I drifted aimlessly my first months out of college. In the first six months, I had as many jobs, each worse than the one before. I finally settled into a job at the Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver, CO. It was a good place to be at the time, I love books, and like the books themselves might suggest, the store attracted a lot of curious, free-thinking people. I was able to work out a schedule where I worked 40 hours in 3-4 days, and used the remaining week to work on my photography.
About a year into the job, I developed a routine that enabled me to seriously pursue my photography. I didn’t have much money – minimum wage, really – but was able to outfit myself with a nice working studio. I bought a stainless steel sink at a junkyard, and built counter tops with scrape materials from my dad’s construction business. I bought a 5×7 Russian view camera, a World War II make, quite inexpensively, and printed all my negatives in platinum/palladium, doing all my printing under the sun. I photographed early in the morning, at sunrise, before going to work, and then used my days off to print the negatives.
I was pursuing a series of photographs in Commerce City, CO, a small industrial town just north of Denver. Commerce City is known for its petroleum refineries, and it’s also home to a Purina Dog Chow manufacturing plant.
Strangely, the city is rather beautiful. On the western edge of the plains, and just east of the mountains, Commerce City has expansive views of the mountains and downtown Denver. The light at sunrise was always amazing, and the air full of smoke plumes from the refineries and factories.
Early one February morning, I was out photographing. It was about 6:30 in the morning, and the air was bitter cold. The light was amazing, the long shadows of morning and winter light tried to warm the air. I made a picture, and quickly moved to capture another. I picked up the tripod with the camera still mounted, and as I turned to make my move the camera fell to the ground. It shattered, the old wood splintered easily. I picked up as many of the pieces as I could, loaded my equipment into my car and headed for work.
At the next opportunity, I pieced the camera back together. I collected a dozen or more fragments of wood, and assembled them like a puzzle. Knowing full well that it would be quite a while before I could afford another camera (as cheap as this was, I broke the bank to get it), I did my best to salvage the camera. I was able to rebuild it enough that I continued to use the camera for several more years. It was a sorry sight, two different colors of grey from my painting over the glued pieces, never quite matching the original grey color. It never functioned the same, but I needed it to make my pictures.
There is something worth learning here: all you need to make pictures is the need itself.