Almost five years ago, I was wandering around Town Square Park late in the winter evening. I had recently left Cyrano’s Off-Center Playhouse, having taken some production stills of their latest show that was getting ready to premiere. I saw some of the lit ice sculptures in the park and starting taking pictures of the ice and an ice skater who was working her way around the ice. Someone approached me and asked, “Are you a professional?” I said yes and handed the inquiring woman my business card. As it turned out, the woman, Cheri Spink, worked for the Anchorage Downtown Partnership. They were looking for someone to photograph the ice sculptures being created as part of the annual “Crystal Gallery of Ice.”
After the success of that venture, I started photographing the major events the Partnership hosts each year: New Year’s Eve “Fire and Ice,” the “Heart of Anchorage” Awards, summer concerts in the park, and so on. While the Anchorage Downtown Partnership has events going on all year long, it’s winter presence in the downtown area has really had the strongest impact, I think. Most locals are pretty good at finding ways to entertain themselves in the summer months. Winter can be a little more challenging.
There are two highlights of the winter for the Partnership. The first is the New Year’s Eve “Fire and Ice” celebration, which is organized with help from the IBEW and NECA. The evening starts at around 5:00 p.m., with organized games for children and families, followed sometimes by ice skating presentations on the main park ice rink. All around throughout the evening, entertainers (mostly involving flames of some sort), food vendors, and musicians provide extra-curricular activities to what is going on in the main heart of the park, usually with the assistance of an emcee.
The other event is the “Crystal Gallery of Ice,” an ice sculpture gallery created each year in the park. Each block of ice is sponsored by a local business, and each year’s gallery follows a theme. The artists are given about a week to finish their pieces. Each sculpture is judged by a variety of factors, including creativity, adherence to the theme, ability to be formed from one block of ice, and so on.
Over the years of photographing these events for the Downtown Partnership, my cameras have been subjected to all kinds of conditions. One year, the ice started to melt almost as soon as the sculptures were completed because we got one of our forty-degree snaps. Last year, for New Year’s Eve, it was about ten degrees below zero. But the advent of, and improvements to, digital photography has made photographing such things such a treat. The white balance for digital cameras does a great job at capturing the nighttime artificial light, as opposed to film rated for daylight. I have the creative flexibility of trying different subjects and techniques, and being able to check the results out in the field.
But most of all that happenstance rendezvous almost five years ago has given me the opportunity to capture all sorts of neat moments, wonderful colors, amazing entertainment, and essentially capture the essence of downtown Anchorage in the wintertime. And through building that relationship and devleloping my skills as a photographer over the years, it also gave me the opportunity to take photos of a Hawai’ian flame artist in preparation for this year’s New Year’s Eve party, where we will be celebrating Hawai’i's 50th anniversary as a state. And that photo, comined with another photo I took at the downtown celebration of Alaska’s 50th anniversary earlier this year, will grace the cover of the newest issue of “Good Deal” magazine. It’s not exactly “Outdoor Photographer,” but with a circulation of 88,000, it will reach a lot of homes. When you are trying to get your name out there as a photographer, every bit helps.
In celebration of this winter Partnership, here are some photos from winter downtown events over the years.