In the Truck’s Jaws: Two Angles, One Shot
Some scenes can be photographed well from a variety of locations; others demand a particular angle and lens.
In the early 1990s I chanced upon Bruce Cameron working on his truck in the driveway of the garage that used to stand next to the old Patch’s Photography Studio at the corner of Randolph Avenue and Merchants Row.
Probably a commercial garage as late as the 1950s, the building was owned by Laura Wedgwood, who kept her vintage car in one bay. Cameron stored equipment for his tree surgery business in the other.
It was a gray, rainy day; I remember this now as I see evidence of blurring from a raindrop on the camera’s lens in examining the prints. Bruce Cameron was up under the hood of his International alongside the large clapboarded exterior wall of Patch’s studio.
I judged the situation interesting as soon as I spied the mechanic under the hood. It seemed he was being devoured! Adding to the composition of the view was its pared-down, set-like appearance, the backdrop limited to grey wall.
In deciding to record a moment like this with my camera, I very often begin shooting from a slight distance, with a normal or moderate telephoto lens.
When the subject is occupied, as Cameron is here, I don’t ask permission or announce my presence, I just begin quietly gathering preliminary shots.
Here I began on the outside, viewing the scene from various angles, slowly moving closer as I worked. Having the truck in three-quarter perspective seemed right as it gave the International more physical presence. The grill and headlamps possess a pronounced facial quality, animating the truck, reinforcing my sense of it as a creature seeking to make Bruce Cameron its next meal!
Previewing the Image
With digital photography, it’s common to see shooters checking their work on the back of the camera as they work with a subject. This constant visual previewing is frowned upon by many who began photography with film. It’s called “chimping,” suggesting that even a monkey could get a decent image this way.
I use “all the tools in the box,” however, and also chimp from time to time; it’s one way digital technology has made good imaging much easier.
In the time before such previewing was possible, we did much the same thing by carefully analyzing the scene in the view finder. By “stopping down” the lens during this process it’s possible to view the scene as it will appear in print form.
The finished photograph will transform the three dimensional reality before you into a two dimensional artifact of the event. Whether you do it in the viewfinder, or actually examine your material on the camera back, this pre-visualization is essential.
Two Takes on One Reality
I knew at the outset this photograph’s impact would depend upon limiting the non-essential information. Accordingly, I was determined to have nothing but that barren clapboard surface filling the background. Beginning at some distance, it was necessary to frame the image vertically to isolate the truck in this way; a horizontal framing included unwanted information.
There is some merit in the vertical framing of this scene. The vast expanse of clapboard, parallel lines sloping down in the same direction as Cameron’s body and the truck’s hood is almost surreal. The truck’s immense size dwarfs Cameron, his body scarcely bigger than a single wheel.
The visual interest of this scene increases exponentially as we move in closer, however. There is no question the horizontal, wide-angle framing is the preferred perspective. This is the photograph we published in the Herald.
This proximity allows us to push Cameron further to the extreme right of the frame, emphasizing the sense I had of his moving down into “the belly of the beast.” His arms, pulled back under his torso in the first shot, are now fully extended down into the bowels of the engine compartment, further emphasizing the drama. Gone are the truck’s wheels and the clear glass of the windshield. We’re left with only the dark shadowed mass into which Cameron is disappearing.
The new perspective also dramatically increases the movement of the clapboards. In the vertical view they’re horizontal at the ground, tilting slightly to the right at the top of the frame. The edges are almost parallel throughout.
What a difference the wide-angle perspective brings! Now they radiate up from the bottom and sharply down from the top of the scene, moving toward a disappearing point somewhere to the right of our field of view. All the movement, through changing angles and diminishing size is down and to the right, down into the open maw of the truck.
I began by photographing an intriguing scene on the back streets of Randolph on a rainy day in the 1990s. In the end, we have an image that could easily be a studio still from a film adaptation of a Stephen King novel.
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