My documentary work tells stories of neighborhoods and buildings that inhabit them. Over the last decade, I have been capturing the Greater Seattle and occasionally other cities – first on film, now on mobile. I am especially interested in urban streetscapes, architecture and in-between spaces, and industrial landscape.

Seattle

Little Saigon is a part of Seattle’s International District historically populated by Vietnamese Americans. I got involved with photographing the area for “Exposed: Little Saigon,” a project initiated by the neighborhood association to showcase the character of the area. Some of these photos were exhibited at the Inscape Building in Seattle at the culmination of the contest. When the contest was over, I kept going back to Little Saigon to study how a community had transformed an industrial area into a place to live, work, worship, trade and party.

The summer of twenty eleven found me in Downtown Seattle, walking around Plymouth Congregational Church day in and day out with my camera. I had enrolled in the Intro to Architectural Photography class at the University of Washington with John Stamets, and the main project was to pick a building and explain it well photographically. I chose the church for its elegant Bauhaus simplicity and sprawling layout.

My experience with the beautiful and versatile Plymouth Congregational Church building taught me  that one doesn’t get to know a building after one visit. When I was forced to come back and produce better exposures of the church, I discovered new angles every time. The light shifted and the shadows changed.

The class as a whole and the project in particular were a turning point in my photography. My prior focus was on the most interesting angles of a building, to the point of abstraction. That summer, I started showing buildings as accurately as possible, keeping the vertical vertical and the horizontal horizontal.

Alfaretta Apartments once stood on the corner of 8th and Seneca on First Hill. I discovered the building when it was already a ruin and took (too few) shots of it, some on a sunny day and some in overcast weather. The building has been demolished and replaced by a residential high-rise.

Architectural disasters turn into notable places sometimes. A short drive from Montlake Cut and the old Museum of History and Industry stand the remains of R.H. Thomson Freeway – a road never completed. Sometime in mid-twentieth century, a bunch of urban planners got excited about connecting the north and south of Seattle with yet another big highway. Local citizen groups contested and defeated the project. Otherwise, Madison Valley would end up looking much like the parts of Eastlake under I-5. Some of the unfortunate on-ramps still remain but nose-dive in the grass by the lake. The nature has taken over in several places. So have various folks, flying kites or hanging out on the ramps.

My first photographs of Duwamish date back to 2008, although my interest in the area started earlier. At first the level of environmental destruction looked completely overwhelming, and I was primarily interested in industrial landscapes surrounding the river. Then one day, when I was standing on the marina under West Seattle Bridge, an otter emerged from the water and started hunting for fish. I thought it was remarkable that a river so polluted would support animal life. I started noticing other animals, such as fish and herons, and became aware of salmon habitat restoration. The history of surrounding communities too is inseparable from the river, and many neighborhoods still owe their livelihood to Duwamish. I learned this and more through education and river tours offered by DRCC-TAG – Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition. The photographs presented here span several years of exploration.

West Marginal Way Southwest stretches along the west bank of the Duwamish from West Seattle Bridge in the north to First Avenue Bridge in the south. The street is heavily industrialized, with Lafarge and other plants occupying most of the riverside, but it is also home to the Duwamish Longhouse and Herring’s House Park at Terminal 107.

An oxbow is a place where a river makes a loop, and Duwamish River made a lot of loops before it was dredged and straightened. The part of Duwamish called Oxbow is one of those lovely natural curves. It now holds a number of Boeing buildings on the east bank and a large parking lot on the west, the two connected by a bridge.

The Seattle neighborhood of South Park lies on the west bank of the Duwamish River. South Park has a mix of industrial and residential places a short walk apart. My first photographic visit to South Park fell on an afternoon after a winter storm, when the yards, the houses, and the South Park bridge under construction were covered by a bright white layer of snow, soon to turn into slush.

Terminal 105 is a Port of Seattle park hidden between industrial spaces south of West Seattle Bridge. Some of the notable features of the park are a fishing pier, actively used by the community; a small creek, restored as a salmon habitat; and of course, the ever-ominous view of Ashgrove Cement.

Terminal 107 is the park for observation, reflection and learning a few things about Seattle’s history, from the Duwamish Tribe to early European settlers in Seattle. (The Duwamish Longhouse is across the street from Terminal 107 and is shown in my West Marginal Way South essay.) It is also a place to wander around at low tide and gaze at barges, factories, remains of an old pier, a carcass of a schooner, and Kellogg Island – the last place where the Duwamish River retains its natural course. Stay on gravel and away from the notoriously sticky mud!

We are now standing on the west bank of the Duwamish. Around and behind us are Boeing South Park, Port of Seattle Terminal 117 and South Park Marina. On the east bank of the Duwamish, sits the Jorgensen Forge.

Duwamish River. Ravaged, polluted, dug out beyond recognition, renamed into a waterway. Alive and supporting life. Being cleaned up through continuous efforts of the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition. In 2012, I took the Coalition’s boat tour and had the pleasure of photographing some of my favorite landscapes from the water, and learning the Native American and early European Seattleites’ lore surrounding the river.

October came, and with it – another Haunted Halloween Boat Tour hosted by the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition. Every opportunity to travel on these waters makes me overly excited both as a photographer and a preservationist. The tour this year was even better than before: informative, fun, socially incisive. The shoreline has changed for the better; where there used to be the remains of Boeing’s Plant 2, there is restored vegetation and animal habitat. In place of a hill in front of Boeing’s 2-122 building, there is now a lagoon for young salmon to spawn.

Washington

I didn’t frequent Valley 6 Drive-In Theaters in Auburn while it was open. But later as a photographer, I was drawn to its retro character and visited the place on several occasions before it closed to make room for a suburban housing tract.

  • Address: 401 49th St NE, Auburn, WA 98002
  • See this Auburn Reporter article for more details about the theaters’ closing.

Tukwila is a town south of Seattle straddling the banks of the Green/Duwamish River. Although Tukwila is widely known for its large shopping mall, it also has historic houses, public art installations, pockets of mid-century industrial buildings, and even its own condemned neighborhood.

Allentown, one of Tukwila’s historic mini-neighborhoods, lies on the shores of the Green/Duwamish River north of the Tukwila community center. Allentown is flanked by I-5 and a bonded storage facility with heavy truck traffic on the east, but on the west the river flows through a quiet landscape of small houses and moored boats. A narrow wooden bridge connects the river banks. Allentown Grocery at the intersection of S 124th St and 42nd Ave S is an active store and looks like a classic small shop of the kind found on older Washington thoroughfares.

The Interurban Pump Station on Interurban Ave S & S 140th St is both a working utility and a public art object. The installation on the stairs was created by a well-known Seattle artist Claudia Fitch. Visually, the combination of glass, brick and tile makes the building beautiful to look at and fun to photograph. The weave-like patterns on the stairs and the informational plaque give tribute to the Duwamish Tribe, who have lived in this area for many centuries and to whom the city of Tukwila owes its name.

When applied to a neighborhood, “condemned” sounds way more sinister than it really is: these houses were vacated to give way to elevated light rail tracks. Enter at your own risk: the local law enforcement uses the neighborhood for field exercises. Or rather, do not enter at all. But if you dare, you will discover a barn, a house with some Victorian details, and even some mid-century modern split levels. The neighborhood location is on the west side of W Marginal Way S where it intersects with S 115th S.

2017 Update: the houses have been demolished, and the area is now a public park.

Renton is Seattle’s neighbor on the south shores of Lake Washington. Downtown Renton reveals lots of architectural diversity, with an elegant mission revival church standing next to an outrageously mid-century modern club, or a beautifully preserved craftsman house sharing the block with a peeling shack.