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Spotlight: Focusing On the Moments that Make High-Rise Buildings Rise

By David Schonauer   Wednesday August 8, 2018


Construction sites are webs of activity.

To casual onlookers, a high rise building on the rise can appear as a farrago of enterprise and motion. “The massive scale of these projects makes them seem remote, inhuman, forbidding, but then when you look closely, you see they’re all built by teams of individual people,” says San Francisco-based commercial and editorial photographer (and PPD reader) Ian Tuttle.

Tuttle, whose clients include Google, Merrill Lynch, and Outside magazine, has occasionally found himself on assignment on high-rise construction sites in downtown San Francisco. “I started shooting video, time lapses and stills on the sites because the level perspective at such a height is really cool. Then I started looking down; with the human eye, the world looks very remote from 22 or 30 floors up, but with a telephoto lens suddenly it’s brought back to the human scale,” he says.

When he looked at the images he was making, Tuttle saw how the jumble of motion at the construction sites was made up of individual moments. “The footage I was capturing was just totally different then anything else I’d done,” he says. “There were so many discrete items and activities, plus the sun was bouncing off the glass creating this really crisp fill light. It was beautiful footage and I wanted to do something special with it.”

The result is his motion project Laundry Road, which makes use of a split-screen effect to isolate the people who make high rises happen while conveying the sense of bee-hive activity at a construction site.


“First and foremost I’m a photographer, and the reason I love stills so much, rather than motion, is that they allow you to study a scene that would otherwise blink by and be gone,” says Tuttle. “But with this project I wanted to offer that opportunity to study individual moments while keeping the scene moving, so I started cropping out pieces, and looping some of them, and then nudging them out of tune here and there, so it wouldn’t just be like boring security-camera footage. I wanted for this motion project to offer that same feeling of discovery that comes from reading a static photograph.”

Everything you see in the frame of the video occurred in that relative position in real life, though the timing is not always true to real life.

“I gave a friend carte blanche on the audio, and a couple weeks later he sent me the track, and it was just perfect. He scored it like you would a feature film, watching it and playing to the action, and also layering in field recordings he’d done of the birds, which anchored it just as the trees are an anchor in the top right corner.”

Inspired by the results of his experiment, Tuttle is now working on another, similar project. “All in all, it was a fun process,” he says.

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