Construction is a
wonderful subject for serious photography. It literally roars
with rapidly changing activities that can yield eternally
Jobsites are intense with huge
forces at play. Great masses are in balance, held just so
by human wit and skill as structures are drawn from patterns
and colors of massed supplies. Creations rise majestically
through the glowing light of ever- changing days.
And everywhere there are the people
who conceive and manage the projects, whose hands set the
brick, weld the steel, screed the mud and drive the nails.
In photos they forever give witness to the fact that every
piece of the built world was imagined by human mind, placed
by human hand.
photographer lives on edge.
(Photo courtesy of Culver Pictures)
Click on photo for larger image.
Construction photographer Michael
Goodman, a 20-year veteran of the specialty who has published
hundreds of images in ENR, refers to it as "the magic
process of construction." He believes the best construction
photos often revolve around the people at the heart of the
Editors, art directors and others
in the field agree. "Its a tough thing to define,
but you know it when you see it," says Terry Lowenthal,
a shooter and the photo editor for Bechtel Corp.s internal
employee publication. Lowenthal says photographers who consistently
deliver superior images not only find interesting light and
angles, they also forcefully convey scale. And if there are
people at work, they are invariably at the peak of action.
"Its like sports photography," she says. "Find
that moment that captures the action.
"We focus not only on getting
dramatic pictures of the things we build, but also on the
people creating these incredible things," adds Lowenthal.
"We dont just photograph completed projects. In
fact, we mostly photograph projects in progress. Its
important to show how they are built. It gives people who
are not engineers an appreciation of what goes into something
like the building of a powerplant, a dam or railroad."
Whether digging through archives
that go back 127 years or studying the best new work of photographers
today, ENR Art Director Guy Lawrence says it is remarkable
how often the same qualities emerge in the most arresting
images. Aside from the basic high standards of sharp focus
and correct exposure, almost all the great shots are built
around people. The framing is dramatic and the pictures often
depict workers in the midst of scenes seething with the restrained
energy of looming mass and machines. The implication is one
of skillfully managed risk, even danger, and the effect is
|BALLET Workers, site and machine in eternal balance in early
(Photo courtesy of Bechtel)
Click on photo for larger image.
Lawrence says the best images convey
an intensity about the individuals engaged in their work.
In some of the most compelling ones, there suddenly comes
a secondary recognition that the unseen photographer is mysteriously
perched somewhere that may be even more remarkable than the
position of the people depicted in the scene.
"Sometimes youve got
to go to some pretty outrageous places," Goodman acknowledges.
"I dont try to do dangerous things, [but] thats
part of that momentyou being in the right place at the
right time." Goodman says good work often starts with
getting inside the fence and closing in on the action. "Up
close and personal is how to shoot it. Get right in there
Good photographers shoot many
images and vary the composition. Opportunities are dear and
film is cheap. Editors point out that interesting work is
not necessarily the same thing as an interesting image. When
the work gets intense, thats the time to shoot, not
when its over and the handshakes are going around. Think
about the image in the frame and consider the light. Sometimes
early and late sun will vastly enhance otherwise mundane scenes.
Photographers should study the
job and collaborate with the builder. Because sites are often
closed and can be dangerous, construction photography calls
for shooters who understand the work. The best shots require
cooperation between builder and photographer.
"Our feeling is that construction
photography, particularly tunneling, is a team game,"
says James Byrne of QA Photos, Folkestone, Kent, England.
Byrne collaborated with Diana Craigie
to capture the essence of the boring of the Channel Tunnel
linking England and France. "Our best photos are a small
tribute to all those amazing construction people building
all those wonderful structures who believed in us, helped
us, kept us safe and cared enough to make the effort on our
behalf," Byrne says.
Like the tunneling image, forceful
photos yank the viewer into another time and place and drive
the mind to analyze and contemplate. "What I like about
[the photo] is that when miners look at it they say they can
smell the tunnel. And when I look at it I can feel the grit
in my teeth. I can taste the tunnel," says Craigie.
Great pictures do much more than
please the eye. Great shots hijack our minds and take us away.
Click on photo to enlarge