Many people viewing the picture of Tant Skateboard pimping her ride might think “I could have taken that”.
And they would be right – if the conditions had been just right the moment they passed, they could have snapped the same image as I did.
But conditions weren’t right, and as a jobbing photographer you can’t wait for conditions to be favourable, you have to make them favourable. Every time.
So in fact it took several hours to take that picture, which was part of a project to promote the children’s books about a youthful old lady, Tant Skateboard.
Let’s start by getting access to the place. Junk yards are busy workplaces with a lot of big equipment moving around in confined areas, so just wandering in to make some art isn’t going to be popular. Now the guys at SkrotCentralen are really cool and great supporters of culture, so it’s easier than most, but still I had paved the way by supplying them with free photos that I had taken at events they had organised, and got to know the boss.
This wasn’t a long-term infiltration plan, I just spread seeds like that because it’s easy, costs me nothing but a very small amount of time, and makes people happy. And a very small number of them flourish to be harvested later. Otherwise getting access to industrial sites for personal projects can costs hours on the phone, trying to find the one person who is willing and able to let you in.
Once there, we had to find the right pile of junk, which I wanted to be : a) ‘interesting’, b) sunlit since it would be too big for me to be able to light artificially, c) with enough space in front for me to get separation from the model, d) with shade around the model so I could control the light there. Full sun on the model would have made her squint, and would have cast heavy shadows, but more importantly it would have made the sparks hard to see. So I chose to light the model with flash, which meant lugging in additional lighting. I could have used small strobes on battery power but would have been struggling to match the bright sunlight. Since the angle-grinder needed mains power we had to find an outlet anyway and join together a bunch of extension cords to reach our ‘studio’, so that meant I could use big mains-powered flashguns. The trick with mixed lighting is to complement the natural light, not fight it, which meant climbing up on the junk to get the key light in the right place to look like natural sunlight. Then I wanted some backlight and fill to avoid deep shadows, which took more time to get just right, avoiding too much light on the sparks.
Finally we could actually think about the images, compose the skateboard and tools, and pose the model. Then it was really easy – just press the button.
You could have taken it.