15.5.13

"That looks like shit!"


This photo, taken of one of my hitches from my 1998 hitchhiking journey around Australia photographing everyone who gave me a lift and writing about each hitch (http://soididbook.blogspot.com.au/), is one of my favourite portraits. However, at the time I took it I thought it was 'shit'.
I was hoping to get a few hitches in trucks - semi-trailers more to the point - on my way Around Australia and really keen to get a ride in at least one in a roadtrain. However, it didn't pan out that way. I'm sure 99% of the reason was the fact I was a bloke. If I'd been of the female persuasion, I reckon I would have had semi-trailers and roadtrains queuing up.
In fact, I only got 2 hitches in trucks (both 'semis') and one followed the other. This bloke, Brian Melbourne, was my 2nd truck hitch. I got a ride with him because my first truck hitch, a guy called Marcus, phoned ahead and lined me up with Brian.
Marcus introduced me to Brian in Horsham, western Victoria. I got into Brian's semi and we soon discovered a mutual love of AC/DC. I also discvered that Brian loved swearing and pretty soon we were getting along like a house on fire. He was, in short, a good bloke.
He was also a heavily tattoo-ed good bloke and I knew early on I wanted to do a photo of him that incorporated his 'tatts'. It was late afternoon and I wanted to get the photo done while there was still some daylight kicking around. I told Brian what I had in mind and he kindly pulled the truck for me so I could get my photo (despite the 'truckie' demeanour, Brian proved a great model and, later on, when he spoke to his wife on the phone, he introduced himself as "Australia's next super model").
Once he'd pulled over I tried a few photos in the truck cab, with Brian resting his arms on the steering wheel and the tatts visible, but it looked pretty ordinary. I was 'umming' and 'aahing' to myself, trying to come up with an idea that would work. Nothing in the confines of the cab appealed so I suggested trying something outside.
We hopped down and I looked around. Nothing grabbed me and I was fast losing light, so I told Brian to lean against the cab with his arm out straight. This is the photo you see here.
Without even looking through the camera I could see that it didn't look great. There was lots wrong with it - for a start, I wanted more of the truck in frame. Out of courtesy more than anything I decided to take a photo as I didn't want Brian to think I was wasting his time.
I put the camera up to my face with every intention of taking just one frame and, as I pressed the shutter, I said to myself, 'That looks like shit'.
I tried a few other things before the light completely died. I wasn't happy with what I had but Brian had a schedule to stick to and I didn't want to piss him off. Anyway, I knew there was something passable in what I'd taken.
Months later, when my journey was over and I was in the darkroom printing up all the portraits of my hitches, I printed some of the photos of Brian in the truck. None of them grabbed me and I thought I'd screwed up royally. Out of frustration I put the negative of this photo into the enlarger and knocked off a quick print. I watched the image loom up at me from the tray of liquid and I couldn't believe what I saw. The photo I'd thought was shit suddenly came to life and almost leapt out of the tray and grabbed me by the throat.
Maybe it was because I'd thought it was shit that it seemed so much better but in B&W the photo took on a whole new dimension. Without meaning to get too technical, the late afternoon light meant there was little detail in the shadows and the photo is very much 'black' and 'white'.
As a result, there is so much mood and atmosphere about it and, most importantly, the tattoo, which was one of the things that initially didn't appeal, really came into its own. I love the fact that this photo took on a whole new life months after I'd taken it.


FOTNOTE - Brian and I have, on and off, kept in touch since we parted ways later that night in Adelaide. When I was doing publicity for the book of my journey, ...so I did, ABC TV's Stateline did a story on my journey and Brian, who happened to be in Brisbane with his semi-trailer, 'starred' in the story. We even recreated him picking me up in his truck in a sequence filmed at the offramp to the Boondall Entertainment Centre (a long way from Horsham!). I remember the producer telling me Brian was 'great talent'.
In fact, the same afternoon I posted this blog, I rang his parents to get a number for him and he was there. It was the first time we'd had a yarn in eight or nine years. He didn't seem to swear as much but maybe his folks were within earshot.

Gear used - Nikon FM2, Nikkor 24mm f2.8 lens, Neopan 1600ISO B%W film, exposure - probably around 1/60sec, f2.8.

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