Flashback: The Industrial Photography of David Clark
Editor's Note: This article was originally published at Shutter Photo on October 20, 2009. As nearly half of our currently subscribed audience was not following us at that time, we wanted to republish it for all to see. We will make an effort to resurface popular articles from our three years of publication throughout the course of the year. Enjoy.
David Clark has been lingering around the SP@Flickr Group almost since its inception. You may even remember him from our review of his photo, Summer Chair. David's gallery is a testament to the reach of his talents and skills – explorations in nature, landscape photography and close-up photography. But of all his works, perhaps the ones that are most inspiring are his photographs of industrial ruins. Ruins are appealing subjects: Chaotic compositions in which we, the photographer, must find composition. They are reminders of what the human spirit is capable of – both constructive and destructive. Davids work in this niche is simple, creative and inspiring.
Smelter Rooms, which is shown above, is one of David's more recent additions to his photo stream. It is the product of a rare tour of some of the abandoned and closed buildings at the Quincy Smelter. If you follow David long enough, you'll find that this is one of his favorite locations to shoot. I can only imagine the contacts that he's made in order to be permitted into these areas normally closed to the public (since 1967, according to his description on flickr). This shot shows us what nature can do to a place over just a short period of time (geologically, 1967 wasn't that long ago). There is a lot of texture in this image, greatly enhanced by the contrast. This was shot at f/8.0 with a shutter speed of 1/30 – a fairly slow speed requiring the use of a tripod. But there's no disadvantage of a tripod for a shot like this – just look at how crisp those edges are – especially on the lathe at the back wall.
Contrast is one of David's best-used tools. It brings out the texture as we saw in Smelter Rooms above. But it can also give us depth, such as in his next shot shown here, Doorways. The namesake for this shot are actually at the Ahmeek Stamp Mill in Tamarack City, Michigan. Here, David was able to capture the repeating pattern of the bright doorways and dark rooms between each pair of doors. On the nearest door, you're able to even see the grain in the wood; and we can even make out the pile of rubble just through the second set of doorways. This is a classic example of a frame within a frame technique, repetition and pattern. I actually feel that the frame added around the boarder during post-processing actually detracts from this shot. But I won't harp on that too much, because there's nothing pulling me away from the mesmerizing tunnel created by this repetitive pattern of doorways. Instead, you're pulled into the photo by the ever-shrinking shape of the doorways – each opening leading to a new discovery.
The last image I will leave you with today is titled Teeth, which was also shot at the Quincy Mines. As David's photo clearly demonstrates, sometimes it's not always about the big picture. Sometimes, the best shots are of the details. I'm not exactly sure what this is a shot of – perhaps a cog wheel or a very large scary saw. That doesn't matter, David's capture is close and intimate, filled with texture, form and pattern. He isolates the teeth through contrast, which is enhanced through the lighting. Not knowing exactly how the shot was set up, I can only guess from the shutter speed (1/200) and aperture (f/8.0) that David used some sort of direct light source. Perhaps these teeth were positioned near a window, or perhaps he had an external spotlight. The light source serves two purposes: Texture and contrast. The position of the light controls the texture.
Front-on lighting make the surface very flat while side lighting, as is shown here, creates dramatic shadows for texture. The intensity of the light source controls the contrast. At faster shutter speeds, you will expose for the brighter spots which makes the darker spots almost black, like you see here. This is actually a pretty cool trick you can use to separate your subject from the background. Now this shot exhibits something the others do not: Color. Especially considering the limited range of color in the shot, it might seem like an odd aspect to bring up. But therein lies David's intent. See, this shot would work perfectly well as a black-and-white shot. But David chose to share it with us in color. Why? I suspect that the rusty color is an important aspect of this photo's story. The rust shows this cog's age and disuse. In black-and-white, this would not be as relevant.
I hope you enjoyed David Clark's works which I have shared with you today. If you like his works and would like to explore more, you have several places you can find his photos. You can find them on his Flickr Photostream or his personal galleries. He also has a blog, Cliffs and Ruins, which exhibits some of his works complete with stories.