As you know, driving around last Friday, I stumbled upon "Jack's Auto Ranch", a boneyard located in Watertown, WI, which you can triangulate between Choncord, Pipersville and Farmington, South of I-94 between Milwaukee and Madison.
Over the last forty years, Jack has assembled a monumental collection of cars and trucks on the Ranch, where he does some repairs, but mainly parts. I hope to return at some point to photograph Jack himself, and the interior of his shops. I tried emailing him, but his account is closed. I'll take him some prints, so that he can see what I am doing, and see if he'll let me shoot inside. I think he'll like the photos, but he's a pretty quiet guy, at least around strangers.
His office is heated by a wood stove, and his junkyard cat is never from the stove, always looking for a scratch. Just avoid the torn-up ear she got from some Tom cat.
The walls are completely covered with hubcaps, steering wheels, alternators, starters, and other small parts on shelves, and a number of hand-lettered signs advising of the Ranch's policies; "No returns if you remove a part, and then decide you didn't need it."
A round wooden table and four bucket-style Naugahyde seats are screwed to a sheet of plywood near the front window like they were transplanted here as a unit. When I was there, there was a box of doughnuts, minus a few, right in the middle of the table.
Outside in the cold morning light, I was really overcome with the scale of it all. As a photographer, you are always looking to simplify the background, to separate your subject and to eliminate distracting details, especially on objects that are close enough to stay in focus. If you are thinking this way, a junkyard is a nightmare. The vehicles are so close together that many times, you can't squeeze between them. They are stacked on top of one another, and every background is a jumbled, reflecting mass of edges and colors of other vehicles.
After a short period of strong disorientation, I began to see pictures, and opening up the lens wide to create a narrow plane of focus, and soften the backgrounds. I got a lot of nice images, actually much better than I thought while I was shooting. They seem to fall into some distinct categories. These I consider "wrecked cars", which seems obvious, but by that I mean that a significant portion of the car is intact and recognizable, but they, or parts of them, are in positions that you immediately recognize are unnatural, shall we say.
And always, the patina of chrome, rust and faded paint are magnificent.
all images and words copyright 2009 Jeff Blackwell