Math Aficionado Michael Yuan Hones in on the Golden Ratios of the Golden Gate Bridge

Math Aficionado Michael Yuan Hones in on the Golden Ratios of the Golden Gate Bridge

Project of the Week

The Bridge, Reconstructed is a series by Michael Yuan, a Canadian self-driving car software designer living in San Fransisco, who spends his free hours befriending security guards to photographing the lesser appreciated parts of The Golden Gate Bridge.

What I love about this project is that it boils architecture photography down to its simplest and most pure elements — light and form. There are no wide establishing shots with perfectly poised models, in fact, that’s the whole point of Michael’s series, to break the iconic bridge down into gorgeous little chunks of shapely steel.

Michael introduces us to the project by telling “I think the project started off of serendipitously. When I was showing a friend around San Francisco, we biked across the bridge. At the time, I’ve seen countless photos of the bridge taken at all the different popular spots. But while stopping at the bridge tower to take photos, I noticed the bottom of the tower had many layers of shapes that I’ve never seen before in other photos, so I took a photo of it.” Serendipitous indeed, as this little photo sparked Michael’s ambition to create a book compiling all of these vignettes, which can be backed on Kickstarter.

“After I got home and was editing the photo, I thought to myself it would be both very challenging and interesting to find unique perspectives of the bridge never photographed before. The project started with a simple assignment and became more of an obsession.

Over the course of the project, I started learning a lot about 20th-century art movements (color fields, minimalism, modernism, pop art, etc), and that heavily influenced how I photographed the bridge. Many shots were approached with those styles in mind. The location of the bridge actually made it really easy to do so – the bridge is very big, well painted, and has minimal clutter around it.”

Michael continues “Intuitively, I found the different layers of lines and geometry to be very interesting. I later would talk to the current Golden Gate Bridge architect, and he told me that the design of the bridge is mathematically perfect in terms of proportions and geometry, with Golden Ratios everywhere. It made a lot of sense to me why I liked it – I’ve always gravitated towards math throughout my education.”

“The color of the bridge is also very inspiring. On a normal day, the bright and saturated red-orange of the bridge contrasts beautifully with the sky creating complementary colors. I can’t imagine how much time and money is spent on maintaining the paint of the bridge! Depending on the time and weather conditions, the color of the bridge also changes. The colors change from orange to red-orange to more red, varying in brightness. It’s absolutely breathtaking to be on the Bridge during a cloudless sunrise. In summary, I look for solid colors, strong geometry, and deep shadows.”

That’s what makes this series so perfect. The little kisses of light and deep shadows perfectly chisel out the shape of the bridge’s elements. This project is also a perfect example of contrast through color, which create a graphic quality that is hard to ignore.

Michael explains “To me, the entire process is quite meditative. When I visit the bridge, it’s usually myself, my camera, and not a whole lot of people. Even when I come home empty-handed (happens a lot), it’s still a really wonderful experience. Working on this really helped me slow down and be more process-oriented rather than result-oriented. Shooting the bridge makes me happy.”

“This project first started in early 2018 and I still go if I feel inspired for a new shot” he says. “It’s really hard to say exactly how many trips I’ve made. Each session is around 3 to 5 hours, depending on the light and atmosphere. In terms of times, I generally try to go during golden hours, both sunrise and sunset. These times provide the best contrast (beautiful shadows) and color to the bridge. I usually show up a bit earlier if it’s sunrise and leave a bit later if it’s sunset to try to get some unique nighttime perspectives. It’s incredibly hard to shoot nighttime because the cars crossing the bridge cause a lot of shaking. Even with a tripod, most shots end up quite blurry.”

“Every time I go, I always greet the security guards. I have a feeling they know me at this point. One time at night, the bridge was closing and it was pretty late, the security guard gave me a ride on his bridge patrol vehicle (kind of like a golf cart). I thought that was pretty cool and very nice of him” Michael tells.

“Working on this project has made me realize that there’s beauty everywhere and we can always add new perspectives to popular subjects. I’ve learned to appreciate my surroundings and be present a lot more. I hope this can also serve as encouragement and inspiration for people to explore their environment and be creative.”

Many thanks to Michael Yuan for submitting this project to us! The Bridge, Reconstructed is coming down to the wire on its Kickstarter campaign and ends tonight (Nov 13, 2020) at 5:00 pm EST. If you don’t grab a copy of the coffee table book yourself, you can check out Michael’s website ilikecalculus.com or give him a follow on Instagram @ilikecalculus.

If you have a project you’d like to be considered for Project of the Week, you can submit it here.