My love for photography turned to rust, quite literally, on April 6, 2014.
I remember the moment well. It was mid-morning on a frosty Sunday and I was standing on a muddy driveway that led toward McLean’s Auto Wreckers in Rockwood, Ontario, about an hour northwest of Toronto. McLean’s has become somewhat of a Mecca for photographers who can’t get enough of that perfect blend of light and rust.
This was my first intentional photo shoot – an initial attempt to create a series of images based on a singular subject. It was also the first time I had ventured out with a group of fellow photographers I didn’t even know.
Given it was April, the hectares of automotive carcasses I was about to immerse myself in were still knee-deep in snow. The challenges didn’t stop there. It was also a brilliant sunny day that made for tough light conditions for even the most experienced shooter.
The group started walking through the fields and I couldn’t wait to see what I would find.
I didn’t have to walk far to discover this adorable robotic creature keeping watch over an old construction tractor. I thought I heard it say, “Go ahead, I dare ya, take your best shot!”
I couldn’t resist. All of its majestic pipes, rubber tubes, lights and peeling paint made me rise to the challenge. I was rewarded with a comical, quizzical look through its myopic eye. Beauty can be strange, and the strange can be beautiful.
I couldn’t walk ten feet without finding another tempting scene. This lengthy old trailer, when framed in this manner, reminded me of a giant caterpillar slinking its way through the frozen fields. Its iridescent yellows and oranges seemed to go on forever in harmony with its prevalent brown rust.
The magic of McLean’s was beginning to reveal itself. And I, the naïve, awestruck participant, couldn’t wait to discover what other painterly pleasures lay in wait.
And then…a fire truck. Every man-child’s dream!
All shiny chrome and faded red with its control levers and hose attachments intact. I must have shot nearly every angle I could of this beauty. Rusty and worn, but sitting there extremely proud of its glory days of fighting fires and saving lives. It knew it was the real hero of the junkyard and I knew I had to preserve, through my lens, its heroic gifts.
I trekked for a while through a small grove of cedar trees. When I emerged out the other side, I came upon a field full of VW carcasses. I found a gutted Beetle that, immediately upon seeing it, took me back to when I was 16 years old and learning to drive in my mother’s 1963 VW Beetle. I recalled with fondness the graphic on the slide-out ashtray that helped me immensely as a new driver because it showed you the correct placement of the stick shift for each of the forward gears and reverse.
Junkyards, like photographs, are full of magnificent memories. Seeing, smelling and touching this “old folks’ wagon” took me right back to driving up north on the highway on a warm summer’s day, listening, for the very first time, to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety on the 8-track player I had installed in our Beetle. And then I shivered as I remembered scraping the layer of wintery frost from the inside of the windshield that would build up while driving home after a day of downhill skiing!
The irony for me in finding this Beetle lay in the fact that the year stamped on the Ontario license plate was 1973, the same year I was 16 years old and experiencing all these distant memories. Coincidence? Perhaps. I like to believe it was fate.
Mother Nature shows herself as a powerful creative force when she sets her mind to working on man-made objects of steel coated in layers of paint. She’s a true artist. Her medium is rust. Her palette is the rainbow.
It may take her years to complete, but if you’re lucky enough to catch a glimpse of her work along the way, it can have a profound effect on your soul.
Which brings me to my favourite shot of that day in the junkyard. The back left taillight of this utility trailer, surrounded by an irresistible exhibition of colour and corrosion. I like to believe that I came upon this particular work by Mother Nature at its peak; the peeling yellow and blue paint, the streaking orange stains, the all-knowing, all-seeing red lens framed by rusty pockmarked steel. Painterly perfection! Incidentally, this image was the very first photography that I sold in a gallery. It may have had my name on it, but Mother Nature gets all the credit.