Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Docks, redux

I was interviewed a few days ago for an upcoming documentary about the Port of Los Angeles. As some might recall, I wrote a book called The Docks where I explored the port through the eyes of the people who work there. It's a project that I'm really proud of. And, now, after all those years of research and toil, I guess I'm considered a semi-authority on the subject. The producer interviewed me at Banning Park with a terminal in the background. The film, called "America Boxed In" (that's a little bit of wordplay on containerized cargo), will be coming to a theater or TV screen near you at the end of the year.

And speaking of The Docks, here's the cover shot that I did for the book.

I'm always amazed by that shot. Sometimes, you just get lucky. I had hitched a ride on a 900-foot cargo ship with a port pilot. That's the guy (I'm not aware of any women who have the job) who boats out to the cargo ship while it's still outside the port, boards the ship using a rope ladder (considered the most dangerous part of the job; after doing the same myself, I now have a little cred within the port community) and drives it into the harbor and its assigned terminal. The reason port pilots exist in just about every port in the world is simple: the ships' captains can't know every little bump and twist in a port that might knock them astray. For example, a channel might have peculiar currents that have to be compensated for.

During the ride into the port, I went outside the bridge some 10 stories above the water to the bridge wing and started photographing the scenes as they passed by. I realized that I had a great opportunity to juxtapose the containers stacked on the ship with a ship already moored at a terminal. Most photographs of ships in port are taken from the land, so this was a different perspective. I had a 16-35mm lens cranked out wide and just watched through the viewfinder as the elements started lining up. Snap, snap, snap. And then this shot. It was one of those magical moments where I realized I had the cover to my book even though I hadn't even written a single chapter and — unknown to my optimistic assumption that I would be finished researching soon — three years before the book would be published.

As a quick aside, the ride with the port pilot was pretty eventful. Right in the middle of the port's main channel, the engines stopped working leaving us adrift in the nation's busiest port. Then (after fixing that problem), as we were getting off the ship, we were greeted by gun-toting US Border and Protection agents. Unfortunately, I had left all my ID in my car. Fortunately, because I was with the port pilot, they barely looked at me. So much for port security.

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