‘Hammer’ was the last shot at the end of a long and, at times, stressful day. The last location was Granville, apparently only metres from where the Granville rail disaster took place. By this time the light was fading fast – fortunately I had purchased a ridiculously long power cord the day prior and the very obliging owner of an adjacent workshop allowed me to power my studio flash unit.
Originally the image was of just the model and building behind (no hammer) and it lacked the strength I was looking for. Then the word ‘perestroika’ hit me and I went back to ask the very obliging workshop owner for ‘a large tool, preferably a hammer’.
As this image was for my portfolio, I had arranged a contra deal with the modelling agency – use of the model’s time in return for images for her portfolio. Proudly showing the agent the final images, I found that she disliked all of them except one – after a day of shooting 100 frames of 6×7 film I had, to my embarrassment, taken only one of her smiling.
My wife and I visited Bryce Canyon, Utah
on a drive from Santa Fe to LA – what’s left of Route 66.
I had failed to set our alarm successfully (on our only morning in the park) and as a result we slept in, missing the moment that the sun breached the horizon. All was not lost, however, and we spent the morning taking in the canyon in its morning glory.
Given the depth of the amazing ‘hoodoo’ formations, I was trying to take all of my images in stereo – a process of taking two images from slightly different perspectives on transparency (slide) film to provide a 3D view. When done correctly the effects are stunning – holding the two slides up to your left and right eyes in separate slide viewers gives the feeling of looking at a miniature model of the subject.
I was looking for a ‘spark’ for an image and found this ranger who was on his radio, advising workers on the track below of approaching tourists. At the time I was mostly annoyed that he wouldn’t stand still long enough for me to take a stereo pair and almost didn’t take the shot. It turns out that this was the best image of our visit.
And yes, the colours are real.
This is one of my favourite portfolio images, probably because I attempted to make a dramatic image of contrasts without crossing over into absurdity (and felt that I succeeded). It’s also because as I look at it there’s nothing I want to change – as a perfectionist this is a rare pleasure.
Even without a client looking over your shoulder shooting this kind of scene can be stress-inducing – a model, your assistant/makeup artist and the site staff waiting for instruction and you have 15 minutes to find a scene, set up, take the shot (including backups, variations, etc), pack up and leave to do it all again somewhere else. In this case the concept came quickly but the details were difficult – the hair on her cheek, the stance with more weight on the forward foot, where she should look, the height of the tripod to locate the height of the rubble in the background, etc.
I’d show you the location of the worksite but as you’ll see from other images in this series, we took images only metres from fast-moving, rock-crushing machinery and I dare say that this was not in full compliance with work safety requirements …
I love being alone late at night in the city – carrying 15 kilos of camera gear around for hours on end is the only downside. I noticed the beautiful light on one set of columns in Sydney Town Hall
vestibule one night and spent the next hour or two setting up this shot under the watchful eye of a security camera.
This time of finding and setting up an image is precious to me – it’s an opportunity to dwell only in that moment and have respite from my brain’s constant connection of ideas. Also I find that photography (and, occasionally, sketching) gives me that ‘permission’ to sit and contemplate an object or space for long periods of time, permission that I would not otherwise grant myself.
Most of the setup time was taken in selecting the best column, the best angle, optimising depth of field and then carefully lining up the camera to make it truly vertical – while it’s straightforward to rotate and skew images on a computer, you lose significant image area in the process.
If you went to see this in real life, you’d be disappointed – the columns are a dirty brown, the lights a horrible orange and there was a small amount of graffiti on the column that I needed to photoshop out. Through the magic of black and white film, however, it looks strong, pure and timeless.
As soon as I saw the overgrown grass on my recce, I knew that this was the image I wanted to take. At the time it represented potential – a young person dreaming about what their life would be like. Now it reminds me of the beautiful moments in life that are transitory – the perfect afternoon at the beach, your wedding day, your first visit to Paris … moments that can be captured in images but never replicated.
The model was 13 at the time of this shoot – right in the demographic of Dolly magazine who bought an image in this series for $200 back in ’96. I don’t know if it was ever published but if it was, I hope the advice in the article was better than is normally the case.