After giving a visitor a tour of the ongoing construction of A Gathering Place for Tulsa last week, Shane Bevel said he wanted to go back to the playground. What a sweet idea from this bearded, brawny man, especially given that the park and the playground won’t open until 2018.
And that was the point. Bevel has shot and archived between 4,000 and 5,000 photos documenting the construction of Phase 1 of the park — captured every inch of it — and yet on this day he was looking beyond the lense of his camera to the day when the park would be completed.
He couldn’t help himself.
“You can see, right? It’s starting to look like a playground,” Bevel said, as he stood amid slabs of sandstone and giant boulders at Chapman Foundation Adventure Playground on the eastern edge of the park. “It’s just really cool to think about kids being here, people being here. This is the rock they’re going to play on. This is the pathway they’re going to run down. … Someday, I’ll sit out here and watch my kids play (here). That’s pretty amazing.”
Indeed. Lots and lots of children and just as many adults are expected to walk the grounds of A Gathering Place for Tulsa once it opens, but will they understand how it got there? How a wealthy benefactor turned a grand idea into a grand park? How, day after day, year after year, carpenters and concrete pourers and electricians and engineers and plumbers and pavers and architects and arborists came together to build it?
They will if they look at Shane Bevel’s photos.
“This is a 100-year project, so in 100 years this story needs to be captured and memorialized, and that is what Shane is helping us do,” said Jeff Stava, who is overseeing construction of the park for the George Kaiser Family Foundation.
Working The Beat
Bevel, 40, was born in Texas and worked in newspapers in Texas, Louisiana, Virginia and Oklahoma before starting his commercial and editorial photography business, Shane Bevel Photography, in 2009. He sees his work at A Gathering Place as photojournalism. But rather than capturing the park’s story for a newspaper, he’s doing it for the foundation building the park.
“It’s just like working a beat for a newspaper,” Bevel said. “It’s the same thing. It just all happens within 100 acres.”
He works it like a reporter’s beat. He talks to the people on the ground, doing the work. He has their phone numbers. He calls them. They talk.
“Within reason, within reason,” Bevel said, repeating himself for emphasis, “I kind of have a little bit of unfettered access.”
These days he’s visiting the park at least once a week and typically spends a half a day there. It depends on what’s going on. Sometimes, he knows exactly what he’s going to shoot. More often than not, he just drives around, checking things out. Then he stops the truck and gets out.
“Much like (author) Edward Abbey said, ‘You’ve got to get out of the goddamned contraption and walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the … cactus. When traces of blood begin to mark your trail you’ll see something, maybe,’” Bevel said.
Bevel’s task last week was to get pictures of the concrete facade being placed on the east side of the maintenance building. Few people will ever get to see the building, which is being built beneath the park, thus the importance of capturing images of it.
“That’s a big deal,” Bevel said. “Anytime they move big pieces in (to the park), we try to be there.”
Like when crews began moving the 57,000-pound concrete arches for the land bridges from the manufacturer in Broken Arrow to the park site along Riverside Drive. Bevel hooked a Go-Pro camera to one of the arches to record the trip.
“It took a long time to truck that thing all the way across town and then back onto the park, and then picking it up with a crane and setting it down,” Bevel said.
Bevel says he has two jobs: to capture the day-to-day happenings at the park for immediate use on social media and the park’s web site, agatheringplacefortulsa, and to preserve a more thorough, complex and intimate history of how the park came to be.
That means he shoots more than cranes in the sky and bulldozers in the dirt. He takes pictures of the men and women operating the cranes and bulldozers, and of the lone laborer, on his knees, finishing the concrete floor of the maintenance building.
He shoots meetings, too. They could be construction meetings led by Stava, or meetings with donors, or those occasions when the park’s publicity-shy billionaire benefactor, George Kaiser, stops by.
“It’s important to have these folks in,” Bevel said. “At the 25-year anniversary (of the park), you have to have a picture of Mr. Kaiser, in a meeting, looking at plans, or doing something, right?”
What does Bevel use to shoot his pictures? Usually, a Canon EOS-1DX.
“I like it for jobs like this because they are sealed pretty well,” he said. “They handle the dust and moisture out here pretty well.
Bevel is also charged with operating the park’s nine time-lapse cameras. They’re spread out all over the park and typically run throughout the work day, snapping photos every six minutes, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year.
Bevel estimates the cameras have captured nearly half a million images, or about four-and-a-half hours of time-lapse video.
Some of the video has been used for social media, but its long-term use has yet to be determined, Bevel said.
“Whether they make it into a promotional video when the park opens or they decide to make a short documentary, I don’t know what the final usage of it is going to be,” he said. “The goal right now is just to make sure we have it, because you can’t go back and wish it into existence.”
Tulsa’s Empire State Building
Bevel had done work for GKFF before construction of A Gathering Place for Tulsa was announced, so when it came time to make his pitch to shoot the years-long building process, Bevel focused less on his own photographs and more on the photos that inspired him to want to be part of the project in the first place.
“A lot of what I sent them was not my work at all, but historic images from the construction of the Hoover Dam, the construction of the Empire State Building, the construction of the (Gateway) Arch in St. Louis, things like that,” Bevel said. “Because this project is on that level. I mean, this is truly Tulsa’s Empire State Building, or Tulsa’s Arch.
“So the idea in bidding it that way was to get them to see images that came out of that that were iconic images, that had they waited until the project was done to start thinking about it, then those images never would have been made.”
That’s why Bevel took pictures of the maintenance building and the concrete arches of the land bridges before they were buried. It’s also why there was a time when he would get frustrated by people who didn’t quite understand the magnitude of the project.
He knows some people never will, and he’s come to accept that.
“Some days it feels like tilting at windmills to try to make people comprehend a project that, even though I’m out here every week, sometimes I don’t comprehend,” Bevel said.
That may explain why Bevel, who with his wife, Frances, has a son Graham, 3, and a daughter, Ruby, 7 months, always seems to take a moment to view the park through a child’s eyes. Especially now that the playground and other major elements of the park are beginning to pop out of the ground.
“There are times when I am walking through those areas, and it’s funny thinking about it walking through a construction zone, but it can get a little emotional walking through there and seeing places that my kids are going to play on,” Bevel said.
About A Gathering Place for Tulsa
Phase 1 A Gathering Place is scheduled to be completed at the end of 2017. No opening date has been announced.
The 66.5-acre project will stretch from approximately the 2700 block of Riverside Drive to 31st Street on the east side of the street and the 2700 block to 34th Street along the west side of Riverside Drive.
The $400 million park is being built by the George Kaiser Family Foundation with financial assistance from private and corporate donors. The Kaiser Foundation is contributing $200 million to the park, including $50 million for land.
A $100 million maintenance endowment is included in the price of the park. Another $65 million in public infrastructure is being done in and around the park.