Thursday, January 24, 2013

Slaughterhouse at Night

The stench hits you before you reach Greeley, CO, and when you arrive in town it’s overpowering. It’s the smell of animal slaughter. 

I was in Greeley for a photography job, and to my delight I met Monte Black- a fifty-year-old cowboy turned dancer from Wyoming. We went for a late night drive, and we discovered smoke emanating from behind the fortressed gates of the slaughterhouse. 

I needed to get closer, so we walked right up to the barbed wire fence, ignoring the "No Trespassing" sign. We had to work quickly before security arrived. Monte started improvising.

This last pose struck a cord with me. Monte looked like a rancher reaching through the ashes of the suffering animals towards Heaven, begging for forgiveness. Now we just had to wait for the smoke to thicken. We didn't wait long.

As Monte held his pose, I watched the putrid smoke create beauty around him. I’ve shot in many conditions over the years, and nothing has compared to the penetrating odor of death. If I close my eyes, I can still taste it in my mouth. 

After ten minutes, we got the image that was selected for the "Grieving" chapter of Dancers Among Us: 

As quickly as it came, the smoke disappeared. 

I went back to my hotel and took a thirty minute shower, but there is no soap that cleans where the smell was trapped- beneath my skin. 

The next day I was still mournful, so I decided to capture another melancholy photo. I asked Monte and his wife, Christy (also a dancer), to bring their baby to a desolate train yard. I wanted an image of a mother struggling to remain strong despite many setbacks. Monte played the role of the disconnected husband. 

Sometimes the process is painful but the result is thrilling. That's how I feel about these images. Thank you to Monte, Christy, and Pamela Bob (my friend and collaborator) for helping me tell these sad stories with dignity.