63, despite severe damage to two major traffic artieries, the 880 freeway collapse and the collapse of a large section of  the San Francisco Bay Bridge.

The next day I learned that the bridge repairs had been fast-tracked by the state and the contracting work was to be done by a company in Oakland, Rigging International, for whom I had recently illustrated a brochure. For no reason other than curiosity I contacted the president of the company and asked if I could come to the bridge, he agreed, and a few hours later I was given a hard hat, a pass to go through the police roadblocks, and instructions that I could come and go as I pleased as long as I stayed out of the way. I soon realized that, as the bridge was closed at both ends, no one but the workers were out there, and so I made a decision to make it my business to document the reconstruction of the bridge. I had recently met the great field artist Howard Brodie and was inspired by his approach to documentary illustration to attempt it myself.  This personal project led me to spend a great many hours on the bridge, among the ironworkers and engineers. I visited the site at least twice every day for several hours each time. The work went on 24 hours a day for a full month. 
By a pure coincedence, Communication Arts  magazine  heard about my project while working to compile a photo essay on the earthquake. I was  fortunate to have a feature article on my bridge project run in the next issue of the magazine. I had always worked on personal projects (and continue to do so) but this was the first time that one made it into the public eye.  It led to a number of opportunities for me to do documentary illustration, something that is, sadly, more and more rare these days. On the anniversary of the quake I thought it might be nice to share it with a new audience here on Drawger.

There were two shifts of ironworkers working 12 hours every day, for 30 days. I eventually developed a rapport with them, based primarily on my ability to stay out of their way.
Looking down towards the lower deck and the San Francisco Bay far below.
I was fascinated by the hieroglyphics the workers wrote on the steel, as they figured out things on the fly.
The work went on 24 Hrs a day. Here, a worker guides an I-beam into place late at night. I experimented with technique a bit on these pictures, painting them in oil on strathmore paper over unfixed charcoal drawings.
A welder, balancing on a beam 200 feet above the water.
Late at night, worker welding beams into place.
The guard rail or the upper deck, steel peeled over like a banana as the deck collapsed downward. The ladder on the right was the way one climbed to the lower deck.
All in all I made about 15 illustrations during that 30 days in 1989. It was an interesting and intense experience, and in retrospect it was partly infused with a sense of adventure due to the nature of the site, and excitement to be doing something just for myself with no real idea of what (if anything) might come from it. I never expected that anything would happen with the work.

Sometimes as illustrators we get into ruts, or things get a little predictable and it's easy to feel creatively frustrated. Although this was early in my illustration career, I remember that I felt myself to be in a terrible creative rut when I started the bridge project.   I think it's best at those times to get out and try to push forward into new directions- those frustrating times can be the best thing that happen to you if you take advantage of them.







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