- 1 Truck, Peterbilt, Purple
- 1 Pile Sulfur, Yellow
- 1 Pile Oxide, Orange
- 1 Chromium filled wheel barrel, tipped over, Turquoise
- 1 Abandoned cement factory gantry(Background)
- 4 Strong men working hard(Motivated)
- Expose 600 frames @ 10 hours effort(Night time)
- Hope for the best
Driving in Los Angeles is such a necessary part of our everyday lives, that it sometimes pays to multitask, (the art women have long- since mastered so well). Some time ago, I remember waiting at a red light. Perched slightly higher in my SUV than the two cars in front, I could clearly see each driver. The first driver, a woman in a small open top roadster was busily painting her face in the tiny crooked rear- view mirror, taking full advantage of the time allotted during this red light interval. The second driver, a youngish guy in a slick black Beamer was talking on his cell, a free hand gesticulating wildly, also taking advantage of the red. As I sat there massaging my dogs neck muscles with a free hand, while she sat on the front passenger seat next to me, I thought how silly and typical; those people really ought to pay attention to the task at hand-driving. The irony of the situation didn’t quite take root in my consciousness for some time: we all have our distractions.
Exchanging one distraction for another, I often find myself day- dreaming while driving, lost in thought yet again, visualizing one of the up-coming art photographs. I made a right turn from a stoplight, and accelerated up the incline to the freeway. My peripheral vision momentarily was blocked during the climb up a steep ramp in preparation for a smooth mindless transition into traffic. The thirty minute drive to visit a client down south, would give me time to think and imagine.
After finally entering the onramp transition area, I was about to ease into traffic and settled down for a casual drive. Just before a quick glance over my left shoulder, I was shocked back into reality by the sudden appearance of a large ,purple flash with two shiny silver orbs streaking past, filling top to bottom my drivers’ side window, followed immediately, almost simultaneously with the voluminous noise of what seemed like multiple foghorns, in a continuous blast of cascading sound absolutely flooding my comparatively tiny SUV. Pulling hard to the right trying to avoid what seemed like a bad mix, but being careful not to hit the brakes, I pulled away from what felt like the automotive equivalent of getting hit in the face by a blueberry pie, (the pie tin almost catching me on the bridge of the nose). Reacting first, and understanding second, and quickly realizing that that was a close call, my thoughts were, “That son-of-a- bitch cut me off.” As the speeding, massive truck accelerated away continuing down the freeway, I caught a glimpse of a passenger in the front cab reach his hand out the window to flip me off. “That son of a bitch, he flipped me off. He cut me off AND flipped me off.”
Not being a person who is quick to anger, and almost never really getting mad, I swore to myself then and there that I would find that truck some day, and when I did… it would make a nice little photograph, (fruit confectionery not withstanding).
Los Angeles freeways being what they are, it was only a matter of time until I happened to come along side that same, or similar truck as the original purple fruit pie. Matching its speed and holding station, so to speak, on the freeway, I could now, for the first time, get a really good look at her. Very impressive, outrageous purple cab, lots of chrome, and two very shiny polished hoppers of chemicals, I suspected. She was a really beautiful subject just begging to be photographed. All that was needed was a concept. Memorizing the name of the company from the side of the door, I drove on.
It was a simple matter to look up the company in question on the net. After finding the company address and telephone number, I looked up their location via Google satellite maps. They were situated out in the California desert, just out of Los Angeles. Usually it is not easy getting ahold directly of presidents in large companies. It takes several attempts to catch them while they’re in, plus the problem of getting past the receptionist whose job it is half the time to block access.
I did call the company in question, Double Eagle Transportation of Hesperia, California. For the first two days I kept striking out trying to reach the president who was constantly out on the road or running around the facility, too busy to take a call. I was reluctant to leave a message of, “Can I borrow one of your trucks and a driver?” so I kept calling back. At the end of the second day, I did, sort of, introduce my- self to the same receptionist, since we had spoken so many times already. I didn’t want her to think I was too odd, so I mentioned that I was a photographer doing some art photos, and just wanted to talk to the president directly. Would she mind if I kept trying to get the president, I really didn’t want to leave a message. She was fine with it. On day four, I did finally connect. I suspected that the secretary had mentioned my repeated calls, that a photographer wanted to talk to him. Upon transferring me through, the owner’s first word when he picked up the phone was, “WHAT?” followed by a brief pause… Not quite the greeting I was hoping for, stumbling a bit, I recovered and proceeded to introduce myself. “Hi, my name’s Eric Curry, I’m a photographer here in Los Angeles. Say, are you guys the ones that drive those purple and silver trucks I see down here in L.A.?” His less than enthusiastic response of, “Yeah. So!” sort of summed up where this conversation might lead. Realizing that this was not progressing well, I quickly needed to figure out a subject where we might find mutual agreement, Of course… the truck. I mentioned that I was an industrial photographer, and I thought his trucks were particularly beautiful.” He commented in agreement that, “Yes they are. I designed that coloring myself.” From that point onward we had a discussion of what I had in mind, and if he was interested in talking about some possibility of working with me to create a shot of his truck in a sort of art setting. He explained that he was extremely busy, and didn’t really have time for this kind of thing. Even stealing away a few minutes for this conversation was a stretch while managing about 127 different rigs and their drivers every day. It was a pretty full schedule. At the end of about ten minutes, after we discussed in more detail what I had in mind, I mentioned that I appreciated his taking this time out over the phone, and I realized that our conversation started off a little frosty. His response, “What do you mean?”. I commented that he still had not told me his name. “Jerry Butcher.” “Well, Jerry, it was nice to talk to you, I appreciate it”. Wrapping up our brief discussion, we agreed that I should send some of the images and a couple stories I wrote via e-mail. In a couple days, we would talk again.
Four days later Jerry was a changed man. He mentioned that he had no eye for such things, art, literature, etc. but his wife had a chance to look at the shots and read some of the stories. Her background was in marketing and advertising. She said, “I would be a fool not to take advantage of this opportunity. The photographs are beautiful and unusual. The stories add so much to each image, too”. Continuing on, he said, “If you want, we can arrange a day when you come out to the company. I can take off for the whole day, drive you around the local desert, look for backgrounds that you might find interesting.” We discussed my preliminary concept for the shot. He gave me pointers on where to visit to find a giant sulfur pile in the Los Angeles harbor, or large silos to use as backdrops for the shot. Those didn’t work out, so I was now investigating some cement factories out in the Riverside area, east of Los Angeles. Finally, two hundred driving miles later, the perfect cement factory location was found for the photo. We even got permission from the owners to use their location for our shot.
The day of shooting was difficult, as usual. Luckily, my good friend Brian was with me for this session. My particular personality, when it comes to the creation of these images on location, has often been described as “intense.” Brian has a great way of dealing with that aspect of my personality. When I start to wind up too tightly as I did on this shot , working myself up, he grabs me by both shoulders and blurts out, “Calm Down, you’re too worked up.” Obnoxious, but effective.
This composition was a real bear to create, as I had an exact image in my mind’s eye. I always do. Because of the constraints of the very large truck and two trailers in tow, and tight proximity of the background gantries and towers on both sides, it was not possible to arrange the rig exactly as I had imagined it. After several attempts at forming a smooth tight semi-circle with the rig precisely centered in front of the towers, we finally had to bring in a huge bulldozer, to carve out a new access road through the four-foot tall berm surrounding the cement towers you see in the background. From then on, it was possible for the truck and trailers to approach the structure at a better, steeper angle. After unhooking the aft trailer, we used a smaller dozer to physically push and man-handle the trailer into place, skidding them sideways. Once the truck and trailers were composed in relation to the background towers, we formed the mounds in the foreground. At one point, I had Brian, Jerry (the president of the company), the driver, Robert, working feverishly to create two, tall clean mounds of dirt that we then covered with a layer of cement. Finally, after all was set, I covered the cement with stucco coloring powder. I was not allowed to use real sulfur, oxide or chromium to cover the mounds.
During the course of forming and manipulating all these elements into as nice a composition as I could manage, we had constant visits from several of the cement plant’s management. At one point I think we had every manager, supervisor and I’m sure a couple vice- presidents coming by to take a look through the camera. I was always happy to oblige, as we were guests here. Without their hospitality, none of this would be possible. Compared to the monochromatic nature of what these guys do for a living, (cement) this shot of a purple truck, along with yellow, orange and turquoise piles of “chemicals” must have been eye-popping. Indeed, it was.
Just before we actually started shooting individual exposures, while I was adding the final touches to this beautiful and unusual set, I constantly deferred to Jerry, who along with his wife and son had decided to join us for the days / evenings photo shoot of his truck. It is ironic that I chose this particular rig precisely because it was so pretty and unusual looking- shiny purple paint on the truck itself and almost showroom clean trailers with a mirror finish in the polished metal. I say deferred because I wanted to make sure that there was no offense taken by Jerry, as I heaped hands full of dirt and old cement powder all over his shiny new equipment. Explaining that I didn’t want this shot to look like advertising, at one point I handed up a bucket full of dirt and cement powder to the driver, Robert, who was straddling the trailers. I thought it best if he did the honors, like a cavalry soldier killing his own lame horse, it would have been insulting, I think, if I was the one heaping dirt and cement all over the rig.
For the next five hours or so, we shot about six hundred frames, exposing everything from the darkening sky just after sunset, all the way to shooting Robert, the driver, and Andrew, the cement plant employee who volunteered to pose for the photo. In addition to operating a couple different dozers during our initial set up for the shot, Andrew was amazingly flexible when it came time for him to take center stage. Having had fair warning, he allowed me to absolutely shower him with cement powder, head to toe. Other than his eyes, I wanted him to blend into the set as much as the dirt and rocks that make up this environment. Andrew’s boss mentioned during the shooting that if he had known what I had in store for the guy, he would have given him a much dirtier job the preceding 4 hours.
As a final tribute to the graciousness of Jerry Butcher, owner of Double Eagle Transport, (and keeping in mind that no good deed goes unpunished) it started to rain just as we were exposing the last few frames of Andrew who was standing amongst the colored piles of “chemicals” and next to the trailers, absolutely covered in fine cement powder. Raindrops started falling during the last 10 minutes of our photo session. Gradually, at first, then as the minutes passed, a full-fledged storm was quickly building intensity. If you look closely at the photo, you can just see the first few drops of water streaking down the side of the right hand trailer.
The last visual impression I have of that long night, as Brian and I were driving out of the plant, our equipment already soaked, was of Jerry and Robert parked at the cleaning station inside the factory. I could clearly see those two guys working feverishly in a driving rain, trying to remove buckets of cement powder from the rig, before it had a chance to set.
I think that anyone who looks at this final photograph with a sense of appreciation should say a silent thanks to Jerry Butcher of Double Eagle Transportation and realize that it would never have happened without his direct involvement, and extreme flexibility.