“Trucking isn't a career – it's a lifestyle; a culture all its own. And this culture is what keeps America rolling.” –Timothy Brady, former owner-operator turned author, business consultant and FleetOwner contributing editor
There are a lot of heavy tidings in trucking these days – bankruptcies, repossessions, parked trucks, and tattered family traditions to name just a few. It’s easy to get sucked into the litany of bad news (Lord knows, I’m just as guilty as the next journalist in reporting all of it) so I’m going to take a much-needed break from it today.
For we forget that while trucking is indeed a business – subject to the same harsh Darwinian laws governing any human enterprise – it’s also a culture with some SERIOUS cachet. I mean, trucks today are polluting less, yet are packed with safety technology and still look as glorious as ever – losing none of their panache, despite a public that almost willfully ignores the important economic role they (and their drivers, I stress) perform.
My compatriot Timothy Brady (pictured at right) has forgotten more about this subject than I know – and has the evidence to prove it, as well. Take a look at the movie below and you’ll see what I mean; a truly stunning pictorial of the journeys he’s made across this great country of ours, gleaned from over two decades spent plying America’s highways behind the wheel of a big rig:
“In what other career could you watch a blazing sunset in Arizona, a tranquil sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean, or buffalo and antelope roaming in Wyoming, and all in the same week?” he told me recently. “We've got a country with some of the most beautiful scenery on earth, from Utah's sandstone arches, to Vermont's snowy hills, to Key West and everywhere in between, and we (meaning truckers) get to see it all!”
Yet while all this beauty and grandeur isn’t the end-all be-all of a trucker’s life on the road – oh no. For Tim stressed that it’s the people truckers meet along the way that really make a difference.
“It’s about the great friendships we forge all across the country with folks from diverse backgrounds; the people who truly make America, America: the hard-working men and women who provide the sweat to produce the goods we truckers haul. All of us are in search of the American dream,” he explained to me. “We're truckers, the people who keep the wheels of industry rolling, by hauling the products our neighbor’s need, while providing for our families.”
Truckers are also the source of some truly eye-popping visuals these days – stuff that I think puts a lot of the bric-a-brac that passes for art in our museums (especially the nonsense produced by the likes of “Gilbert and George” let me tell you) to utter shame.
Photographer extraordinaire Roger Snider, for example, has cataloged some pretty stunning trucks on his web site Ultra Rigs of the World and is now making many of them available for sale to the public at large. (And you can see some of them on this page -- pretty sharp stuff if you ask me!)
He for one fell in love with trucks as a form of artistic expression at a young age; a passion he rekindled after spending many years as a fashion photographer.
“To me, these are the coolest, most amazing works of art - and it‘s WORKING art, too,” Snider told me in an interview by phone from his office in Hollywood, California, last year. “These people literally live in these trucks - they don‘t just sit in a museum somewhere.”
His goal over the next four years is to go all over the world and take pictures of all these different custom trucks – not just U.S. truckers, mind you, but Japanese, Pakistanis, Australians, too – and then put together the ultimate global coffee table book about them.
“I‘m really coming at this from an eight year-olds sensitivity, trying to capture that level of excitement, passion, and wonder in my work,” he told me. “As I meet more custom truck owners and they learn to trust me, I‘ll keep expanding my work, too.”
This visceral visual interest in trucking is part of a larger resurgence of “automotive art,” as a growing number of artists are getting caught up in capturing cars on canvas – despite all the economic pounding the former Big Three and other carmakers are taking these days.
“Although these artists can choose from a world of subjects ranging from naked ladies to breathtaking landscapes and crashing waves, many remain fascinated by the lovely curves and flashing metal of car bodies,” Renee Castelluzzo, head of business development for online art marketplace DiscoveredArtists.com, told me recently by email.
She explained that automotive art typically falls into three categories. The first are “beauty shots” that usually are very tight, detailed fine art photographs, followed by “nostalgia artworks” that set a mood or capture a feeling, and then “realism portraits” where the artist creates a photo quality image of a vehicle using brush and paint.
“The fascination and the challenge for an artist is to capture the reflection of light and shadow on polished metal,” Castelluzzo noted. “The artist sees beauty in the interesting lines, curves and intricate details of grills, chrome strips and other ornamentation that distinguishes one make and model from another.”
[Classic Car Orange 07.15.07-018 is one in a series of 36 images by fine art photographer Paul Hasara, showing his attention to detail, artistry and technical skill. Hasara skillfully captures the small shadow of the hood ornament, the vibrant color and interesting mirrored reflections in the chrome.]
Working with different types of lenses and by using a number of lighting and digital processing techniques, a fine art photographer focuses his lens on an intricate detail of a car's body. His challenge is to capture the reflected light and shadow created by the bends and curves of the metal, and to use his artistic eye to effectively frame the image, she said.
“The successful result produces a balanced image of vibrant color and contrast that at first glance is simply a beautiful artwork. But what adds interest to the artwork is that the image invites the viewer to puzzle over and then decipher the make, model and featured body part,” Castelluzzo added. “What appears to be a colorful portrait may on further study be a hood vent, the chromed curve of a fender, a door handle, or a tail light shot with a macro lens.”
["Metal Melt" by fine art photographer Vlad Bubnov is a redefinition of "hot rod." It's an example of automotive beauty art and is actually the reflection of a 1957 Ford Thunderbird in its own chrome bumper. Bubnov's artisitic skill is creatively capturing and playing with light on metal.]
It’s the kind of stuff, too, reminds me at least that trucks are not just some soulless machines trundling along dreary ribbons of asphalt and concrete. There are human hands on their steering wheels for guidance; human hands maintaining their engines, transmissions and other complex body parts; with human thought and craft behind the creation of every dump truck, big rig, fire engine, etc.
Form does follow function to a great degree in trucking – and that's a necessity when it comes to such vital economic engines -- but it’s important to recall that this is NOT an industry devoid of art, nor creativity, nor especially of heart.
“This is America – what a great place to live,” Tim Brady told me.
Amen, my friend. Amen to that.