Construction, struction. What's Your Function?

October 7, 2011 

Trying to see familiar situations in fresh ways is a constant challenge, and photographing construction sites epitomizes this daily struggle.

Of all the groaner gigs, this one is tops for me. As cool as big heavy equipment is, backhoes and front-end loaders aren't all that inspiring to me. There can be some interesting light and lines to work with, but usually these assignments pop up on slow days, compounding the creative dread already hanging.

As with baseball and press conferences, though, just because I don't like shooting it doesn't mean I don't try to come away with interesting photos.

When I approach these sites (with a hard hat handy, of course), an easy go-to shot features workers doing their thing with a hint of what the space looks like, used to be or what it will become.

Simple, straightforward and kinda boring. Sure, flying sparks can be fun,

but it feels so formulaic and repetitive now:

Some fun back light helped this shot of workers who were converting an old grocery store into the new Kennewick School District office,

and sometimes it's nice to step back and wait for people to move into some open spots,

or to find some pleasant symmetry:

Clearly, these shots are not that exciting, though.

This week started with a couple of construction shoots, and the new Gold's Gym in Richland was bustling with activity when I showed up on Monday. I found some guys spraying down primer and shot a half-assed scenic snap to give it locational context,

before switching the angle to hope for a surprise person walking through the door frame:

There wasn't enough light coming through for the passerby's silhouette to show up and I moved around the building to get another basic snap:

I wiped the tears of boredom from my eyes and got the OK from the site boss to go wander inside after he commended me for wearing my hard hat.

Handy and fashionable!

Right away, I noticed some sparks raining from the ceiling and hung around to work that unusual scene. It turns out they were welding roof panels, but it took a lot of waiting before some extra elements came together.

Photojournalists have a penchant for including a people in their frames. It adds a literal human element and helps give the viewer a sense of scale. While this compulsion might be why I'm such a bad landscape photographer, it's definitely the leading cause of expletive muttering in my life.

C'mon you mother%@&*#$, walk faster...

Why'd you stop doing that, you piece of $#!&?

And so on.

Making the timing more difficult was the unpredictably sporadic welding. Finally, a couple guys climbed down and I had my token person:


For some reason, I liked that post in there. I guess I was trying to work in some more lines, but thankfully I cleaned up my composition for when this guy walked by:


I waited around to try and get the ladder with the cleaner framing, but the welding took an untimely break when they climbed back up.

My next day started with the annual Construction Career Day at the fairgrounds. I shot it last year and focused on the obvious equipment and welding. While I couldn't resist more of the same for this year's gallery,

I was determined to find a different perspective on the event. I kinda liked this detail, even though the information really relies on the words you see,

but I didn't like it enough to commit to arguing on its behalf against the face-needy newspaper photo sensibility. The Richland linemen's station provided a nice aerial option when Hanford senior Rowdy Neuman, 18, center, climbed higher than any other student I saw:

I settled on a gimmick for print, though, as Craig Stewart, a training coordinator for Glaziers, Architectural Metal and Glassworkers in Seattle, felt the line that Taylar Perkins, 16, left, scored into a mirror as Jessica Anderson, 17, both of Kamiakin High School watched:

Emboldened by my clichéd success, I was determined to keep it rolling when I went to the Crossing at Chapel Hill in Pasco, where crews were working on 72 new one-, two- and three-bedroom units to add to 228 existing ones at the complex for a story about the Tri-Cities' apartment occupancy rates. I started with a snapshot of the outside

before heading in to look for something different.

Workers were pretty spread out in the dark unfinished units, though, and I tried finding angles to show the completed buildings with the works in progress:

Pretty weak.

I went with this shot of Marco Medina of Roberts Brothers Siding in Salt Lake City, whom you can see in the first photo:

Sure, I could blame the Photo Gods for this shortcoming, just like I should thank them for the sparks and mirrors from the other shoots, but making something out of nothing is our unofficial job description. The disembodied legs are OK, I guess, and I think you do get a sense of how much work is left on the units, but it's really not that interesting to look at.

Sometimes I get too wrapped up in the storytelling part of my job, which is one of the reasons I loathe these construction gigs so much. There's not a whole lot of information you can really convey in these images and they're totally devoid of emotion. Meaningful moments are sparse, so all you're really left to work with is eye candy. These sites obviously vary in sweetness, but there should be at least one photo nougat to mine from each situation.

As a photojournalist, sometimes it feels insulting to be relegated to making simply pretty pictures, but that's really all these stories need sometimes to lure our readers into a stat-heavy gray void of housing information.

Speaking of eye candy...

ESPN the Magazine has a beautiful portrait series of "Bodies We Want." While there's no full-frontal nudity, it's questionable as to how safe for work it is. Richland native Hope Solo also makes a splash in the gallery.

Bellingham/Seattle-based photographer Daniel Berman has a nice post about joining the scrum that covered Amanda Knox's return to Sea-Tac.

The Denver Post has a clever video by Mahala Gaylord about a guy who makes his living doing dove releases. It's always fun to see a news video that utilizes a photographer's eye while still concisely telling a story. Thanks to Matt Roth for sharing that video.

And finally, Steve Jobs' passing spurred some photo tributes. Too bad they're all crappy amateur pictures, even over at the BBC. I get it, though. The iPhone has helped make photography ubiquitous, so it's fitting in a way. Still, you'd think we could get some better images for his tributes. The non-photo entries over at AllThingsD (#8 and #9) are the most poignant I've seen.

~~~~~

kyau@tricityherald.com
(509) 585-7205
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