Places of Interest – Travel Photography

Painted Ladies – San FranciscoPAINTED LADIES - SAN FRANCISCO© Michael Chua Photography
Circa 1983 – Painted Ladies (San Francisco, USA)
This is one of the tourist attractions in San Francisco, USA, affectionately called Painted Ladies. It’s a row of Victorian and Edwardian style houses along Steiner Street, across Alamo Square Park. This row of houses has been photographed possibly thousands of times over the years by tourists and locals alike.

When I stood there in 1983, I asked myself, “What can I do different? I cannot deviate too much otherwise viewers will not be able to identify the location”. I was getting a bit concerned because I didn’t have that much time. My assignment from Singapore Airlines was to shoot Los Angles and San Francisco in two weeks.

Having scouted the place during the day, I came to the conclusion that the shot will look mediocre at best. I decided to risk it all by doing a dusk shot. On the day of the shoot, I set up my Olympus OM-3 on a tripod and frame the shot with a 100mm f/2.0 Zuiko lens. Stopped down the aperture to f/8 and set the shutter speed to B. As the sun set, the downtown lights came on in the distance. That’s the magical moment I was waiting for. I shot as many frames as possible, probably about ten. They were all on slow shutter speeds, ranging from 4~8sec. Film was Kodak EPR 64.

When the transparencies came back, I was elated. It was one of the best shots in the assignment. To give an indication of how difficult the shot was, just compare it to the photographs below. That’s how the houses look like to the naked eye.


Meeting Harry Callahan

Shooting the Painted Ladies brings back fond memories. While I was scouting the location during the day, the whole Alamo Square park was sealed off. There were a couple of policemen with their motorbikes standing around. I thought maybe there’s some domestic violence going on or something.

As I took a closer look, no, they were shooting a movie. The area they sealed off was in the camera view. They didn’t want anyone loitering around in the background when they start filming. I waited a while to see what show it was. As luck would have it, I saw the camera crew filming Clint Eastwood coming out of one of the houses. I said to myself, “Oh, it’s the latest Dirty Harry movie”.

It would have been hilarious if I walked up to him and said “Make my day”. I can well imagine his response. He’ll look at me with those deadly eyes, then screamed “Who the hell is this Chinaman. That’s my line. ”


The Big LobsterBIG LOBSTER - AUSTRALIA© Michael Chua Photography
Circa 1983 – The Big Lobster (Kingston, Australia)

I left Adelaide after a week shooting and was driving to Melbourne along the scenic coastal route when I chanced upon an eerie sight. In the distance was a lobster. I thought to myself, “That’s a bit strange. An amusement park out in the middle of nowhere?”.

As I drove closer, I was stunned by this magnificent structure. It was a huge. The lobster was standing at least 30 feet tall. Add in the antenna and it was possibly 50 feet.

I stopped, whipped out my Olympus OM-4 and started shooting with my 21mm f/3.5 Zuiko lens. I remember it was about 2pm. The sun was intensely bright, sky was blue with no clouds. As I was shooting, a young girl ran across my frame. I caught her just a fraction of a second too late. It would have been fabulous if I had fired my camera earlier. Then her head would not be touching the sign post. Nonetheless, it’s still a good shot for Singapore Airlines.

After shooting, I went into the restaurant to ask about the place. Apparently, they specialized in lobsters because the lobster migration route was right there out at sea. I ordered a lobster cocktail and I was simply bowled over. It was fresh, juicy, delicious and not costly.

It seems that 35 years later (2019), this restaurant has fallen on hard times. It’s a pity if Larry the lobster is destroyed. The attention to detail is astonishing. From what I read, it was manufactured to scale. You don’t see this quality of craftsmanship often. More so, when it was privately funded. Somebody or the government should preserve the lobster for historical and cultural reasons. Once gone, a part of history will be lost forever. It’s truly a one of a kind.