Grain Bins (or elevators or silos, or…)

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Skyscraper grain bins (also called elevators or silos, it all depends who is speaking) are monoliths that dominate space, community and economy.  As vast as the horizon can be on the Columbia Plateau, it is difficult to find a view that does not include a grain elevator of some sort.  Every small town, places with a population of 1000 or 100 or 10 or just a railroad siding with no permanent inhabitants have at least one skyscraper – a large complex of silos, storage buildings and equipment sheds for storing and transporting grain.  They may be found standing alone on gravel roads.  Many are abandoned and in various states of decay providing housing for untold numbers of pigeons and rodents.   Their exteriors are flaking away revealing the history of their construction.  The oldest started as wood and were eventually covered with aluminum.  Concrete foundations, and eventually all concrete bins came later.  All metal construction is the final stage in their evolution.  Some bins are still used for seed storage.  Many are actively in use for their original purpose today but primarily only in major transportation hubs where highway, train and or barge traffic converge.

 

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I initially photographed them with visions of producing images similar to the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher who documented industrial structures in Europe and North America. Their assemblages of similar structures were all done from the same perspective with untextured skies as if they were studio models.  I quickly realized several things: 1 – imitation was not what I had in mind if for no other reason that I was not capable of it; 2 – the most consistent light that I found in eastern Washington was glaring mid-day sun (or near midnight for which I can not remain awake); 3 – my work requires different angles and perspectives; and 4 – the sky here is often a major element of the photograph.  [If you are unfamiliar with the work of the Bechers I urge you look at their work.]

 

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This article has 2 comments

  1. Don

    All photographers (all artists, for that matter) are inspired by other’s work. The more artwork you know, the more you have to draw from and incorporate into your own. Not that the work is derivative, more that the work has a sense of the familiar. As you have said, originality is a matter of perspective (at least I think it was you). The Becher’s industrial architectural images, to me, feel mostly sterile, like a survey catalog. Yours, as Rob suggests, have mood and context.

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