Behind the Camera: Shooting a Derelict Warehouse
Factory #4 by Mark Munro.
Mark Munro’s luck was up when he came across a derelict factory that was
about to be knocked down.
"I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.” Thomas Jefferson (1743 - 1826).
Whenever I’m asked to talk about my work I find most discussions eventually steer towards my “Factory Series”, represented here by my personal favourite, “Factory #4.” This series came about as a result of being in the right place at the right time, good weather, smooth talking and plain old-fashioned luck…more or less!
As with most professional photographers, I’m always on the lookout for an opportunity to shoot some personal work, so whilst I am out-and-about, I’m constantly scouring the world around me for something unusual on which to focus my personal vision. I tend to look for scenarios that are quite graphic visually, and I always seem to gravitate towards locations that are old and interesting.
The man-made environment fascinates me, especially when there’s the hint of history to be found. Maybe I was an archaeologist in a previous life!
As I drove around Port Melbourne looking for a location from which to shoot an advertising job, I drove past the old Commonwealth Aircraft Factory, a classic 1930s factory made famous for producing many of Australia’s military aircraft during the Second World War and beyond.
My jaw dropped as I drove past this famous Port Melbourne landmark to see it was about to be demolished! One small building had already been razed, and the main building had the roof removed, exposing a huge exoskeleton, sitting in the landscape like a gigantic Meccano set waiting to be put away in a toy box. I just knew it had to be photographed before it was gone forever!
A quick U-turn, and I began searching for a demolition site office. As luck would have it I found an easy-going site manager sheltering in the site office from a cold Melbourne winter’s day. Once I had assured him that I was indeed a professional photographer doing some shots for my portfolio and not a terrorist, (and that I had the appropriate public liability insurance in case I was run over by any big machines) he gave me permission to photograph the site...
“But you can’t come back for a couple of days, ‘cos we’re removing all the asbestos tomorrow...and you’ll need to be quick, because it will be all gone two days after that, OK?”
Like I had a choice! I took a couple of reference shots on my digital camera, and then I left, crossing my fingers that when I returned two days later the building would still be standing. But when I reviewed my reference shots, I felt that maybe the shots would not be quite as exciting as I’d hoped.
I decided to go back and shoot it at the very least as an architectural record, but I was starting to think it wouldn’t make the folio after all! Two days later, a cold, overcast Melbourne day greeted me, and I loaded the car with the 5x4 camera, a fluoro vest, hard-hat and thermos. When I arrived, not only was the factory still standing, but the photographic gods had blessed me!
As part of the asbestos-removal process a high-pressure hose had been used to clean the remaining fibres off the framework, leaving gigantic puddles of water on the concrete floor - a perfect reflective surface. And then the clouds parted, and the sun shone just enough to make a difference, and I began my photographic record. How lucky can you get!
I spent two days on location, photographing slowly and methodically (as you do when using a 5x4 camera) taking great pains to compose each image precisely before exposing two frames per scene. There would be no second chances possible.
The “Factory Series” has been a terrific success for me. Not only are they still a hit in my portfolio, they have been the subject of sell-out exhibitions in Melbourne and Sydney, creating a profile for me in the fine-art world as well.
As a footnote, I drove past the site several days later, and as predicted, the building was gone, erased from the landscape but not from memory. I wonder if the shiny office building that replaced it will look as good when it gets demolished?
Camera: Arca Swiss F-line 5x4 View Camera. Lens: Schneider 120 Super-Symmar HM. Film: Fuji Colour negative film. Photo by Mark Munro.
Article first published in Australian Photography magazine.