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oakland alameda boat "ghost ship" ruins "light painting" "night photography" "art photography" "long exposure photography"

Alleys & Ruins no. 109, The Faithful (2008, Alameda/Oakland, CA 10:30pm)

Alleys & Ruins no. 109, The Faithful (2008, Alameda/Oakland, CA 10:30pm)


As with many of my photographs, there are two stories here: one is the story of getting the shot; the other is the story of the location. In this case, the once glittering cruise ship, The Faithful.

The Faithful has had a remarkable life. It was once an elite yacht-like cruise ship, built in Hamburg, Germany in 1955, and given the name Wappen Von Hamburg. She was then bought and sold a dozen times. In the 60's, she went sailing to the Greek Islands and was renamed the Delos. She became one of the first successful Greek cruise ships and for a time (this is before the cruise ship boom started in the 80's) it was one of the top cruise ships in the world. In 1967 she became the Polar Star, cruising tourists to Alaska. In 1970, she was the Pacific Star and, still an exclusive and elegant cruise ship, worked the exotic South Pacific islands. Her next owner was Xanadu Cruises, and she became the Xanadu in 1972, running prestigious expedition style cruises to Alaska and Mexico.

Her decline came very fast. In the late 1970's she was still a gleaming, yacht-like cruise ship with stylish decor, but during the recession of the early 1980's she fell on hard times and was retired. The cruise ship industry was also rapidly changing, and the city sized cruise ships of today were starting to develop, further leading to the Faithful's decline.

She languished for years until plans were made to convert the ship into a Christian hospital ship. She made her way to Los Angeles harbor and was christened Faithful, her final name. But proper funding never materialized and she sat in the harbor illegally for years without paying rent, while being clandestinely occupied by missionaries until finally being seized. The ship was sold again and more plans for its future fell by the wayside.

In 2005 the Faithful was towed to Alameda near San Francisco for a planned conversion to a luxury yacht. Once again, plans quickly fell through, and once again the ship was illegally moored for years in Alameda's West End. A quote from Alameda development services director Leslie Little said it all: "The boat has a history of being in other places. It got evicted there because it didn't pay rent there either. It has kind of a bad reputation."

The ship suffered plunder and pillage at Alameda and was once again illegally occupied - this time by vagrants and drug addicts looking for shelter. And by this point damage from rain water had caused severe internal corrosion and raised concern that the ship might sink. The Faithful had become completely derelict and was declared a "dead ship" by the Federal District Court of the Northern District in 2007.

I discovered and photographed it in Jan 2008 in a complete state of disrepair, alongside a rotting quay.

It was once again seized, and just one month after I shot it, was towed away to a ship graveyard at a remote unoccupied island near Rio Vista, where it sits today. But apparently the Faithful continues to charm. In 2009, The History Channel was looking for an aged cruise ship for its "Life After People" series. The Faithful's extreme state of disrepair, contrasted with its once epic glory, was perfect and earned it a visit by the crew's cameras.

Today The Faithful is now the Aurora and is far from dead! This exposure lead to an unlikely and very successful push to have it restored!

you can see where it is today in this dedicated Facebook Page
...and here's more history of its crazy journey

* * * * *

When I first see the ship in late 2007, I am stunned. I have never seen a huge ship in such bad condition. It is covered in weeds - far more than in the final picture. Two nights later I am back with Pam to shoot it.

The only way to do this the way I want is to climb on board with lights. And the only way to climb on board is to do a tight rope act on a line mooring the ship. I do the shot and go home to develop the film. My first attempt is a complete lighting failure.

On my second visit, I know what I need to do, but this time camera failure results in nothing being exposed. I freak out, knowing from experience that in photography you need to get the shot now, because tomorrow everything might change.

I go back again for my third attempt. By this time I've become a pro at prepping the ship. Arriving at low tide, I pull Faithful (very slowly) to line up just right with Oakland in the background, I wrap this rope around twice, give that line some slack, get my lights ready, and walk on the ship.

I'm about to step on the boat when I see car lights approaching. We are in a secluded and very dark place, so I stay with Pam until this possible danger has passed. As the car nears, red and blue lights start flashing - it's a cop. He tells us this is private property and that we need to leave. I'm stunned, and beg him to give me just 10 minutes to get this shot but he is curt and explains that we had better leave now. We go home - my third attempt at capturing the Faithful has failed.

I then do what I've never done before: I decide to get permission to shoot at a location. Finding the owners of Faithful proves impossible but after being passed off to a dozen people, I manage to get permission from the land owner, Fleet Industrial. Their one stipulation is that I cannot board the boat. There is no shot if I can't board and so naturally I agree and I tell them, "Don't worry, I don't need to board the boat."

I return to Faithful with my friend Kathy, and am horrified. Someone has removed most of the weeds!! On the upside, I can now see the old wood floor which looks great too. I pull the boat to line it up right, loosen one rope, tighten another, and do my tight rope act once again. On board I am tense - if the cop returns and catches me on the ship, I'm in trouble. But I do my lighting and all works out flawlessly. And a month later, Faithful is towed away.




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