Your commute…only prettier

Bainbridge ferry commuter Michael Diehl doesn’t take his cross Sound commute for granted.

With his camera at the ready, Diehl has focused his attention on what makes the ferry ride to and from Seattle a world-class visual experience. Sunsets rippling on waves, fog-shrouded skyscrapers, glimmering mountains.

Diehl has compiled his best shots into Crossings,” a photo-rich book focused entirely on the Bainbridge-Seattle run.

What Diehl has captured is the what many ferry commuters forget to appreciate. I know I did when I was a ferry commuter. Too often the ride is a taken up by naps, newspaper reading (although that is a very, very worthwhile thing to do), eating, napping, coffee drinking, napping and laptop tapping. We get plenty of this at work and at home. Lost is an opportunity to become familiar with the landscape, getting to know the mountain peaks and the swaths of land that many can identify on a map, but not when it’s right before our eyes.

For more about “Crossings,” read Barbara McMichael’s review and see a sample page below.

Bookmonger: Crossings Celebrates Our Affair with Ferries
By Barbara McMichael

Born and raised locally, I have had a lifelong fondness for ferries, and I have always regarded with suspicion those ferry commuters who seem to be blasé about their daily transits across Puget Sound.

To have those mountains! Those shorelines! The wind in your face! The ever-changing scene in the shipping lanes! The possibility of an orca sighting!

Why some people prefer to huddle inside and do a crossword puzzle or nap is entirely beyond me.
Crossings: On the Ferries of Puget Sound.

Fortunately, Michael Diehl is not one of those ho-hum types. A regular commuter on the Bainbridge Island-Seattle run, Diehl carries his camera with him, and the images he’s captured over the last few years first made their appearance as an Internet posting.

Now Diehl has compiled a larger selection of more than 375 color photographs into a book called “Crossings: On the Ferries of Puget Sound.” Available in both softbound and hardcover versions, the book does not come cheap, but careful attention was paid to production values, and that counts for something.

It’s hard to take a bad photograph from the deck of a ferryboat with such great subject matter at hand. Diehl includes typically terrific shots of downtown Seattle gleaming in the morning light, and ferries passing by one another on the Sound, and the Cascades and the Olympics in varying moods and, of course, Mt. Rainier. Diehl comments that some people call the Mountain “the Big Mountain.” Have you ever heard anybody say that? I haven’t.

One of my favorite images is a two-page spread of downtown Seattle observed from the middle of Elliott Bay. It looks to be monochromatic — one of those notorious gray-weather days the Puget Sound region is famous for — except for the container ship in the foreground that has just crossed in front of the ferry. The containers it is carrying, stacked five high, present a checkerboard of muted color.

Diehl argues that every transit of the Sound aboard a ferry is unique — water, wind, and weather conditions all change, time of day and time of year have a bearing as well. While that is true, some of the images still seemed redundant.

The photos of passengers seemed to be dutiful chronicle rather than insightful portraiture. I was sorry, too, that Diehl didn’t do much to capture the details of the tasks performed by ferry workers, whose movements sometimes look choreographed.

Another criticism is that “Crossings” is pretty much limited to the Bainbridge/Seattle run. While that run is undeniably photogenic, Diehl would have been able to inject more personality of place into the book if he had included other routes.

The book contains interesting factual tidbits about our region, ferryboats, and the Washington State Ferry system. But as for the occasional written reflections, I’d advise Diehl to stick with the visuals. A picture is worth a thousand words.

There is, however, a wonderful concrete poem that is given an unassuming spot mid-book. It really deserves to be placed upfront, where it can’t be missed.