Late blue daylight

I was going to save this post for a lean week later on, but Marni was eager to see this photo on the blog, and I admit that this post is merely an excuse to display the photo, so I’m posting it now.  

One of my favorite things, photographically, is that moment in a day when it is not yet dark but lights have begun to come on in homes and businesses, and there is a rich blueness to the whole atmosphere even though the sky may actually be cloudy. I remember a photo in an issue of National Geographic — or perhaps my brain fuses several photos into a single visual memory — of some rural general store out in Wyoming or one of the Dakotas with a warm yellow glow in its windows and the blueness of evening all around it. I suppose, now that I think about it, that I have seen many hundreds of images like that in my life. Farmhouses at dusk. Such images always mesmerize me and make me instantly want to be at that place. There is something in me wired to respond to that collection of cool blue dark and warm yellow light.  

The magical hour for lamplit architectural photography.

Last weekend after our tryst with Marni at Island Books on Mercer Island, we all walked over to Starbucks on SE 27th Street. For several reasons (overroasted beans/burnt flavor being one and the operational tendencies of large corporations being the other) I’m not a fan of Starbucks and don’t patronize them if there is a smaller alternative nearby, so it chagrins me that I’m doing even backhanded advertising for the behemoth of beans. Nevertheless, I love this building. What drew my eye when we walked up was the hefty exposed beams and the lovely wood exterior “ceiling”, and the fact that the building is in the form of a shed with its tallest wall facing south to capture the precious northwest daylight through the tall windows beyond the fireplace. And, yes, the fireplace, which can be enjoyed both inside and outside.  

It reminded me of something I read shortly after the downtown Seattle REI building opened, comparing it and some other building. The point was that the architects REI contracted had created a building that suited and seemed to be in harmony with the space it occupied — not only the space on its block but also the space in its city and the space in its region, the Pacific Northwest. It was open and woodsy and it capitalized on daylight and elevated spaces. In other words it was a lot like us. The other building, whose identity I now forget, was just some swanky modern box dumped among its neighboring buildings without any relation to or consideration of its neighborhood, a reflection of the cookie-cutter mindset of the boardmembers of the multinational corporation whose outlet it was.  

As we approached this sturdy lean-to of a coffee shack, I wondered out loud if it was the work of the same architectural firm that had done the REI store. It turns out that’s not the case. REI’s Seattle store was designed by Mithun. This Starbucks was designed by MulvannyG2 Architecture of Bellevue. It opened in October 2004. Still, it looks to me that the same ethos was at work in both cases, and it’s one I applaud. Ironic that a company that has pretty much conquered the world with with the cookie-cutter approach would be the instigators of such a worthy and quintessentially local design. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio… 

We spent a half-hour inside (Darby had to wait outside but she could see us through the big windows), during which time the light of day started to fade, and as we left I turned around and saw this. Part of me said, you don’t need a photo of a Starbucks, and another part of me said, what an amazing thing it is to live on this planet at this hour of the day. 

 

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23 Responses to “Late blue daylight”


  1. 1 Kip January 15, 2010 at 08:13

    That is a WONDERFUL photograph! It proves your talent that you can produce such a great picture, dispite the fact you disagree with the subject. It is a fantastic building. I am a big fan of the REI building as well, especially the climbing wall you can see from the interstate. It distracts me a bit when I am traveling southbound…I try to see if anyone is on the wall!

    • 2 jstwndrng January 15, 2010 at 09:25

      Thanks ‘per!
      Yes, I love the REI store, too. Several nice fireplaces in there, too. I should have included a photo of REI to demonstrate why I thought both buildings might have been hatched on the same drafting table. Last time we went into REI, the lower fireplace was on and Mara wanted us all to sit on the boulders around it. So we sat there by the fire, smiling at each other for a few minutes. It seemed silly, especially since we had serious boot and sock agenda, but really life doesn’t have enough of those moments… sitting around like Muppets and just nodding and smiling at each other. I’ve never assayed the rock wall; I once thought I might like rock climbing, but while I’m certainly wiry and limby enough for it, I never really enjoyed having my life dangle by threads, and anyway the belly is starting to widen so much that I would not be able to look down and be properly motivated to keep climbing.

  2. 4 Marni January 15, 2010 at 10:23

    I knew it was going to be an excellent picture when you took it!

  3. 5 Ami January 15, 2010 at 18:52

    Matt,

    I am beginning to think when the agenda is most serious, it is the perfect time to have a light moment. I have great moments of joy when we are doing something serious, and Will requires a moment of levity! Sitting at the fire at REI would be GREAT!

    Oh, and the camera you used to take the picture?

  4. 7 jstwndrng January 15, 2010 at 20:18

    @Ami, this is our little Canon digital. It’s not an SLR camera, just a wee starter digital we got after Mara was born. I have an old film camera, a Canon AE-1 Program, which served me well for decades, but it’s so easy to pop the little digital into my pocket that I almost never drag the old bazooka around. I also have an even bulkier vintage Graflex press camera with bellows, which I take out even less often. The dratted thing about most small cameras is that as soon as you tilt it upward so that the horizon is below the middle of your view, vertical lines begin to converge, especially with the wide angle lenses that are standard in most digital cameras. This makes taking pictures of buildings particularly vexing; you can see that this shot is no exception. Lines that should be parallel look like they are leaning toward the center at the top. The old press camera has a way to deal with that by shifting the lens plane, but I never would have made this image if I’d had to do it with the Graflex. What was your question?

  5. 8 Louis January 18, 2010 at 05:43

    It really is a nice, inviting picture, Matt. I too prefer to patronize independently owned and operated coffee joints if I can help it. (Salvador has no Starbucks. There is a Starmix, which has a curiously similar type font, but the similarity ends there)

    I must admit, however, there are indeed some cozy Starbucks, that – when there is no independent coffee available – I will patronize and enjoy its comfy confines..overroasted beans notwithstanding.

    • 9 jstwndrng January 18, 2010 at 09:15

      Cozy’s the word, Louis. Starbucks got that right from the first. They hit on a deep need that people have for a cozy fireside cuppa outside the home, and since they did it well and did it first they’ve cornered the market. I don’t really have any active grudge agin ‘em. By now it’s a knee-jerk behavior in me to seek out variety and smallness. Shoot, S-Bucks was a local innovator at one time. But listen to me go on about overroasting, as if I’m more of an expert than the legions of daily Starbucks drinkers. Sometimes I wish I could smack myself in the face. Oh, wait…

  6. 10 Kip January 18, 2010 at 16:24

    That’s the thing aboout Starbucks….you know what you’re getting. In Seattle, Boise, or Ottumwa, it is the same. Just like McDonald’s. You walk through the door, and you know wha the cup will taste like. If you enjoy the mystery, good on ya, but for those that crave the “Sameness”, well, there it is!

    • 11 jstwndrng January 18, 2010 at 16:51

      A good point, Sir Christopher, and well ta’en. Still, I wonder how often people are truly “unpleasantly surprised” by what they get from a local indie grind.

      Customer #1: “I say, I ordered a cappucino. This is eggs benedict!”
      Customer #2: “And I was supposed to have a decaf latte but I’ve just been handed a pack of triple A batteries. This never happens at Coffee R Us.”

  7. 12 Kip January 18, 2010 at 16:27

    Please ingore spelling errors….14 hour day and kids expressing their needs means less proof reading, more picking up flying flash cards! Life is GRAND!

    • 13 jstwndrng January 18, 2010 at 16:46

      Kipper, it sounds like your priorities are in order. When I see misspellings in your comments I always smile and think how joyously exhausted you must be from interacting with the small humans. You’re a great dad.

      By the way, your particular retelling of Monty Python’s “Flying Lessons” sketch has been handed down to Mara in your particular…ah…your particular…uh…

      [idiom, sir?]

      …Idiom, yes! One of our favorite things to say around the house whenever something is “fancy” is “Oh, pawdon me! I’m off to play the grawnd piawno! No more buttered scones for me!”

  8. 14 Kip January 18, 2010 at 17:05

    Well of course it has an ‘ole in, it’s an ‘oop!

  9. 15 Ben January 18, 2010 at 19:33

    You know, I wish I could have the two of you sitting on my shoulder sometimes. Because of Kip and Matt, my childhood heroes, I have these blasted English, Scot, Irish and generally Gaelic voices in my bleedin’ aed’, going on about “who killed who” at full spate. But reconciling the firefighter mentality and the English tea sipper in my head is a never ending battle.

    Try to explain to the average American Fireman why you find it funny that someone said, “oooo, …that’s a large hole, there!!!”. When in their point of view, you should be saying something more along the lines of “…@#!*&^? hole!”

    I’ve tried to eradicate these voices of choice wit, understated points and calmness in the midst of chaos: “…..damn” (stated quietly as one realizes that your paper grocery bag has gotten wet on the bottom and the eggs seeped out to the kitchen floor as you walked in.) To no avail alas.

    A few years back I was leading the crowd (my boys) into the fight with a house fire and as I ordered them in behind me all pandemonium broke out as the hose appliance let fly. Water went everywhere, shooting through the chief’s car window and up the wall, around circles. One of the lads (I’m doing it again) was riding the hose, try to shut the gate, but was flung off and another just sat bewildered with his helmet half busted in two. My reaction? I said in a very English voice. “Damn, that’s torn it”, and walked into the house alone. Moments like that you two could turn into comedic (sp?) infamy.

    • 16 jstwndrng January 18, 2010 at 21:51

      Ben, with regard to those broken-egg moments when you can’t really do much about it NOW, I find the Python scripts, and those of Britcoms in general, to come in very handy. Those understated phrases tend to bring things down in scale. “A spot of bother with the Maharaja”, for instance, makes armed resistance sound almost manageable. And by the way, we’ve been on your shoulder for decades, didn’t you know?

      • 17 Ben January 19, 2010 at 08:17

        There’s this one kid that works for me that knows the Holy Grail ……verbatim. Not unlike ourselves at one time. You mention anything about it, and he starts going on about it, its like the movie playing without the visual and lacking any good accents. ……It drives me into madness.

  10. 18 Kip January 19, 2010 at 15:08

    Ben,

    Tis an honour to be invited to sit upon your shoulder! The view of the Alaska wilds and the fury of fire raging would inspire awe. Although, as your brother has stated, it would seem that we have been there all the while.

    “I have to push the pram a lot!”

    “On second thought, let’s not go to Camelot. It’s a silly place.”

    “It’s only a model.”

    • 20 Ben January 19, 2010 at 16:13

      Rest assured, I shall continue to chuckle to my own self amidst the chaos as certain moments of pandemonium spur on the English voices in my head.

      By the way, Matt. These “blue” moments abound in the Northern climes, ….because the sun is always setting itself “doon”. I should think you would find many of them here to snap.

      • 21 jstwndrng January 19, 2010 at 16:37

        Ben,
        Yes, I imagine your northern world is full of blue. Around here, it happens at twilight (and I suppose that’s what the word refers to) and also when the sun is at a low angle, because the particles that make up the atmosphere refract the spectrum of sunlight in a certain way. Since I wrote this post I’ve taken a bunch more pictures at that blue hour. It’s great light for this little digital because there are no harsh shadow contrasts, and the light of signs and windows that goes unnoticed all day starts to really glow.

  11. 22 Kelley March 9, 2010 at 10:12

    I’m wondering if you could shop that photo to Starbucks, M.

    • 23 jstwndrng March 9, 2010 at 10:37

      Hi Kel!
      Welcome to my humble space, pardon the mess, etc. Thanks for the comment and the vote o’. Peddling my images is the last thing I have time or energy for. I can’t even keep up with the blog. I’m rarely on FB these days but every time I duck in I see more of your amazing mosaic work. You really jumped on and rode that bronc!


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