The International Bridge Photographer

The International Bridge PhotographerThe Evening News, October 31, 1962. Reprinted with permission

One Sault resident has made at least a dozen trips across the International Bridge prior to its opening, starting as far back as May [1962].

He is Carl Materna of Osborn Subdivision, bridge photographer.

In his work, he has followed and recorded on film the two-year story of the construction of the $20,000,000 project. Materna started with the groundbreaking and carried through the opening. It has involved his introduction to high-level construction, in weather that went to 28 degrees below zero, travel ranging from boat to airplane – all of which produced about 3,000 view of the project with all black and white photographs duplicated in color.

It also involved a gradual adjustment to height, learning some of the specialized language of this type of construction work. And meeting “a lot of interesting people from all over the country,” as he phrased it.

Bridge Workers 1961-1962 (Photo: Carl Materna)

Photographing the construction of the International Bridge has taken about half his time in the past two years, Materna said. The work has been far different from the studio assignments where he works with his brother, Walter.

Materna, a native of the Sault, has been in photography since 1939. He was a photographer’s mate second class in the Navy during World War II, assigned to “CincPac” (commander in chief, Pacific) as a combat photographer.

His Navy Duty involved flying in dive bombers off carriers like the Hornet and Shangri-La, and aboard the cruiser Quincy, and he ranged in area from the South Pacific to Okinawa, Iwo Jima, the Philippines, and the South China Seas. He was a member of one of the first American groups ashore after the Japanese surrender, on an assignment with photographers and correspondents who “greeted the Marines” when they came ashore.

He returned to the Sault after the war and resumed work in commercial photography which included portraiture, engraving at that time, and general commercial photography outside the studio. This involved some industrial construction photography, but never on the scope of the International Bridge.

Materna took a “few shots” of the aerial lift bridge construction, an assignment handled by his brother, and this was his introduction to bridge construction. But these pictures did not involve much high work such as that which followed on the International Bridge assignment.

Bridge Ground Breaking (Photo: Carl Materna)

He started on the ground floor on this job, with Massman Construction Co. Materna recorded the groundbreaking ceremonies and as the work progressed, he found himself higher and higher in the air. He feels he became acclimated to shooting pictures from the high level of bridge construction and the transition was gradual.

He considers he was cautious and careful when working up high and that he did the job required, but not with the assurance of the veteran bridge workers.  “I feel better in an airplane than up on the top,” he said.

The job involved progress photos for the contractors, publicity photographs, and project work for the International Bridge Authority and the consulting engineers.  The progress pictures were done under the direction of S. R. Ransom, project engineer for Steinman, Boynton, Gronquist & London, the consulting engineers. Maternal shot pictures in all types of weather and it ranged to 28 below zero. One of the problems was freeze-up of shutter mechanism in his camera in severe weather.

On the Steel of International Bridge - 1962 (Photo: Carl Materna)

He used 4 cameras on the project, but relied on his “four by five”, the press-type camera. He duplicated all his black and white work on color slides, and he figures he has shot close to 3,000 views of the bridge construction

The only equipment loss was damage to his big camera one day when he tripped and fell on a loose piece of metal form on the bridge approach, one of the lower sections of the whole project. It was his only injury on the job – skinned knuckles.


He worked off the railroad bridge in the earlier stages of construction, shot some pictures while being transported by boat to the work area, shot aerials from planes, and many afoot in the area between the Michigan approach and the Canadian plaza. Materna figured he crossed the bridge over a dozen times, afoot or by vehicle, prior to the opening of the bridge. His first crossing was about May and involved walking on a lot of plank, deck form, and eight-inch stringers.

He had to learn the language of the bridge construction trade and mentioned “Tremie pour” as an example: this was the expression for an underwater pour of concrete on the International Bridge. He feels the job has been an education of sorts which has left him with a better understanding of the engineering and construction problems involved in a project of this type.

He has found the photography of the International Bridge one of the most memorable assignments he has ever handled… “interesting work”…  “Interesting people”. 

High Steel – Bridge Construction 1962 (Photo: Carl Materna)

International Bridge Administration footnote:  Sadly, long time International Bridge Authority staff member, Carl F. Materna, age 95, of Gaylord and formerly of Sault Ste. Marie, passed away on April 30, 2010 at Aspen Ridge Assisted Living in Gaylord.

2 thoughts on “The International Bridge Photographer

  1. I love looking at these bridges in Michigan ! I’d also love to walk across all the huge ones in the state. There is a lot of history right here in Michigan, and I for one will always love this entire area!

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