West Bottoms

The Brute (Subaru WRX)

Some cars are precision instruments, and require a delicate touch to elicit every iota of performance. The Subaru WRX is not one of these. In a world of scalpels, it is a hatchet. Some cars have you pick a laser precise racing line, delicately feathering the throttle as you tweak your steering angle. Not the WRX. Turn the traction control all the way off, drop a gear, stomp the pedal to the floor, and point it in generally the right direction you'd like to go. Less a sniper rifle, more of a shotgun. It will bounce, and crash, and slide, and hop, but it will never stop. Keep your foot in it, keep your nerves up, and trust the machine.

The sheer unflappability of it causes a distinct change in your driving patterns. You become much less concerned with things like potholes, or snow, or pavement, or traffic laws. "It will be fine," becomes your mantra. You're on an unpaved construction road tight enough that the only thing louder the gravel rattling off the undercarriage is the weeds slapping against your side-view mirrors? Just let the car settle a bit after any major hit, and keep a light touch on the wheel. It's going to squirm on you. Driving a WRX fast in the wild is surprisingly similar to driving a snowmobile: it's never going entirely in a straight line.

Along that line, you will develop a unhealthy appreciation for poor driving conditions. A WRX gets better and better the worse everything else gets. You will pray for everything sports cars hate. You'll crave rain, and snow, and mud, and gravel. When the rest of the city is asleep during a blizzard, you'll be out in a parking lot, practicing your Scandinavian Flick. When everyone is creeping along in the sleet, you're the asshole trying to see if you can keep the car sideways all the way through the intersection. You'll drive down beaten paths in construction yards, just to see where they go.

The trade-off to this is that in perfect driving conditions, you can start to notice some of the shortcomings of the car. Think of it as an AK-47. Its success is directly tied to the sheer abuse it is willing to absorb. The side effect of that is a certain ham-fistedness. The steering is a bit vague on-center, the clutch is a bit heavy, the shifter is a bit rough, and the car bounces a bit. While in a second gear slide through a foot of snow, as you steer by looking out the side windows, none of that matters, and in all reality, is probably helping. But when you're commuting to work, that slop raises its head.

But at the end of the day, none of that matters.  To put it in real world terms, I drove OVER a dead deer at 70 miles per hour, and all that happened was a crack in the front lip of the bumper. Zero mechanical issues. Zero damage to the skid plate. It felt like a hit a small speedbump. It did that, drove across the city in a foot of standing snow, slaloming stranded cars on the interstate, carried a shocking level of speed down unpaved country roads, and much more. All with never missing a beat, while still being able to run with a 5.0 liter Mustang, or haul hundreds of pounds of equipment from the hardware store. You want delicacy? Go buy a Miata. You want speed, utility, durability, and a Nirvana level of "not caring"? Buy the WRX.

Descending like the Mongol horde.

 

Sunrise. Two photographers. Three videographers. Six cars worth a total of $360,000. 2,854 horsepower….Magic.

My biggest client, Pure Pursuit Automotive, is a nationwide dealer and broker for “sport luxury” cars. Basically, if it costs over $40,000 or has more than 300hp, they deal in it. A while ago, I got pulled in for a fast, run-and-gun shoot at the crack of dawn. We needed to churn out as much content as possible before the light changed and spoiled the setting.

The West Bottoms is basically a cliche now for photographers in Kansas City.  For those non-locals, it's a section of the city that used to be thriving with slaughterhouses and warehouses, but has since fallen into disrepair.  It is on it's way back up, but is still rather gritty.  The rusted girders and scarred bricks lend a shocking contrast to the gleaming luxury rides.

2013 BMW M5

I had to work quickly, as I still have a full-time day job in addition to my contract work.  So when the rest of the team rolled in a bit before seven o'clock in the morning, we rallied the troops and started divvying up the work.  By the way, if you've never seen a pack of M5s, Stingrays, 911s, etc roll down the street at sunrise, it will bring a tear to your eye.  So the game plan was to split the photo work in half, and have me tackle two cars in an hour before I hit the road.

First up was that Bavarian brute, the M5.  I am a sucker for BMW, and always have been.  This might be a result of my father owning a 2002 when I was growing up.  I directed the driver to a favorite little courtyard of mine, and I got to work.  Seeing how we were on a time-crunch, I just went hand-held with no lights the whole time, which was tricky. Seven in the morning, in an alley, with a polarizing filter on the lens really cuts down on the available light.

Now that's a set of brakes.

After we finished the BMW, we swung back by our bivouc to swap vehicles.  From there I hopped into a 2014 Stingray with another driver.  Now, I was never the biggest Corvette fan back in the day.  The C6 was a substantial improvement over earlier generations, but the interior just felt so cheap.  A car of that potential should not feel like a rental Cobalt inside.  But the C7 Stingray is just stunning in person.  It photographs well, don't get me wrong, but in person, those just have PRESENCE.  It may not be pretty in the traditional sense, but goddamn is it striking.

Now that's an entrance.

Shooting on this little bridge reminded me of why I love Kansas City.  We parked in the dead center of the road (granted, it's mostly a utility road, not a main thoroughfare), and whenever work trucks came by, they waited patiently for us to move, and weren't upset at all.  I love cities in which weird art projects are considered mundane.

By this time the sun was up higher, but still not throwing much light down underneath where we sat.  This was very much run-and-gun, as the clock was running out, and we kept having to move for traffic to pass.  Once I wrapped up, we headed back to the rest of the team, and I hurried off to my other job.

All in all, a successful, and educational, morning.






A romantic walk through the wasteland

Last weekend I took my girlfriend for a walk through the West Bottoms in Kansas City, because I'm classy like that.  Nothing says romance like abandoned warehouses, and the possibility of getting shanked by a hobo.  Take notes, kids.

Just a cozy little alley.

The West Bottoms is one of my favorite areas to go take photos, just because of the various types of architecture.  Everything has so much texture that it just pops.  Plus, if you are shooting cars, the polished vehicles contrast nicely with the gritty buildings.

That's not creepy at all.

This time we didn't have any specific agenda, we were just wandering and looking for patterns.  I did get to see two drunk men in tuxedos pee on a wall though, so that's something.  No pictures of that, sadly.

A lot of new graffiti had popped up since the last time I was down there.  As more and more of the district gets renovated, more and more security cameras are posted, which cuts down on a lot of it.  But certain areas keep accumulating some unbelievably beautiful pieces.  Kansas City has a pretty respectable graffiti scene, which I think is aided immensely by the fact that Scribe has so many legal murals around the city.

Oooh...juxtoposition.

Our walk got cut short by the storm rolling in, but it was great to get out and just shoot for fun again.  I don't do as much creative work as I used to do, since I'm usually working on commercial projects.  But to go for a walk with a camera and no agenda was incredibly relaxing.