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Photographing The Newest Man-Made Marvel

Photographer Jamey Stillings speaks very casually about his relationship with bridges. Even though his photo studies began over 20 years ago when he was an MFA student. Even though he has been obsessively documenting the construction of the Colorado River Bridge at the Hoover Dam for over year. Oh, and he almost forgot to mention that his son's name means "bridge" in another language. In fact, Stillings seems almost surprised at the recurring theme.

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"Certain types of projects encourage you to keep going," he explained over the phone. Almost accidentally, Stillings stumbled across the construction of the Hoover Dam Bypass while on a road trip last year, and beheld the sight with awe. What began as a few photos has morphed into a full-fledged documentary project — because he keeps finding reasons to go back. Or, as he puts it, the project encourages him to keep going.

The bridge is being built for various reasons, mostly to alleviate traffic congestion. Once complete, "it will be the longest concrete arch span in North America and the fourth longest in the world," Stillings wrote in an e-mail, citing Dave Zanetell, project manager of the Hoover Dam Bypass Project.

He explains that his ongoing series, which was initially featured in a 2009 architecture issue of The New York Times Magazine, is a "win-win" undertaking. Engineers will enjoy it. The government will appreciate it. Historians and, this goes without saying, photographers will love it. Even the philosophers in us will have fodder for thought: "The bridge challenges us to examine the juncture of nature and technology on a scale that is both grand and human," Stillings writes in his artist's statement.

Nevada Arch Foundation, May 21, 2009 Jamey Stillings hide caption

toggle caption Jamey Stillings

My initial reaction was: "Who would have thought construction could be so majestic!" But Stillings' aerials, russet dusk landscapes, and night panoramics are a fresh take on classic American West photography. In a sense, he's continuing the legacy of photographers like Lewis Hine, who documented the construction of the Empire State Building.

Stillings will continue photographing until the bridge is complete at the end of this year. As for what will come next ... he'll cross that bridge when he gets there.

Learn (and see) more on his Web site.

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