Friday, June 21, 2013
Like "Skylines" wherever I travel I try to photograph the uneasy relationship of urban environments with the bodies of water near them: oceans, lakes, waterfalls, etc. Many major metropolises are situated on famous rivers. Areas, regions, countries, continents are defined by the rivers that run through them. Whole civilizations exist because they developed on a river. Many have flourish, but some have perished. Agriculture, industry, transportation and technology have relied on their vagaries. Seasons and epochs have been measured against their ebb and flow. Art and romance and song feature them significantly. They are the arteries of our planet.
Each river I have visited is famous long before I arrived. Songs have been sung, myths have grown. Each has contributed in the history and growth of its region in such a way that the two are often synonymous.
The river is everywhere.
A river is alive. Day and night it flows. Every moment it grows and every moment it is gone.
--Manuel Bandeira, Life is a River
These are some of the most notable from my extensive collection:
2340 miles (3766 kilometers)
The "Muddy Mississippi", "Ol' Man River", "Proud Mary" is the centerpiece of the second largest watershed in the world. It has tributaries from 33 US states and 2 Canadian provinces. In excess of 175 million tons of freight are shipped on it yearly. I have photographed it since the early days of my career.
The Mississippi River will always have its own way; no engineering skill can persuade it to do
My connotations of the Mississippi are forever entangled with Tom Sawyer and Mark Twain. My mother read me those books when I was a child. Eventually, I found myself aboard a riverboat with oil refineries and factories swiftly floating by. Disconnected from land, captive of the man-made vessel, adrift, I conjured the Manifest Destiny that pushed America from the right shore to the left. I moved across it in hours; the original explorers took decades.
1900 miles (3058 kilometers)
The Rio Grande flows from southern Rocky Mountains to the Gulf of Mexico and serves as a natural border between Texas and Mexico. Crossing the river was the escape route used by Texas slaves seeking freedom. The major illicit traffic now goes in the opposite direction.
Hopping the fence or wading the Rio Grande River isn't part of America's immigration process.
My last encounter with the Rio Grande was right on the border of USA/Mexico. What is pictured as a raging, powerful tributary is merely an emaciated, debris-filled trickle by the time it crosses the frontier. Politics, water usage, ecology and greed reduce its volume before it gets to our neighbor to the south. We export pollution and disease on this historical resource.
4132 miles (6650 kilometers)
Egypt is the Gift of the Nile. It is a major topic of legends and religious affiliations. Nearly all Egyptians live within a few miles of its banks. It is the longest river in the world and is visible from space. One of its most unique properties is that it flows south to north. And although typically connected to Egypt, it travels through ten countries.
Denial ain't just a river in Egypt
I learned about the Nile as early as fourth grade. Teachers taught about the dawn of civilization on its banks. Biblical references, novels and textbooks abounded with stories. Then I flew from Cairo to Aswan tracing the course over the river. From 20 thousand feet there was desert as far as the eye could see in both directions. The only vegetation was maybe ten miles on either bank of the Nile. Very bizarre. It was the pulse of ancient times laid out in verdant green just below me. On water level, I was fascinated by the feluccas sailing by. They were a throwback to long lost traditions.
This river flows through my adopted city of Boston. The two are the same. A crown jewel of New England, Brandeis, Harvard, Boston University and MIT are all located along the Charles. It is named after King Charles I of England. Since 1928, a boat can row under a train that is passing under a car that is driving below an airplane at the Boston University Bridge on the Charles.
Down by the banks of the river Charles
That's where you'll find me
Along with lovers, muggers and thieves
Over the years I have run along the banks of the River Charles, photographed on its shores, floated on its waters and fallen in love there. I have taken advantage of the scenic view summer, fall, winter and spring. I have made pictures of Fourth of July celebrations, concerts and races. I guess I have made more money from the Charles than any other body of water in the world.
215 miles (346 kilometers)
London, from ancient times, built up around the Thames. It was the highway for transporting people and goods. It is the heart of England and English history. Shakespeare refers to it often. It is the home of zero meridian of longitude.
TWENTY bridges from Tower to Kew-
Wanted to know what the River knew,
Twenty Bridges or twenty-two,
For they were young, and the Thames was old
And this is the tale that River told:
My first sighting of the river of Shakespeare was a summer away from college. I was beyond awestruck by its legend. Rivers were just curiosities and obstacles before that, but now this British icon recited my literature.
485 miles (780 kilometers)
Although a major commercial waterway in France, it is the country's second longest river. It flows through Paris to the English Channel. It is often featured in famous paintings of the city. It occupies a spot on UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites in Europe. In 1431, Joan of Arc was burned at the stake and her ashes were thrown into the Seine.
So quietly flows the Seine that one hardly notices its presence. It is always there, quiet and
unobtrusive, like a great artery running through the human body.
For centuries, poets, philosophers, artists and writers have been drawn to the Seine. So I took a boat across the Atlantic to see for myself. The Seine mirrors Paris like no other river in the world reflects its surrounding town. I met hippies, dope dealers and soldiers of fortune under its bridges. Sang corny songs and met girls on the shores. Every time I go to Paris I watch the Bateau-Mouche sail by, along with the other barges and houseboats. It's as if I'd never left. Both the sun and moon shine on it differently than anywhere else on earth.
1628 miles (2620 kilometers)
Having drawn countless millions to her banks since the dawn of history, the Ganges supports one of the highest densities of humans. It is the river of India. Its story is the rise and fall of empires and the adventures of man. Ranked amongst the five most polluted rivers in the world, it is believed to have healing properties and can cure the deadliest of diseases. Situated on its banks, Varanasi is the holiest city in Hinduism and life is not complete without a bath, at least once, in its waters.
I am convinced that everything has come down to us from the banks of the Ganga-astronomy,
astrology, spiritualism, etc. It is very important to note that some 2500 years ago at the least
Pythagoras went from Samos to the Ganga to learn geometry.
--Francis M Voltaire
I waited years to have an opportunity to travel to India. And my biggest desire was to reach the Ganges. All of my senses were overwhelmed: sight, smell, hearing, taste, etc. Someone impeached, "What didn't you like about the Ganges?" I thought about all the poverty, pollution, overcrowding, etc. and I answered immediately, "Nothing."
405 miles (652 kilometers)
This is the river that graces the capital of the USA. I was born and raised near the Potomac.
If one morning I walked on the top of the water across the Potomac River, the headline that
afternoon would read: 'President Can't Swim.'
--Lyndon B Johnson
I grew up near the Potomac. Some of the most iconic American monuments are reflected in its waters. I rode my bicycle around the river and basin when that was my only transportation. I return to photograph it periodically. When he was still alive, my father would indulge me and park in downtown Washington, D.C. so I could get close to all the historical landmarks. I been arrested taking pictures of its sites, but that is another story for another time.
1795 miles (2888 kilometers)
The Danube passes through four Central and Eastern European capitals before emptying into the Black Sea. It was the long-standing, northernmost border of the Roman Empire forming a boundary between it and the barbarian invaders of Central Asia. It is also one of the three most important waterways of Europe, and its longest. It rises in the Black Forest and empties into the Black Sea.
--Johann Strauss II, referring to The Blue Danube Waltz
My client brought me over to Vienna, Austria to photograph for his bank. I got my first glimpses of the Danube on that job. I discovered it is called Donau in German, as was the bank. I also experienced the river in Hungary. My feelings were entirely from the Strauss waltz, all wrapped up in romantic connotations. My high school history books mentioned the great Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires, but that confused me. Laying eyes on the water made it all clear.
46 miles (74 kilometers)
The Neva flows through northeastern Russia, through Saint Petersburg and into the Gulf of Finland. It is intended to be the "main street of the city" helping to earn the title "Venice of the North".
I spent many White Nights, long after midnight, on this river. We were so far north it never got dark at that time of year. Locals and tourists were reveling into the wee hours of the morning. Buskers, musicians, dance troupes and pickpockets comingled. In the middle of the night, everyone watched the famous bridges rise at regulated times cutting off the two sides of the town so barge traffic could flow smoothly.
19 miles (31 kilometers)
Amstel is old Dutch for "area abounding with water" and it runs through the city of Amsterdam. It gives the city is character with all the canals and houseboats. It has been a popular site for breweries.
Venice is one of the most unique and important tourist destinations in the world due to the city being one of the world's greatest and most beautiful places for art. The waterway was built around 118 islands, formed by linking more than 200 canals and building over 400 bridges. The largest canal, the Grand Canal, is slightly more than 2 miles (3 kilometers) long.