1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake

The 7.1 magnitude Loma Prieta earthquake happened in my hometown of Santa Cruz, California on October 17, 1989 (my birthday). I was a child at the time and found the whole ordeal to be quite scary. Recently I realized that I’ve never looked at news images of the earthquake’s destruction. I’m not exactly sure why but it’s probably one of two things: 1) We didn’t see much news coverage of the aftermath due to the fact that our power was out for two weeks after the earthquake 2) My parents knew that the earthquake scared me and they didn’t want to add to my fear.

Twenty-two years later my curiosity got the best of me. I decided to search for these images and then write a journal entry based on my impressions of them. I judged the photos on everything we’ve learned thus far in class but I kept in mind that many of these photos were taken on the fly with the photojournalists simply trying to capture what they saw. Therefore, I will not be strictly judging these photos on their composition and look.


1) This is a photo of a member of the California Highway Patrol checking out the Bay Bridge. It collapsed onto itself during the earthquake, trapping people and crushing their cars. This is one of those photos that doesn’t look real, instead it looks like the set of a Hollywood action movie. I think this is due to the fact that this photo is lacking context. Some information is present in this photograph (you obviously see the Highway Patrol and the crushed cars) but it’s hard to place without having other images or attaching words to it in the form of captions. It definitely represents historical context with what happened at the Bay Bridge but location could have been represented better if San Francisco’s cityscape was present in the background. As is, it looks like any bridge or stretch of freeway.

2) This is the cover of the San Francisco Chronicle the morning after the earthquake. This isn’t the best representation of a two-picture package. The dominant photograph is fine. It adequately shows the destruction in San Francisco with buildings, people and smoke from a fire, all visible. The second photo doesn’t add anything to this front page. It’s simply a second picture of destruction. I think a better second photo would have been one showing a view of humanity. That’s not present here because no individual’s face is visible, the audience doesn’t connect to anything and we are not seeing how people are coping with the quakes aftermath. The layout of this front page is nice. The dominant picture is run appropriately large, the two photos are different shapes, there is a good balance of white space and text and the captions are in appropriate places.


3) This is a photograph of a couple standing in front of their house in the mountains above my hometown of Santa Cruz. The earthquake made this crack. At the time these people lived quite close to the fault line. This picture is foreign to me in a weird way. This photographer captured something shocking (the crack in the earth) in a mundane way (people calmly posing by it). I definitely remember the earthquake but this photo is hard for me to look at because it shows how truly serious the destruction was. The composition of this image is nice. The radii of the crack vanishing out towards the horizon are visually stimulating. The black pit inside the crack adds some visual weight to the image and the scale of big versus little is present with the couple’s size juxtaposed against the size of the crack. It actually helps the audience perceive the true size of this hole in the earth.


4) This is an aerial shot of the Bay Bridge in  its collapsed state. This photograph is mainly informational. The portion of the collapsed bridge, a crane and emergency vehicles are all visible. The “where” part of the 5 Ws is not fulfilled here. Like previously stated, this could be any bridge, in any city. This picture would not stand on its own. It would need to be apart of a piece with text in order for it to make sense. I actually think that this photo with the previous photo of the Bay Bridge would make for a nice use of the 3rd Effect. I think that having them presented side by side would enhance interpretation of what happened when the bridge fell.


5) In this photo, San Francisco Giants star player Will Clark is leading his younger brother away from Candlestick Park. The Oakland A’s and the San Francisco Giants were playing a World Series game in San Francisco the night of the earthquake. The first thing I think of when I see this picture is my brother Ethan. He is a huge Giants fan and Will Clark was his childhood idol. This photograph has huge historical significance because the baseball game was just about to start when the earthquake hit and it was the first time an earthquake was broadcast on national television. The game was cancelled and the World Series resumed 10 days later. Decisive moment is present in this photograph because the photographer was most likely at the game to capture images of the World Series but had to change gears once this natural disaster happened. Also, it’s rare to capture an athlete suited up for a game but not doing anything athletic. Instead this photo shows an athlete attempting to protect his family after a natural disaster.


6) This is a photograph of a family getting water in Watsonville, California. This is symbolic to me of what the days and weeks after the earthquake were like. Water coming out of the faucets was not safe to drink and there was no way to purify it, so many families (mine included) went to distribution centers to get water for drinking and cooking. I would say “X-Factor” is very strong for me with this photograph because it is bringing back memories of waiting for everything to go back to normal. My own experiences definitely help me bring unique feelings to this picture. An individual who didn’t live through this earthquake would not have the same reaction.


7) Here is a family in a back yard in Watsonville listening to a radio. This is another photo where my own personal “X-Factor” is quite strong. This looks like the scene I remember every single family in our neighborhood acting out. There was no power therefore there was no point in staying inside your house at night because you couldn’t see anything. They have a fire going but it is most likely being used for light. I distinctly remember that day being unseasonably hot for October; it is what we now know as “earthquake weather.” I think this is a simple news photo. It’s not great because the audience is looking at people listening to a radio, which isn’t usually that interesting but it’s average.


8) The downtown area of Santa Cruz was essentially leveled in the earthquake. This is a photograph of one of the buildings that was eventually demolished and replaced with a different store. The historical context of this photograph is important because it shows Santa Cruz’s original downtown, which had an older architectural style and was filled with Victorian style houses and brick buildings. Twenty-two years later the downtown area is finally rebuilt but in a totally different style (modern architecture with lots of chrome and glass). If I were editing a piece for the newspaper, I would include this picture in a photo essay but not a picture story because it would fit in a simple collection of images. I wouldn’t include it as the dominant photo, or even the secondary but I would include it as a smaller image if I had space for four to six pictures in a spread. It would also work in a picture pair if the goal was to show the before and after of Santa Cruz’s downtown area.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s