One Man's Trash is Another Man's Treasure...or Art

April 13, 2014

It would seem that my luck with the weather just won't break.  I've been wanting to do some landscape work to showcase the changing seasons, but have been met with nothing but clear sky days which seems to lack the look that I'm after.  After most of my days off passed me by with less than stellar conditions for photography, I was about to throw in the towel on any Treks for these sets of off days.  With my last day off here, I looked at the weather and decided that I might as well give it a try and see what happens.  The weather was forecasted to be mostly sunny with some passing clouds.  This was promising, but I was holding out little hope.

I had planned to stay close to home as I didn't want to make a huge investment in gas to drive out to the mountains where the clouds were likely to be few and far between.  Knowing that my window of good light would be early in the morning or late in the afternoon, I opted to get up early and try for a sunrise shot over the Old Guilford Mill.  One last look at the weather and I thought to myself I would be wasting my time, but I decided to go anyway just to see what would happen.

As I arrived at the Mill going a back way, I was met with a surprise...the road was now closed!  I couldn't get across the highway to the Mill from Stafford Mill Rd anymore.  I looked to see if I was going to benefit from parking where I was and walking the rest of the way.  The sky didn't seem to be doing anything promising at all, so I decided to drive around and come in off of the main road and reevaluate.  When I returned, there was a faint pink in the sky, but nothing very dramatic.  I ran through my bag of tricks in my head and decided that there wasn't much that I could do with the scene that was in front of me.  It was time to move on and see what else I could find.

I had remembered finding a couple of old barns along Hwy 311 when I went out to shoot the Mustang at twilight.  I had seen them in passing and had not really evaluated their potential, so I decided now was a good time to do just that.  I knew that they were on the West side of the road, which would make the lighting work for the morning.  I had hope that I would find something soon.  However, when I arrived, the lighting was all wrong, and the barns were just not that interesting.  I didn't even stop the truck, I just kept on moving along.  I was going through some more possible locations in my head of things that I could capture with my camera.  The sky wasn't all that great, and I was running out of the nice, warm morning light.  Frankly, I was starting to think that my morning was going to be a bust.

I found a side road that I could turn around on, but instead of turning around, I decided to follow it since there was a sign that advised of a dead end.  I sometimes luck out and find some pretty cool barns at the end of dead end streets in the country.  Since this was the edge of Stokes County, I thought my chances were pretty good.  Within about a half of a mile, I drove past a small repair shop with what appeared to be a junk yard behind it.  Hmmmm, I see some old cars out there that look pretty good, but they weren't open for business.  I continued on down the street and to my disappointment found nothing worth taking any pictures of.  I turned around and headed back out to the main road...but before I did, I slowed down at the junk yard.

What I was noticing as I was creeping by was there was no fence along the property.  It appeared as though the yard was open.  I drove up to the shop which also had no fences or gates.  I looked very carefully for any signs indicating that I should not be trespassing.  I also tried to spot any signs warning of junkyard dogs that would make a fence irrelevant.  I saw no signs that would prevent me from walking around a little bit.  I parked the truck and decided that I would carry the camera around to see what I could find.  Even at this point, I wasn't convinced that I was going to get any pictures, but seeing that the lighting was changing, I figured I would miss out on any opportunity if I didn't take advantage of this one.

Cracked but Intact

Cracked but Intact in B&W
As I was walking the rows and looking at all of the cars ranging in vintage from the '40's up to the early '90's it appeared, I was starting to get excited about some possibilities.  When I came upon this mid 50's GM truck, I decided that I had found something worth snapping a few pictures of.  The wonderful patina was just part of the story with this truck.  One of my favorite elements was the fact that there was no front suspension and even the headlight buckets were dangling to the ground.  Yeah, this old truck was beat down and it was showing every bit of its use along the years.

I had some issues with the composition due to the sky being relatively blown out.  I had to elevate the camera to the top of the tripod travel in order to crop out the sky.  As a bonus of the camera position, I was also able to capture a perspective that really showcased the old truck in all of its grandeur.  With only a polarizer fitted to my trusty 24-70mm lens, I started to fine tune my composition and exposure.  I found it difficult to work with other vehicles in such close proximity though.  It took some doing to compose an image where the visual distractions were minimized.

Off Kilter
Old Goat
Feeling Blue
After I got my mojo going with the GM truck, I started working the rest of the junk yard.  I found all sorts of really cool vehicles, and quite a few of them were in a position to photograph.  I found that I was drawn to cars that had been painted bright colors, but were now suffering from a good amount of surface rust.  I also looked for iconic cars that were immediately recognizable.  In the case of the old GTO above, I found it difficult to compose images of some of the cars due to so much brush having grown up around them.  It was a balancing act, the less of a car that was visible, the more recognizable the shapes had to be.  With the GTO, I felt that its personality (with the help of that hood) would shine though the weeds. 

There were also quite a few cars that I was not familiar with, but that seemed to have a very strong personality.  In the case of Feeling Blue above, the quirky grill and brilliant blue color grabbed my attention.  It appeared that for the most part this car was intact, and in pretty good shape.  Had it not been for that rusty fender, and patchy rust along the other body parts I might have let this one go.  However, the formula was all in place for a successful photograph and I set it up and fired the shutter.  It only took two frames before I was convinced I had a good thing going.

Blistered in the Sun
As the sun got a little further up in the sky, I decided to harness the power of the light and start working some cars that were fully out of the shadows.  I was also happy to see that the sky was starting to show some blue with the occasional passing wisp of cloud that works so well with a polarizer.  I found a group of 50's Chevrolet's and an old 40's Plymouth which happened to be rather resplendent in the morning light.  They were close together unfortunately, and there were some much newer cars on either side that posed some compositional issues.  I chose my shooting location and camera height very carefully so as to include only what I wanted, and nothing more.  I found that a low shooting position provided enough cover of the background clutter so that I could isolate the main subjects of the photographs  I was so happy that the grass was green finally because it really helped to set the color of the rust off in the pictures.

I was on a roll now, but the sun was really gaining some intensity.  Every once in a while, I would luck out and find that a thin cloud had covered the bright orb and the light was a bit softer.  It was in these moments that I tried to be set up and ready for the next shot.  there was just so much out here, I was seriously doubting that I was going to be able to take advantage of it all before the light was all gone.

Calico Shell
Open to the Possibility
Signature Pontiac
Just as I thought I had a handle on what all was present in this junk yard, I found a whole different section even closer to the road.  I was in classic heaven at this point.  Most of the time, the junk yards that I've seen have been either make specific, or carried just more modern pieces.  This junk yard had a little bit of everything and I was seeing vehicles that I had never seen in person before.  I was still drawn to the typical formula that I have worked with for a while now.  I liked the funky patina found on many of these old cars, like what I found on the old GMC truck.  You could tell that this truck had been painted many different colors before, and the previous owner had been working on sanding the body down, which allowed the many hues to show at the same time.  It was also very obviously tortured, and had been pilfered through.  All of these things made this old truck a perfect candidate for a few frames.

The Apache truck which was parked on the row next to the GMC was not quite what I would consider my typical "Old Iron" subject.  There wasn't that much rust, and most of the body was a uniform color.  However, the look of this truck, along with the hints of rust, and the textures on the body panels drew my interest.  The open hood started asking question, and I started wondering if this was a project truck that was stopped prematurely for one reason or another.  In any case, I was hooked.  It was asking questions, and I was listening.

Tattered Badges
Values Put to Rest
The Memory of Speed
One of my favorite finds of the day was the Mustang nearly hidden by the brush.  There was nothing really special about the old pony car, but I did like the blue paint as it contrasted nicely with the colors of the dormant grass and weeds.  As with the GTO before, the shape was instantly recognizable  so I wasn't worried too much about the growth it was behind.  The question to photograph it?  If I went too high I would get too many of the surrounding cars and that was cluttering my composition.  I needed to get down low for this one...but wait, there were contrails in the sky above.  Have I ever mentioned just how much I hate contrails in the sky?  Well, I was just plain disgusted until I stopped to consider what I was seeing.  The contrails were in the perfect part of the sky that went along with the visual flow of the car, and they were showing motion, and even speed...something that this car hasn't been able to show in quite some time now.  Photography is all about contrasts, and I had contrasts in spades with this shot.  From the basic warm versus cool colors, to the painted versus rusted, and finally the element of speed versus stagnation.  Yep, this was a good composition!  I dialed in my polarizer to get the maximum effect in the sky and cranked off a few frames to make sure that I had the proper exposure since I was dealing with a lot of different tonal values.

Speaking of values, every once in a while I run across a scene that speaks to me on a deeper level than what I am looking at.  Values Put to Rest is one of those images.  Of course, I was drawn by the bright faded side of the truck with the sun shining directly on it.  The text read "Holsum Bread" which grabbed my attention even more.  The first thought that came into my head was that this should read Wholesome, but I guess that was the advertising trick.  The brand name made me immediately think of something good.  I didn't really like this truck for a picture though, but I kept coming back to it.  Then I saw that the old bus that was just to the side was an old school bus, long since retired.  I started to think about kids, and society, and my job, and any number of other deep thoughts.  Then it hit me, society has changed so much since the time when these vehicles would move along the road.  Our kids who used to be so "wholesome" have changed over the years and that is almost a forgotten quality.  Having both the school bus and the bread truck in the junk yard all of a sudden spoke volumes to me.  I had the message, it was just a matter of creating the image to go along with it.

After about two hours in the junk yard, I realized that I had not been bitten by any chained up dogs, and my truck had not been towed.  In fact, I hadn't even been questioned by any of the neighbors.  I had about 40 images on the camera, and I was pretty sure that a handful of them would turn out pretty well.  I was happy with the morning, but had no idea that my hit rate would be better than 25% for this day that I had very little hopes for when I got out of bed.  I guess it goes to show that sometimes, my best treks are when I just go out and get lost...and on those days I end up finding myself.

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