M´m M´m Good
Buckminster Fuller, the futurist of the nineteen fifties, and inventor of the geodesic dome, once commented that he finds beauty in a trash truck, a pure expression of form following function. I couldn´t agree more. It is my ongoing efforts to draw out the beauty in these otherwise mundane objects which inhabit the environment all around us, and to dispel the common misconception shared by most of us- that trash trucks are ugly utilitarian vehicles. This shot is my attempt to create a fuller appreciation for these otherwise overlooked and under appreciated wonders of engineering, and the industry surrounding them.
If you can believe it, I had been working on this shot for almost a year. Starting last March, I developed the idea of a trash truck in a recycling center. Bringing the shot to fruition was a testament in perseverance. I started off by calling local trash recycling businesses. I was hung up on a couple times when I mentioned that I wanted to do photos inside their facilities. One time I heard the secretary asking the manager if a photographer could come and shoot the facility? His response was "ABSOLUTELY NOT!" They hung up too. Next I tried calling large corporations directly. Getting hold of one of the largest trash / recycling businesses in America, I wound up speaking with the V.P of Corporate Relations. Our conversation went something like this. "Yes Mr. Curry, what´s this all about? I only have 30 seconds!" I tried to get to the point quickly, explaining what I was trying to do. I suspected her interest was somewhat peaked. She prompted me with encouraging affirmations of, "Yes, go ahead." I continued with a description of some of the technique I use to make these shots possible and some of the themes I would incorporate into the shot. Finally, after spending over 10 minutes in a conversation that was supposed to last thirty seconds, this V.P. of Corporate Communications blurts out, " I HAVE TO GO, MY HAIR'S ON FIRE! " I still don´t know what that means, maybe something specific to Houstonians? Six weeks later she informed me that their advertising agency didn't think this shot would be anything they should get involved in! … I thought I was talking to the boss!
My next step was to approach the controller for my city of El Segundo. I thought they might be able to hook me up with the president of the local trash company El Segundo has a contract with. That did work out well. After getting the OK to move forward from the president of this company, I had a couple of fruitful meetings with a vice president and his team assigned to expedite the photo. Making my presentation about what the shot means to me and what I´m trying to create, they seemed genuinely enthusiastic. My first choice being a recycling center as a back drop for the trash truck, ( the inclusion of stacks and stacks of metal, plastic and paper bails would be critical for the concept to work), and seeing as this location was only a transfer station for trash, they agreed to approach a sister company about using their recycling facility in order to make the shot perfect. There was also the option of borrowing several dozen bails of recycled material and transporting it over to the local facility for the shot. I think through a combination of politics and maybe a reluctance to bother the president, little progress was made on that aspect of the image. Ultimately, after six more weeks had passed, I was informed that they "Decided to keep the shot in house." I was so very disappointed, because we were so close to having all the ingredients to a really killer photograph. Ultimately though, what has to come first is the quality of the finished photograph. Reluctantly, I moved on, and through other contacts, was put in touch with the company CR&R. Talking to the facility manager, Bob, I was informed that they might be interested in working on a shot together. Bob said, "The president is a big believer in the arts. At the very least he would be at the very least interested in hearing your ideas." After some e-mail images and a proposal were forwarded, I got a green light to come out and talk about my idea specifically, we set up a meeting.
I can still remember vividly that meeting with Dave Ronnenberg, the President of CR&R and the facility manager Bob, I realized that at this point, after so much time had elapsed since I first started this trash truck project, and now about nine months later I was talking to the perfect candidate to help me finally create the ultimate image. It seemed to me like a make or break meeting. Stacking the deck in my favor so to speak, I brought over two dozen large, mounted art images previously created with other partners. We spoke for over an hour about what I had in mind, and what this shot means to me, followed by ever more tales of lighting, time exposures, romance and integrity, all to be included in this image I wanted to make from their trash trucks and recycling facility. At the end of a lively discussion with give and take by all present, Dave said, "Yes, we will help you create the shot at our facility. You can have access to the entire facility, use of all of the personnel, any and all of the trucks and as much of the resources as we have on premises".
At the close of our discussion, walking out of the meeting room we collectively passed by the opened door of Dave´ office, I noticed inside and just behind his desk were two large original signed Andy Warhol soup can lithographs. The coincidence was too great for me not to say something. I mentioned to Mr. Ronnenberg my funny little extra visual ploy of incorporating a spilled soup can in the trash truck photo– sort of tribute to Andy Warhol- which would be just an additional hook to add interest and humor to the shot. We shouldn’t take all this too seriously, after all. He loved it.
On the actual day of the shooting, it was confusion and stress incarnate. The location was undergoing repair to part of the floor space so the facility was cut down to just three quarters usable space from the beginning. The noise was so intense it was hard to communicate. We had to shout. The air was filthy with dust particles filling, almost chocking the environment. On top of this, there was a sort of sprinkling indoors. The facility utilizes water misters in the ceiling to help keep down the dust. It definitely was a prudent precaution to keep my head on a swivel, as large trucks and giant dozers were constantly running through the area in a sort of choreographed dance of traffic coming and going through this, now confined, location. Because of all this normal traffic, time was wasting and I still have not had the opportunity to compose the truck, bails and trash pile. Earlier in the afternoon, a crew had cleared out a corner of the building you see in the photo. Removing literally a two feet deep layer of trash from the area, that I explained that I wanted the truck to sit next to a "pretty pile of trash, not sit in a sea of trash." Unfortunately, not until about 3:30 that afternoon did I have an opportunity to delicately touch bases with the president who happened to come by, checking on the progress of the shot so far. When I informed him that I had not begun to create the composition yet, he was surprised. "What's the problem?" he asked. I explained that there is much too much heavy truck traffic right where I need to place a camera and tripod, from that point on I can start the process of composition. " Go ahead and block it!" he said. Explaining further that it is not my place to tell anybody what to do, I realize that I´m a guest here and the local building supervisor won´t restrict access to your customers without your OK. From that point onward, Dave took direct control of the situation. Things happened fast, to say the least. At one point, we had over 9 different guys working together on helping me create and compose this shot: placing the truck in just the right location in relation to the background; stacking multiple one-ton bails- four tall; hand forming a "tall" trash pile; even spiking the trash with lots of metal cans to help play up the recycling value of trash.
At one point, while trying to "crack open" the corner of the foreground bail, (so I could have several cans spilling out upon the floor), Dave, the president of this multi, multimillion dollar corporation perched himself on the reluctant bail in question, with shovel in hand. He repeatedly struck and gouged at that tightly packed edge. As the general manager, two facility supervisors, five laborers and myself stood around in a tight semicircle, eagerly awaiting each next wave of dislodged tin cans spilling forth from the reluctant bail, I took a mental step backwards. Having focused, (almost myopically), on the edge of the bail and shovel hacking away, I could now also comprehend the fuller scene around me. With all this activity, energy and manpower brought to bear in my effort to create the perfect trash truck photo, I thought–how beautiful, all these guys working together. I recognized this observation as a sort of extra gift, wondering just how many of these men flanking me on both sides were also aware of the beauty in this experience we shared at that moment. Beauty is indeed all around us, we just need to see it for what it is.
After all the effort expended by everybody, the set was as close as I could get to a reasonable composition, given the short two hour window to create before night fall. Dave and all the other support personnel took off for the rest of the evening. Their last words and instructions were to show us where the overhead light switches were, so we could get a really dark environment, before my light painting could begin. All we had to do now was make a photograph – no sweat! By this point it was pretty dark and I was starting later than I like, but I get what I get. The final topper to this intense scene came as one final stumbling block. The two guys left behind to baby sit me, and model in the photograph, could not figure out how to turn off the two remaining overhead fluorescent lights, directly above and behind the truck – of course. I was informed that these two light banks were part of a security system and could not be shut down. They didn´t know where the circuit breakers were, either. They could be anywhere in the plant. By this time, with hours racing by, stress and physical pressures taking their toll, my instruction to him was, " Smash them! I´ll take full responsibility." Too many people have invested too much time for a couple of errant lights to stop me. Screw it!
It would have been a fantasy fulfilled, if I had had a small caliber rifle or a high–powered pellet gun. To be justified in shooting out some pesky, hard to reach ceiling lights or street lighting that interfere with the night photography session, is every location- photographers´ dream come true. Unfortunately, living in the real world, and not having a rifle when I really needed one, instead, we had to get a forklift, and remove several of the bails strategically placed around the truck. It was then possible to drive a very large bucket crane into place and gain access to the two light sets in question. A broom handle at arms length made short work of the lights, with arcing explosions of light, gas and falling glass cascading the 80 feet to the concrete floor below, shattering, yet again, into literally thousands of tiny shards of razor sharp splinters, the last hurdle was now behind us. After the crane was pulled out of set and the bails replaced roughly were they came from, we began.
The shot you are looking at is not so much a photograph of the perfect trash truck and recycled materials as it is (like politics) the art of the doable. I would have loved more time to compose and create a perfect scene, included an older, more characteristic trash truck, maybe add a mountain of trash behind the truck itself, along with one of those giant dozers, too. As is sometimes the case with these very demanding shots, after working on a photograph for almost a year, it sometimes comes down to the wire, often with just minutes to spare.
Ultimately, with the great amount of effort put forth by so many individuals, CR&R and Dave specifically, I´m very proud of the final image. Hopefully, people will really enjoy the picture we created together that long, difficult evening. Others might hate it, or maybe not understand it at all. But, at least, after viewing this photograph, it is my hope that they will come away with a subtle appreciation of the elegance inherent in these complex machines, the industry that serves us all so well, and the people who work so hard in an unappreciated field.
To me, this is not a shot of a trash truck and trash. It is, instead, a romantic scene of an elegant engineering solution and valuable resources, along with the integrity of working professionals.