Mention to someone that you're a professional photographer and chances are they may conjure up thoughts of you having a glamorous lifestyle, photographing beautiful models and traveling to exotic locales. And granted, there are some pros who actually live that fantasy. But for most of us, the glam jobs come only occasionally and the remainder of the year is filled with assignments that help cover the overhead, keeping the doors open until that next dream shoot comes along.
I was hired this past year by a New York communications firm to shoot a project that was decidedly not glamorous by any stretch of the word. It was a three-week stint photographing the "old" General Motors bankruptcy properties throughout the state of Michigan. My job was to photograph these assets in their varied states of condition, from repopulated to vacant, from stages of demolition to vacuous parcels of land.
Although not the style of work I normally strive for, the assignment paid fairly well and there were no tight deadlines to contend with. I met several interesting people along the way, some who shared their stories with me of a lifetime of working in these factories and the deep sadness they felt in seeing them ultimately closed. I couldn't help but think of all the workers who had once walked the floors of these plants, providing for their families and of the cycle of life that surrounds us, both in the living and in the manufactured.
From careening a three-wheeled bicycle with camera gear in tow through a darkened million square foot edifice, to being chauffeured in a golf cart through the historic Willow Run plant in Ypsilanti, we can find the silver lining in all assignments that come our way if we're open to them. Mine came especially true knowing that I was retracing the footsteps of those workers from a generation ago who had built my father's World War II B-24 bomber on the very floor that I now had the opportunity to stand with my camera poised.
Not a glamorous shoot, but for me, a memorable one.