Vancouver Photography: Granville Bridge

24 hours earlier I was writhing in pain in bed from an infection (again), and now I’m standing in awe on Granville Bridge along a long line of strangers. We have almost nothing in common except that each one of us are looking west, enraptured.

Around 4:30 pm. I’m hunting down the pride bus to get a photo of it, but after refreshing Tcomm and realising I definitely missed it for the day, I hop on another 99 towards the vague direction of east. I’m not really sure where I’m going, but I feel that familiar I-need-to-leave-campus itch.

I end up hopping off at Granville almost impulsively, thinking that since this is the intersection with the most busses (and the bookstore), maybe I can get some good shots of transit around here.

I hesitate at the West Broadway and Granville intersection. One part of me is pulling me to stay – take some photos and settle down to read in the bookstore – another part of me is pulling me towards the bridge, towards downtown, and of course that part wins over. With my camera hanging around my neck, I make my way down the familiar sun soaked road. I take some photos of transit along the way for good measure anyhow.

As I make my way onto the bridge, the concrete beneath me shakes with each passing vehicle, a roar that can be felt in my bones just as much as it can be heard. I snap some photos of the vehicles racing towards downtown, and of the scenery below.

By this point it’s already almost 7 pm, and the cool evening wind picks up around me. I tighten my hat and lean against the railing, staring down at Granville Island and reminiscing about all my times down there. Further out in the water, boats drift lazily by in the warm sunlight.

Maybe I’m just really unfit, but by the time I reach downtown my legs are already pretty sore and I consider just crossing the street and hopping on a 14 back home.

But I’m glancing at the sun, just beginning to set. I glance down at my camera. What the hell. Life’s short. Who knows if I’ll honestly get this chance again in the future. I cross the street but I turn away from the bus stop and back on foot towards the direction I had come from.

As I crest the ridge I suddenly see around a dozen people crowded along the pavement, most of them with tripods and professional DSLRs. I walk quickly in that direction and as I look right, my breath is completely taken away. I’ve seen the sunset on this bridge a lot of times before. I’ve deliberately walked this bridge at sunset plenty of times before. But this evening was picture perfect in a way that I had never, ever seen before.

The skies are a perfect gradient of pink and purple and orange, the sun a perfect bright orange-red orb in the sky. The mountains are doing that thing that you usually only see accentuated clearly in watercolour paintings, where they grow lighter and lighter in layers the further you look. The water below is rippling and reflecting the rays back at me; seagulls and other birds are soaring above, diving towards the water for food and then upwards again.

I say a silent thank you to my earlier self for making all the little choices today that has brought me here to this place and moment exactly.

Below, people gather at the water’s edge, people hop on their yachts and boats, people point upwards, everyone standing unified in admiring what’s in front of us.

I’m standing on tiptoe clutching my camera. I have already taken about a dozen photos of the scene, but I’m waiting for the one shot I really want – I want to capture a bird flying across the sky. In my mind I paint the photo, the silhouette of body and wings against the pastel skies.

I stand still, bringing my camera to my eyes and waiting and waiting and waiting for a bird to fly high enough. I know I’ll only have about a split second to really capture it if it happens. I nervously adjust the settings on my camera in the meantime. I quickly also snap a few photos of the line of people to my left. The scene on the bridge is almost as amazing as the scene before us. A million factors have brought a group of strangers together here, but for tonight we’re unified in awe at the sunset. It’s likely that none of us will ever see each other again in our lifetimes.

A flutter of movement catches my peripheral vision. I immediately bring my camera upwards as the seagull does its signature call and circles the sky, upwards. I’m nearly jumping in excitement but I focus and rapidly take about a dozen or so photos in the few seconds, until it disappears out of the frame. I clutch my camera to my chest and quite literally close my eyes and raise my face to the sky.

I say “yes yes yes” to myself, but I’m pretty sure that people can hear me.

I can’t bring myself to leave. Sure, I’ve taken what I wanted, but something is just telling me to stay. I can’t possibly wait for night to fall, I think. But I’m not moving. Cyclists brake to a halt. Other pedestrians stop. It’s like a magnet drawing people towards it.

I turn around to look at the bus flying by, and for a brief second I see everyone in the window seat also looking outwards in awe. I smile to myself and turn back towards the water, the mountains, the skies.

It escaped my notice earlier, but now as I’m taking in every little detail, I see people. A lot of people. All of them lined up perfectly on Burrard bridge further west. It’s almost from a movie scene, the way they’re all tiny and silhouetted perfectly against the sunlight, all of them doing exactly what we are doing on Granville. Just being still, and watching.

I’m really moved, but it surprises me too as I look towards them and tear up until I’m almost just crying there beside strangers. I’m still not really sure exactly what overtook me, but I suddenly feel – and I don’t know how to describe it – humanity? Humanity at its simplest, hundreds of different people with different stories and backgrounds but in this moment none of those differences matter at all.

The only moving I do is left and right on the bridge to try and get different angles of the sunset. The sun sets surprisingly quickly, actually. Like watching a globe being slowly lowered by a string in a middle school play. It sinks below the horizon until it’s a hemisphere, a sliver, and nothing more, leaving only the brilliance of its colours across the sky.

A plane flies across the sky in the distance. I wonder how the skies look like from above. I can only imagine how it must feel to be up there. A bird flies up around the same time and for a moment both plane and bird are the same size silhouetted by orange and pink. I only manage to capture the tiny plane in the distance, but I love it all the same.

It takes me several attempts to even begin to walk off the bridge. I make it about a dozen feet before I stop and kneel to the ground, balancing my camera on one knee, the other knee digging into the concrete. In my head, there are still a few more photos I want to take.

I stay there kneeling and unmoving, probably looking bizarre to the drivers of the cars that fly past me.

After doing another round pacing the bridge, I finally turn off my camera and begin to walk towards the direction of West Broadway. I’m incredibly thirsty, just one uphill walk away from Starbucks iced tea. Around me, the city settles down for the night.

Behind me, I hear the excited chime of a kid with their parent pointing out the way Granville Island lights up in the dark.

Probably my favourite shot of the day

Total photos taken that day: 415

Photos that made the cut: 35