I am a street photographer and as I walked the city streets these past couple of years it seemed all I encountered was the mass construction that kept popping up in our various Seattle neighborhoods. I was planning a show depicting all the destruction and obstruction the construction world was wreaking on our once quaint city. All of my shots were taken from the street or from a step ladder that cleared the tops of the six foot fences that surrounded the construction sites.
Then something quite unexpected happened.
One evening on my commute from work through South Lake Union, I came across a "co-mingle" sign on the corner of Boren and Thomas at the landmark Troy Laundry Building. When I saw the "co-mingle" sign I thought it was an invitation from contractors, Lease Crutcher Lewis encouraging the community to "co-mingle" peacefully during construction of the Superblock now known as the Troy Block.
At first I balked at the "request" and then thought perhaps this could be an opportunity to shoot inside a bustling site, to in a sense, "co-mingle" with the crew. A few days later, I purchased two hard hats, and my friend, Sarah Littlefield and I showed up at the Troy Block site prepared to get inside the curtained fences.
After several "NO's" from a few guys on the crew, I pursued further and found Josh Ditzenberger, the Safety Coordinator, and after another "No", asked to speak with the head of the site.
Sarah and I stood outside the Lease, Crutcher, Lewis makeshift office, once home to the Seattle Times, hoping for a chance to mingle among the action. Ron McDonell, head of crew came out and after a quick introduction, gave Josh permission to walk us through a safety class and escort us to the bottom of the pit.
Once I crossed the threshold and descended the scaffolding for what seemed over a hundred feet, I was awestruck.
I was both shaken and thrilled. There was so much activity, above, below, to the right and the left and a hell of a lot of noise. As soon as I reached the bottom of the pit, I laid on my back to get my bearings and took a shot to reveal the depth of the pit. I asked Sarah to keep an eye on me for fear I would get carried away. I brought two cameras, just in case, and never stopped shooting. The experience was surreal.
To thank the crew for "co-mingling" with us, I baked a crazy amount of chocolate chip cookies. When I delivered the cookies to the lunchroom, my desire to return to shoot more of the Troy Block consumed me. That afternoon, I emailed Josh and asked if I could shoot again. He said, "YES".
After several return visits shooting, I would come to find the "co-mingle" sign had nothing to do with public outreach. Instead, it's a specific area on the site that acts as more or less a dumpster. Josh and I laughed at my misunderstanding. When I handed back the vest, gloves and safety glasses after shooting that day, Josh handed them back and said to keep them for future visits. My stomach did cartwheels. You would think I was given a key to the city.
Shortly after the thrill, came my dilemma. What about the show depicting the destruction? Was I now crossing the line, crossing to the other side of an even debate between those who say that growth was a good thing versus those disgruntled? After all, we live in a time where if you don't take sides, you're hated by both. Despite this truth, I choose to move forward not knowing where I would land.
I had no idea this event would change my contempt for all the construction taking place throughout Seattle and positively captivate me for the greater part of three years. I have lost count of the number of times I returned to the Troy Block. I promised myself that I would keep going back until Josh said, "No". He never did.
I shot from the pit to the roof of the north and south towers, and in July of 2016 at the topping off party, I asked Shawn Parry, partner at Touchstone NW (Developers) and Ron McDonell if I could have a show in the Troy Block Building. They both said "YES!" in unison. I couldn't imagine a better place for the installation.
It is my intention to present Project: Co-Mingle while mingling with various, at times opposing, sectors of the community, Touchstone, the developers, Lease,Crutcher Lewis, the contractor and crew, occupants Amazon, and FareStart (the non-profit organization that offers a real solution to homelessness, poverty and hunger), the South Lake Union community, artists, family, friends and the city planners. When and where else would groups like these co-mingle?
In June of 2016, there were 58 cranes in the skyline. The Seattle Times reported we had more cranes than New York and San Francisco combined. There were 65 buildings under construction with an estimated cost of $3.5 billion.
Along with this radical shift in the skyline has been my attitude. Every time I pass a construction site, I wave to the crew. I now wish to share my experience behind the curtained fences, as I am sure I am not alone in my curiosity. I hope this glimpse helps gentle the blow from losing the quaint and the familiar.
Most importantly, I wish to thank the head of the crew, Ron McDonell, Safety Coordinator, Josh Ditzenberger and the entire crew for welcoming me on their site and through their hard work and perseverance showed me the personal side of a monumental shift both literally and figuratively.
Construction of 2d, 60"x48" panels are underway in my studio. Accompanying the panels will be a larger than life slide show at the Troy Block.
The date for Project: Co-Mingle has yet to be determined. So stay tuned, and in the meantime, check out my blog on this site to learn more about Project: Co-Mingle and the Troy Block.