(Trona, CA, 2007. Image copyright Hamish Reid. Click on image above for larger version).
It used to be that sometimes when the wind was blowing the right way you could smell Trona from miles up the Trona Wildrose Road, long before you could see the town itself (this was certainly true the first time I drove into Trona a decade or two ago). I don't know if it's still true (the last time I was there I had a cold), but it's a distinctive sulphur smell that seeps into everything from the processing plants and dry lake beds.
So Trona's a tough place, a busy little Mojave desert mining and industrial town, nestled up against and between beautiful rugged bare ranges, surrounded by salt flats, the Trona Pinnacles
, scrub, sand, and
. Driving in through the outskirts of town I'm always mesmerised by the casual junk
strewn around front yards, side streets, vacant lots, and the tough bare mountains standing behind the industrial plants.
I pass through Trona maybe once a year, but I've always found it difficult to capture the way I see this place, the disjunction between the beautiful surroundings and the industrial plants, the way everything seems to glint in this landscape, the junk, the hills, the dirt, the truck windshields, the smokestacks, the roofs, the cables
and sometimes everything seems to be held together by those cables, strung between poles, across sandy lots and bare streets, between old wooden sheds and windowless buildings. I think the real problem for me has always been that the place is about atmosphere (in every sense), and that's a difficult thing to get with a short visit here and there and a few snaps left right and centre; it's also about visual juxtapositions that don't work without physical context.
This image does things differently, takes a different tack, and, while it's actually missing some of the most crucial image elements I associate with Trona the plants, the railway, the windowless churches, the high school (home of the Trona Tornadoes) it sort of gives the right impression in ways most of my other attempts don't. Why does it work for me? Because it leaves all that other stuff out, I suspect, and because if you spend long enough in Trona, the wires seem to be everywhere. The rest is there (for me) by implication, but for someone who's never seen (or even heard of) Trona, the image probably leaves you wondering whether there's anything else there at Trona at all and maybe to want to find out yourself. Which would be a good outcome for any photo
(Oakland, 2007. Image copyright Hamish Reid).
Yes, you've seen bits of this before
. I've often strived for the flesh-meets-steel effect, the collision of the intimate and the estranged, often a little too hard, a little too obviously, but this one works for me. It's definitely got a sci-fi feeling to it for most people, which isn't what I wanted at all, but never mind: the contrasting structures of body and port, the nipple showing through defiantly, the reddish tone, the intimation of skin and surface
that all sets it in the right direction for me. I'll get it right one day