Photos & Projects

At the Machine Boneyard: 10 Frames of Scrap Metal – by Christian Schroeder

June 2, 2020

Before I come to the actual topic of this post, the machine boneyard, allow me a short excursion.

During these Corona days, I have developed a ritual. As soon as the evening approaches, I am sitting in my armchair, looking out the window of my living room and watch the sun setting. Close to my house stands a fairly large administration building. On clear days, which we got lots of recently, the otherwise white facade explodes in an orange fire. Alpenglow right in my neighborhood. As the days go by, the hornbeams outside are showing some light green fluff. April has begun and, therewith, spring has arrived.

So, what has this to do with the images I want you to see? Well, while sitting in my chair, I had to think back to a trip I went on exactly one year ago. On a warm and sunny evening in early April 2019, I strolled around a machine boneyard for construction equipment. Decay, technical stuff and golden hour – a match made in heaven, at least for me. I already told you about this trip on an earlier post here on 35mmc and presented a few photographs. However, as I now remember this event with a tad of melancholy, I hope it makes a good story of its own.

A retired diesel engine found at the machine boneyard.

About my Trip to the Machine Boneyard

I had spotted the machine boneyard from the train, just on the day prior to my trip. (What does that tell you about my patience?) Rusty excavators and loaders stood there on a strip of wasteland, surrounded by trees and bushes. And not just two or three vehicles, a whole bunch of them. What a paradise! Although I had traveled this route many times before, I did not notice the rotten machines until then.

Sunset should occur at eight o’clock this evening. I planned to take my shots around the border between golden and blue hour. To end on the safe side, I arrived more than one hour too early at the site. An off-duty bus blocked the entrance, with the driver having a cigarette nearby. “Private property, better do not behave suspiciously”, I thought. “Let the cameras stay in the backpack – and you should back off in the meantime”, I gave myself instructions. To kill some time, I walked to the nearby village – only to feel like stranger, observed by countless pairs of eyes. One hour can turn into quite a stretch.

Decommissioned loader behind a fence at the machine boneyard.

Ten minutes before sunset, the bus finally left. Gate open, let’s roll! As I wanted to act quickly and move freely if necessary (read: run away), I didn’t employ my tripod. The fading light as bottleneck. As most of the machines stood there crammed together, I focused mainly parts on and details. Debris lay around all over the floor, so I had to set my feet carefully. With two 35mm cameras, I ran through almost 40 frames in less than thirty minutes.

Rusty bulldozer found at the machine boneyard.

They had removed the engine cowling – nice gesture!

About my Fascination for Scrap and Abandoned Things

Decay evokes melancholy. It saddens me to see these old vehicles resting and rusting. Most of them exhibited a bad shape: the paintwork peeling off, parts removed, windows smashed. At the same time, the machine boneyard appeared calm and peaceful. No Diesel engine running, no rattling chains, and no grinding metal. Instead of exhaust fumes I smelled – nothing. As most of the machines were built in the 1970s and 1980s, it felt like I was returning to my childhood. As a kid I couldn’t imagine a thing more fascinating than an excavator at work. Although the same types of machinery exist today – loaders, bulldozers, grinders – I realized how much there shapes have changed over the years. Back then, the housings were designed way more edgy. And I discovered that many of the brand names have vanished meanwhile.

In contrast to vintage sport cars or elegant sedans, these were just functional machines. There is no real community that keeps those elderly workhorses alive. You won’t see a classic bulldozer cruising down the city’s boulevards. I think that made this discovery so valuable to me.

Among the most fascinating photographic imagery I have seen in this regard ranks the Shipbreaking series by Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky. He presents an extremely dangerous and polluting scrapyard of a scale without comparison. Strangely shaped fragments standing on a vast, almost endless beach. I am tempted to see rather objects of modern art than hull sections of discarded oil tankers. Burtynsky covered these Indian and Bangladeshi places in the most aesthetic manner I can imagine.

Machine parts resting at the boneyard.

Please don’t ask for the purpose of this giant Canary melon.

A decommissioned grinder is overgrown by bushes on the machine boneyard.

A few Words on the Camera …

As I mentioned earlier, I took two cameras with me to the machine boneyard: a Nikon L35 point-and-shoot as well as my Leica MP. Equipped with a fast 50mm f/1.4 lens, the Leica could handle the fading light situation much better than the Nikon. The former also allowed for a good background separation through the shallow depth of field: another plus. Nevertheless, I experimented with the Nikon’s built-in flash. Only to realize later that the harsh flash light had killed all the soft, pastel colors. That’s the reason why you won’t see any of the images taken with the point-and-shoot here.

Leica MP rangefinder camera

The gear shot reveals: I had originally intend this post as part of the “Five Frames” series.

In probably most of the camera reviews dealing with Leica Ms you will read a line similar to this one: “an uncomplicated camera that doesn’t distract you from shooting”. These words exactly describe what I experienced with my MP. You might ask: “What is so difficult in taking photographs of lifeless objects?” I felt overwhelmed by the situation, there were so many things I wanted to capture. And yet I had to clean up the visual chaos first. Working under time pressure and the possibility of being thrown out at any moment. Although very basic, the MP’s integrated light meter helped a lot. No fiddling with an external meter as the light situation changed constantly.

If you are interested in more details on this camera, I gladly refer you to the reviews by Hamish and Adam.

… And on Colors

Why do we choose a color (negative) film over a black and white one? To draw a more realistic image of what we saw? To convey emotions associated with a particular color (set)? In my case, I find certain light conditions and the colors related to them just beautiful. So I think rather the latter reason applies. I really like how the film – Kodak Portra, of course… – renders the colors I encountered on the machine boneyard. Faded, pale tones of red, orange, yellow, and blue.

Abandoned and heavily damaged excavator.

Detail of an orange bulldozer found at the machine boneyard.

Final Words

Let’s look forward to the day we can go outside again and take shots of things we love. Until then, let’s develop new ideas, invent different approaches – and value our memories. Thank you for reading!

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12 Comments

  • Reply
    Bob Janes
    June 2, 2020 at 10:15 am

    Ahhh Rusty metal!

    • Reply
      Christian Schroeder
      June 2, 2020 at 12:43 pm

      Lots of!

  • Reply
    Rock
    June 2, 2020 at 10:27 am

    I would live to see a vintage bulldozer running down the highways!!!! Good post, Rock.

    • Reply
      Christian Schroeder
      June 2, 2020 at 12:43 pm

      Me too. 🙂

      Thank you, Rock!

  • Reply
    Martin
    June 2, 2020 at 10:43 am

    The canary lemon is an oil tank made from concrete, I think. Those were popular in the 1970ies -80ies here in Austria. Here they were globe shaped and the advertising slogan was: Ich bin zwei Öltanks (I am two oil tanks).
    I think the Austrian producer licensed them from Germany
    https://www.schroeder-behaeltertechnik.de/index.php/erdtank

    Stay healthy!

    • Reply
      Christian Schroeder
      June 2, 2020 at 12:47 pm

      Hi Martin,
      great, you solved the mystery! And the tank’s maker even has the same name as me…

  • Reply
    Ian R
    June 2, 2020 at 4:11 pm

    Technology meets wabi-sabi! a nice set of photos Christian. Food for thought and something else for me to keep in mind when we’re free to roam once again.

    Ian R

  • Reply
    Merlin Marquardt
    June 2, 2020 at 4:44 pm

    Fascinating.

  • Reply
    Khürt Louis Williams
    June 3, 2020 at 12:07 am

    Although very basic, the MP’s integrated light meter helped a lot. No fiddling with an external meter as the light situation changed constantly.

    Wise words. Although I’ve never shot Kodak Portra, I like the look of these images. I think I’ll have to shoot a roll soon

  • Reply
    Horace Porter
    June 15, 2020 at 11:34 am

    Yes, machine shapes have changed and we see many attractive looks and they are durable. Many new companies launched new machines. Today scrap yard companies are launched to buy scrap metal and recycle these to build news machines.

  • Reply
    Daniel Castelli
    July 13, 2020 at 12:57 am

    Oh boy,
    you could spend hours crawling over this equipment with a macro lens. Think of the abstract shapes they would yield!
    Another well done series of photos.

    • Reply
      Christian Schroeder
      July 13, 2020 at 3:26 pm

      I’ve always preferred a “bigger picture” – but I can absolutely imagine that this is heaven for a macro photographer. Thank you for your kind words, Daniel!

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