Just look! #2 – “The courage of reflected light”

Two kinds of blog posts there are for this blogger. There are posts that I write in one sitting and publish pretty much as soon as I can get the images sized (and in some cases permission to distribute them from other original artists), and there are posts that I return to again and again in draft form, which never really let me know when they’ll be ready until — zowie! — they’re suddenly ready. Nothing seems ready this week, which means the time is ripe for another Just Look post. This is the alley leading from Cherry to James between First and Second avenues, showing the Lowman Building on the right and the Broderick (née Bailey) Building on the left. It’s actually taken just a few steps from the viewpoint of the previous (inaugural) Just Look. Besides the “mood interest” inherent to low, forlorn places that collect trash, bad smells, graffiti and the unlucky, what caught my eye here was the reflection of the sunset in a single window in the curved corner of the 1892 Seattle National Bank Building (a.k.a. Interurban Building) at the end of the alley (actually further, over on Yesler). But looking at the image later I became enamored of all the details in the alley itself — the shimmering cobbles and the broken louvre slats. If you look closely near the left edge you can see part of the name Nathan on a promotional poster in a window belonging, appropriately enough, to the Seattle Mystery Bookshop. The green color cast upon the right wall from the high lamp was not visible to my eye as green but rather gray at the time and I did not “greenify” (enverden?) the image. It just seems to be the way the camera balanced the hues. Click the image for a larger version.

The proverbial dark alley. Whom would you not want to meet?


12 Responses to “Just look! #2 – “The courage of reflected light””

  1. 1 Janet March 30, 2011 at 18:16

    Interesting photo. I do like the green in the right foreground but I’m not sure what I would do with the rest of the photo were I to try to do a painting.

    • 2 Matt March 30, 2011 at 19:56

      Save on paint, I would think, because the rest of it could be achieved with a mixture of black, titanium white and burnt umber. I’m speaking in terms of Grumbacher oils, of course.

  2. 3 Janet March 30, 2011 at 21:09

    Matt – that was kind of a throw-away remark on my part but now I am looking more closely. I was thinking more in terms of how would I make the picture more interesting – details? subtle shifts in colour? brickwork? I don’t know but it’s fun to think about it. Your photo has stirred my artistic leanings.

    • 4 Matt March 30, 2011 at 21:50

      I didn’t know you paint. Have you blogged about that? I used to paint in oils when I was a teenager. Not that I would nominate this particular image for a painting, but I would probably exaggerate the colors in the dark areas, like the reflections of light. And it would help if there was some human life around, but the kind of character that might be shuffling through this scene would make the whole project kind of depressing.

  3. 5 kiwidutch March 31, 2011 at 05:18


    I think that the back doors and alleys of buildings are the places where utilitarian things are done, deliveries come in, rubbish is removed, it’s the get-ya-hands-dirty part of a building that doesn’t have time to smile and keep up appearances.

    Conversely, the front is the “smile presented to the public” a show your best side ideal that may or may not reflect reality.

    The alley is interesting because reality has done on here, hard work, tears, dirty hands, a job well done, (or not done well enough), there is a real “story” to the alley if only we had a time-lapse through history to see it from the alleys creation until the present day.
    Who has come and gone? and why? I like this photo, it makes me think all these things and more.

    • 6 Matt March 31, 2011 at 11:45

      You have a really beautiful and charitable way of regarding the dark antipodes of Main Street America, to wit: Back Alley Downtown. This really isn’t a pleasant-smelling place, but you’re right. Part of the aroma is the rich (if sometimes unsavory) history of lives that makes the human story so compelling.

  4. 7 Rachael April 2, 2011 at 10:15

    Thank you, Matt, for giving us an(other) opportunity to slow down and Just Look.

    • 8 Matt April 2, 2011 at 15:28

      You’re welcome. And thanks for coming back and commenting. I’m glad you “get” what the Just Look is all about.

  5. 9 Janet April 2, 2011 at 13:04

    Hello again – I’ve been thinking about your alley(s). Let’s call them service lanes – that’s more old worldy. And I keep thinking of the American painter Edward Hopper.

    • 10 Matt April 2, 2011 at 15:34

      You just said the magic words. Edward Hopper is one of my all time favorite painters, in fact now that I think about it, he probably bumped Carravaggio out of the #1 spot a decade or two ago. I hadn’t thought of Hopper for this alley, but definitely the urban isolation is right. Problem is, Hopper always managed to express that feeling of isolation and loneliness AMONG PEOPLE, not in their total absence. A lot of my city shots have no people in them for two reasons: one, I’m unable to bring myself to stick a camera in people’s faces and shoot, and two, generally I’m focusing on architecture and the built environment, so I’m after shapes and lines and spatial compression. Thanks for prodding me to look at my own photo more closely.

  6. 11 Janet April 2, 2011 at 16:20

    Matt – have a look at the book by Maria Costantino of Edward Hopper paintings. There are quite a few in there of bleak urban landscapes sans people. On the other hand, if you insist, you could stick one or two lone figures into the painting of your alley.

    • 12 Matt April 4, 2011 at 21:37

      I will seek Ms. Costantino out as you say. But now you mention it, I can recall any number of paintings by EH that had no people in them. My favorite, “Early Sunday Morning”.

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The Great Seattle Gargoyle Hunt


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