METAL GODS: PHOTOGRAPHER ARTHUR DROOKER
An enormous steel claw is closing its grip on the top of a stack of flattened, crumpled automobiles. This action shot from photographer Arthur Drooker’s
Heavy Metal series contrasts the blue, red, purple, and grey car bodies with the dirty, naked-steel claw mechanism. “It’s called a ‘grapple’ in the industry,” said Drooker, a Bay Area resident who described these photographs — many of which are being shown at Patina Gallery (131 W. Palace Ave., 505-986-3432) — as the realization of an idea he has long nurtured. “For years I’ve been intrigued by the sculptures of John Chamberlain. He would take scrap, typically from cars, and weld it into interesting artworks. I thought that it would be interesting to do somewhat of a photographic equivalent of that and years later, in 2013, I began pursuing the idea seriously.”
Through a fortuitous set of circumstances, he was granted access to the massive Schnitzer Steel Industries recycling facility on the Oakland waterfront. When he found out that he was the first photographer the company had ever admitted, he felt like an urban explorer. He thinks
Grapple is the first photograph he took. “It was early in the morning, and all these flatbed trucks were lined up with stacks of pancaked cars on them. Then a huge crane with that giant grapple would basically pick up a bunch of the cars at once and stack them in much higher stacks.”
Another photograph, simply titled Stack, is a detail from one of those tall piles of flattened vehicles. “It’s an example of what I wanted to do, similar to the Chamberlain works, trying to make something abstract and interesting out of consumer culture’s discards.” The next moment in this scrap-metal story is illustrated in Shredder, a photo of a large, bizarre contraption that looks a little like a building. From those tall stacks, the flattened cars are transported by conveyor belt into this “megashredder” facility. “When it leaves, the shredded metal is piled up and put on cargo containers on ships to Asia, where it’s recycled into cheap steel,” Drooker said. The other images in the Heavy Metal portfolio offer interesting perspectives on masses of scrap wire, railroad rails, license plates, radiators, and other objects. The exhibition opens with an artist reception at Patina Gallery on Friday, Nov. 13, at 5 p.m.
Drooker also has a brand-new book out from University of New Mexico Press: Pie Town Revisited, which features his photographs of a city that was first documented in 1940 by Farm Security Administration photographer Russell Lee. A book signing is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 14, at Collected Works (202 Galisteo Street, 505-988-4226). — Paul Weideman