As I belatedly sit here writing this story, or as my wife describes it, “Wasting time!” I realize that you have all ready endured my feeble attempt at poetry. I shall endeavor to keep this telling of the blue long haul truck behind a warehouse as succinct as possible.
Just after finishing up the Union Pacific Locomotives photo, and being fully loaded up on testosterone, it seemed like a good idea to continue with something equally as powerful. I have always loved the look of these long haul truck cabs. You know the ones with that extra sleeping compartment attached to the back, windows adjourning the upper reaches of the compartment, almost hinting at the appearance of a second floor inside. With the inclusion of extra lights, air horns , lots of chrome and most importantly, ( if not critical to my preconceived image of the perfect truck), an inverted wing spoiler at the very top. I wanted to do a shot of the kind of big beautiful truck that some young kid would see driving down the highway and shout to his dad, “DAD, LOOK! A TRUCK”. Developing a concept in my head for a really tricked out truck, and placing it in the environment where it would normally live, my first thought was a highway of course. Realizing that the highway patrol probably would frown on a large stationary rig underneath a busy overpass, I quickly worked on alternatives. The next best solution seemed to be a loading dock. Visualizing further, I could see perfectly the finished image in my mind. The location and ingredients were critical to making this shot work for me, and hopefully you to. I needed a warehouse with at least 20 feet of loading dock space extending out to the truck bays. On top of that, it had to have a large overhang for rain and weather protection, (more to see and fill up the frame). In addition to several open roll up doors, it had to have flat and level approaches for the trucks to back up to the docks. Many of the newer warehouses have angled ramps for the trucks backing up to the docks. That would be a total deal breaker for this shot, as the truck cab and trailer had to sit absolutely flat in the frame.
Developing a short list of shipping companies headquartered in Los Angeles, I began making calls. On the third attempt one particular trucking company was interested in working together, or at least talking further . Unfortunately, I keep getting pushed off. The vice president of trucking in this particular company was so busy that we never actually had time to meet and discuss the project. Over and over again when I would call, I was informed that, “Yes Mr. so and so was very interested in working on this shot with you, he is just a little busy now, can you call in a few days? We really liked your photos you sent.” Well, after about a month I realized that if we cant even schedule a meeting, coordinating a shot as complex and volumes as this truck shot will probably never happen. Reluctantly, I moved on to the next name on the list. Calling Dependable Highway Express, I eventually spoke with Beth Copti, the personal asst. for the owner. Spending a few minutes to describe my idea and what I want to do, Beth agreed to accept an e-mail sample of some of the earlier art shots, we agreed to talk in a few days hence. Three days later, eagerly calling Beth back to hear what they thought of the images, I was so happy to hear that they were a hit. “ We loved them, they are so unusual. The owners wife was looking over my shoulder at the monitor, we think they are really good. Yes, we would be interested in doing a photograph together. The story’s are fun to read also, I especially liked the one about the red pick up truck."
I felt so much as I did as a young child in second grade. In those days, (and I guess even now), I like anybody that likes me back. I quickly sent Beth off a few more pictures and stories. Again, a few days later when we spoke she informed that she and the president’s wife really liked them. By this point my curiosity was peaked, I asked, “Why are you always mentioning the president’s wife and yourself, what does the president think?” I asked. Beth informed me that, “The president, Mr. Massman is legally visually impaired.” “You mean he’s blind”, I asked. “Well… sort of. But Mr. Massman and his wife used to own an art gallery in the days before he had this shipping company and warehouse. As they are passionate about their work, they would both be very happy to assist you in your efforts to create a photograph about transportation.”
At this point I should take a moment to make an observation. I do not ever really mention this to my many and varied potential partners, if I have to explain it then people wouldn’t understand anyway. Weather I’m talking to a guy who owns a really cool vintage pick-up truck, or making a presentation to the president and CEO of a multi-million dollar corporation, what I’m really looking for, (over and above access to neat toys), is somebody willing to make a leap of faith. Somebody with a kind of vision, who can see that these are not just pretty pictures, that maybe they encompass a little bit more. By the actions of Ron Massman I could now see that there are many kinds of vision. Here was a man that not only couldn’t see the samples I was presenting, he probably won’t really be able to see fully the finished photograph that we will create together. Yes, there are many forms of vision indeed. Five days later, during the walk around of the warehouse and loading docks, Beth and I calculated the best location, time and day of the week for the upcoming shot. The only ingredient missing from this compilation of props and locations was a really cool looking long haul truck. Dependable’s trucks were clean but not nearly outrageous enough. After touching bases with the foreman of the warehouse I found out that the best place to find a myriad of long haul trucks is inside of truck stops on Saturday’s and Sunday’s. It turns out that all these big rigs coming into Los Angeles get stuck here until Monday mornings when the warehouses open up again. In the mean time they are trapped here till then. Informing me that with nowhere else to go, “You might just find hundreds of rigs sitting idle for the duration.”
Now I like to think of myself as outgoing and generally a friendly enough sort of fellow. Still the thought of walking up and down rows of trucks, scrutinizing them all, and then ultimately knocking on the driver side cab doors, making unsolicited requests to borrow some body’s truck seemed like a very precarious endeavor at best. That uncomfortable prospect was tempered by the idea of roaming through such a target rich environment, with the potential of hundreds of trucks to choose from, I was drawn like a moth to flame. On the appointed Saturday I carved out for this exercise the actual process of choosing just the right rig turned out to be even harder than I imagined. Inevitably when knocking on the drivers side door of a big rig, the driver looking down from his perch 5 feet higher still, the exchange was forced and uncomfortable. Adding to the level of discomfort to our conversations, I had to shout over the din of the trucks engine, idling in order to run their air conditioning. I think there must be an unwritten rule among truckers, that anybody knocking on your rig in the middle of a truck park on a weekend must be up to no good. Half expecting scammers, hookers or people selling stolen goods, they were all weary to a man. The exchanges would go something like this: “I’m looking for a long haul truck to use in a photo.” Their response: I don’t need any photos!” Half turning to leave with a casual wave of my hand, so as not to seem too desperate, I would peel off one of my art shots and hand it up to them. After a couple seconds, I would hand them another, then after a moment has elapsed -allowing for them to absorbed what they are seeing, I would hand them the whole stack of pictures. This time eagerly accepted. (these guys are after all my audience, men who work for a living with heavy metal) From this point onward we would have a good, honest conversation about trucks, photos, their company and what I’m trying to do.
After about three hours of this process, I came across the almost perfect candidate of a truck. Deep blue in color, windows cut into the extra sleeping compartment, extra horns, light, volumes of chrome and most importantly, that really cool inverted wing above the cab. Approaching the rig and knocking on the driver’s side door it was the usual conversation. “I’m looking for a truck etc. Triggering the usual response from the driver, “I don’t need any photos!” Then peeling off the first print, followed by the second print and then handing up the whole stack of pictures. Within a few minutes were having a real conversation, the driver explains that his company has lots of trucks, all with this same general theme, some more tricked out than others. He explains, “You should talk to my boss, he’s a pretty cool guy, and might well be interested in working with you on this project of yours.
That following Monday I’m talking to his boss, Dino Guadagni, vice president of shipping for Western Distribution Transportation Corporation, head quartered in Denver Colorado. Half expecting my call, as he got a heads up from the trucker I spoke with earlier, he was open to hearing my ideas, courteous and generous with his time. We arranged to talk in a few days, after he had a chance to see some of the shots I was talking up so much. Two days later, Dino agreed to help me in this attempt to get the ultimate long haul truck photograph. “You can have access to any rig we have in inventory, we even have a couple show trucks that are real tricked out.” Dino continued, “Depending on which truck you choose, give me about a week to have it in Los Angeles. Our fleet of trucks is spread throughout the country, if it’s stationed on the east coast I’ll need some time to rearrange the schedules and bring the driver and rig out here.
It took me some few seconds to absorb that statement, the magnitude of which was striking in it’s generosity. “Dino, are you saying that you will bring the rig all the way out here to LA from the east coast just for the purpose of my little photo shoot?” His response- “Hey Eric, I said that you can have access to any rig we have in the fleet.”
Over the next week or so, Dino would forward to me several different shots of the various big rigs they had in inventory. Reviewing each one and making suggestions as to what would look better in terms of hardware, and hoping to see yet more shots, Dino would forward the next batch. Ultimately, I found the perfect rig from the shots that Dino had been feeding my voracious appetite. Calling him directly over the phone to announce my discovery and inquire as to when we might be able to get the particular truck in question out here in Los Angeles for the shoot. Informing me that indeed that particular rig is based on the east coast, “I’ll have it here in eight days.” As it turned out, the driver and a relief driver pounded pavement for twenty hours a day, three days running in order to make the scheduled Friday afternoon photo shoot.
On the day of the scheduled photo shoot, everything fell into place like clockwork. Dave the driver and his rig “Kitty Whopper” were waiting as promised at the warehouse by the time I arrived about noon. Mr. Massman had authorized the reservation of seven separate loading bays for my usage. I explained that for the shot to work, I need not just the three loading stations the truck will occupy, but several spaces on both sides, so we have room to maneuver and breath so to speak. This warehouse being a very busy place with operations running literally 24/7, it was no small feat to carve out those seven bays reserved for my use. After my arrival at the location, and the removal of the yellow security tape surrounding the cordoned off area, I wound up repeatedly waving off other big rigs hauling huge trailers looking for a parking space, so as to discharge their goods. Our little photo set, with a total of one badly parked rig and a crooked trailer must have made a tempting landing spot to other drivers, alas, I needed the whole area for myself. I found it charming that the crew of the warehouse had done a meticulous job of cleaning up the entire grounds designated for the shooting session. Even though I was a little dismayed to find the usual dirt, clutter and wood splinters swept up from the environs, the situation was quickly remedied by a couple rounds trips dumpster diving to retrieve some of the aforementioned dirt and wood chips. You can see them strategically replaced on the concrete in the foreground of the picture. After tackling the lion’s share of the composition starting with the big rig it’s self, followed by an empty trailer-flipped backwards, a bogy wheel set, and then a classic cat fork lift up on the dock, the shot was now only in need of all the cardboard boxes and some pallets.
As night fell we started to expose frame after frame, trying to crank out as many exposures as possible as soon as possible in order to vacate the area sooner rather than later. The whole while, I tried to keep a mental picture in my head of the areas photographed and areas yet to be exposed. With a set this complex, it was a tricky exercise to keep the running mental image clear in my head. Luckily, my friend Brian who was operating the camera had the advantage of sitting in the same chair during the entire operation, and could give me an idea of areas that he felt might have been skipped, or maybe not covered to their fullest, we would back track and shoot any problem areas again. During the course of this session I had to constantly duck and dodge the approaching headlights from all the other large trucks circling the building as they look for an appropriate landing spot. Every couple minutes or so, we would be forced to take a thirty second break in shooting as their slowly approaching head lights would splash upon our meticulously contrived casual scene, ruining the darkness. Waving off roaming trucks from parking in our little photo set, and dodging their headlights wasn’t all that much of an inconvenience, actually I found the experience only heightened the unusual character of this particular location. After all, what a luxurious problem to have, with all I have been given, by so many people, in order for this shot to come to fruition, that my biggest problem is a little bit of stray light now and again.
During the creation of this image, we exposed over five hundred separate frames, about 100 of which made it into the final picture. The driver Dave Kompa, an infinitely patent and easy going guy, is seen entering his rig. Frank Gaxiola, foreman for the loading dock, was more helpful than I can convey, by arranging as if by magic all the logistics necessary for this shot to work, he is seen operating the fork lift on the dock.