Most weekdays, not long after the workers arrive at the “Third Crossing” construction site, Mike Hill and Paul Wash are likely setting up their camera equipment on a rocky outcrop a few hundred metres away.
While the workers are busy building the new bridge, Wash and Hill are busy chronicling the progress of that work, snapping photos and shooting drone footage and then posting the increasingly popular progress reports on social media.
Unlike the workers, they aren’t being paid for their time, but their efforts are appreciated, said Mark Van Buren, who is overseeing the Third Crossing project for the city.
“We have some absolutely fantastic community members who have dedicated themselves to chronicling the work,” Van Buren said of Hill and Wash, noting that the pair always get the facts right. “They’ve produced some excellent videos and posted them on a Facebook site.”
“It’s a pastime,” said Hill, who posts his videos on YouTube under the handle “Aerosnapper,” “but it’s a productive pastime.”
Hill, for one, said he has never been particularly interested in construction “but, like every little boy, I’ve been fascinated by excavators, trains, all those things.” Now, he said, he finds large-scale construction “riveting.”
While he may have not been interested in construction before his current work, Hill, a licensed pilot, has always been interested in photography, particularly aviation photography, and creating videos with a drone would seem a natural fit.
Before he started shooting and narrating his videos of the Third Crossing, “Aerosnapper” had more fingers than subscribers to his YouTube channel. Now the self-taught videographer has more than 370.
“I won’t make any secret of the fact that it was a rather selfish desire in the first place to hone my own drone skills and video production skills, so that was the start, that was the genesis,” Hill said when asked why he first took an interest in the project.
“And then, as it became clear that people appreciated seeing it and understanding better how the project comes together, then that became a motivator in itself. That’s probably the greater motivator now. I dare not produce less than weekly updates now because people will get in touch with me and say, ‘Hey, where’s this week’s update?’ ”
By contrast, Wash has always been interested in construction, and even started his own photography business that specializes in large-scale projects, like the wind turbines on Wolfe Island and the “Big Digs” on Princess Street.
Wash, too, considers chronicling the bridge work a pastime and joked that it “keeps me out of the bingo halls.”
“I’ll be 70 shortly, I’m supposed to be retired, and I need to fill the days in, the days when I’m not working on my contract stuff,” Wash said from his home in Railton. “So I ended up going down and just shooting.”
It was one of those days at the construction site, at the beginning of February, that he first met Hill.
As Wash descended a snowpile from which he was shooting, Hill approached him.
“This guy came over to me and asked, ‘Are you Paul Wash?’ And I’m like, ‘Uh oh. What did I do?’ ” he recalled. A cup of tea later, they had discovered they had a lot in common in addition to being around the same age and “we just hit it off.”
So they decided to combine their efforts.
“This is a very historic event in the City of Kingston,” Wash said. “And it deserved to be photographically documented, and we thought, ‘Who better than the two of us?’ ”
Wash feels Hill is a marvel at manoeuvring the drone.
“I can’t say enough about Mike’s skill as a videographer and a drone pilot,” he said.
Hill, meanwhile, feels Wash’s background in construction often comes in handy.
“He has a very good insight into what’s happening and when,” Hill, who served for 34 years in the British army before retiring to Kingston in 2005, said of Wash. “It’s kind of like watching a baseball game with someone who understands the game.”
The pair developed a rapport with some of the workers on the construction site, Hill said, and sometimes they hear about upcoming work they might be interested in chronicling.
“We try not to be a nuisance, largely because many of them have seen the videos and I think … they quite appreciate the profiles they see of themselves and the work,” Hill said. “They have been very helpful and co-operative.”
Hill recalled a message he received about one of his videos that featured an assistant crane operator at work.
“Her father got in touch with me after watching a video and said how delighted he was and how much he appreciated being able to understand what his daughter did,” he said. “That’s probably the greatest reward Paul and I receive: we get feedback from people who genuinely appreciate to be able to see.”
Wash, however, believes that their work also gives people insight and appreciation of the work tradespeople do. Once the bridge is up and running, he said, people will only think of it as a way to get from one side of the river to the other, and they’ll forget how the bridge was built in the first place.
“But Mike and I see what it takes, what skills are needed, to actually put this thing together for our convenience after it’s done,” Wash said. “And a lot of people don’t realize that.”