Photographing Graffiti in The Tunnel   

Lighting the tunnel

Creek Tunnel



Creek tunnel North

There is a little creek that flows into Kamloops, British Columbia via a small waterfall. Petersen Creek is diverted underground for it’s journey through the city until it circulates out and spills into the South Thompson River.

There are several places along its cement banked route where Petersen Creek’s shallow flow is visible to passers-by, but it quickly runs out of sight again when it reaches a city street and is diverted underground.

One would think there isn’t much interest to anyone other than the City Works employees who make sure it isn’t plugged up when there is a larger than normal volume of water coming down from the canyon. However, at the final concrete watercourse everything changes to several block-long tunnels that are 10-12 feet high and just as wide that have gained attention from very creative graffiti artists and, of course, locals that enjoy capturing that creativity with their cameras.

It was there that I climbed down into after parking my car on the street beside the drainage tunnel entrance. I had met a resident photo enthusiast named Shannon who has been smitten with all the graffiti she was seeing on backstreet walls and boxcars that had wandered into the tunnel and she realized that street artists were painting on the walls.

I joined Shannon, and her partner Max, a few weeks ago in the dim tunnels. They and most locals were relying on their camera’s ISO ability, but after ten or fifteen feet the light was gone.

I hadn’t been in those tunnels since I first came to Kamloops back in 1974. At that time I tried going in a bit, but the water was much higher then and other than a few crude messages spray painted at the opening there wasn’t really a reason to slosh into the dark tunnel. However, this time I decided it would be fun to light up more than just one or two paintings.

I returned with four stands with a flash on each and positioned them to cross light the tunnel. Then it was easy to begin by metering the light coming in from the road and balancing the light from each flash to match that.

When I got home it was simple to clone out each flash and use Photoshop’s burn and dodge tool to smooth out the areas where the flash had outlined its light on the floor or where ever there was a different brightness.

I chose to illuminate the street artist’s work as a whole instead of just documenting one section at a time. I know when we see what someone has left on a wall or on a train’s boxcar as it passes by, that we tend to isolate one piece of graffiti art, but as I stepped into the dark winding drainage tunnel I felt more than just a cold breeze and saw more than one bright statement. To me everything – the dark winding tunnel, and the graffiti – was all part of the whole, or one ongoing work of art. And I wanted to photograph that combination of a cold, colourful, wet, chaotic, winding tunnel displaying the work of many artists.









4 responses to “Photographing Graffiti in The Tunnel   

  1. Very nice John I didn’t know there was graffiti in those tunnels I used to go through them when I was younger. It’s amazing what the right light can bring out.


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