Canadian photographer Gerard Yunker had the Canadian Pacific Railway on his radar for quite some time. Being one of Canada’s premier industrial photographers, Gerard very much wanted CPR as a client. But, like many clients, it was challenging to get their attention. Gerard was persistent though; he wrote personal emails and sent promos their way in an effort to get his work seen. Even though he received no response, he remained undeterred.
Then, out of the blue when Gerard was in the United States shooting a job on a work visa, he received a call from Vanessa DiFruscia, the Internal Communications Coordinator at CPR.
Almost a decade in the making, Canadian Pacific Railway had partnered with mining/chemical company K+S to provide transportation for their newly completed potash mine in rural Saskatchewan. Vanessa needed a photographer to create a library of commercial images for the inauguration of the mine and to commemorate the partnership between the two companies. Gerard’s persistence had paid off!
The very next day, Gerard hopped on a plane and headed up to Calgary to meet Vanessa. Together, they drove to the mining site and scouted the location in preparation for the shoot.
Ernie, the foreman of the plant, drove Gerard through the various sites and facilities, showing him the railroads that would be used to haul away the potash. It was essentially a big tour of the facility, and Gerard was able to take a few preliminary pictures along the way.
This tour of the facility was pretty much the extent of the pre-production. Gerard prefers to shoot more from life, in an almost photojournalistic style.
With projects like this, too much staging can make the pictures look very artificial, very fast…
The next day, the real shooting began. CPR had brought in three different locomotives each with around 180 train cars each, and this was the first time the infrastructure was going to be used.
There were many sites Gerard needed to cover, so he worked relatively fast. The light was overcast and diffuse, providing ideal conditions for the sort of photographs Gerard wanted to capture. First, he photographed a newly constructed bridge that gives the trains access to the plant.
Next, Gerard photographed the locomotives moving through a large tunnel. For this shot, Gerard had a little bit more control. The train’s operators knew photos were being taken that day, so they allowed Gerard to stop the train and move it forward at will, so it would be in the ideal position for the image.
Gerard joked that this was the extent of the production on the whole shoot.
From there, Gerard hopped on the train as it moved to the next site. Onboard, he had the chance to make portraits of Ernie and the other engineers inside the cab.
Since Ernie is in charge of much of the plant, Gerard thought he was an important part of the story. He came up with the idea of photographing the man in front of one of the locomotives separate from the rest of the crew.
One of Gerard’s favorite aspects of any shoot is the opportunity to travel to new places and learn about existing technologies. Gerard thinks it’s essential for him to get his head around the technologies he photographs, so he knows how to best portray them.
This shoot was no different. The more Gerard learned about the potash process and the newly created facility to harvest it, the more he was impressed by the sheer scale of the operation. (Potash is a term for various mined salts and potassium. K+S uses this raw material to produce everything from fertilizers to table salt.) Already being interested in industry and the different ways human beings physically change and shape the land, Gerard was fascinated.
It was mind-boggling to think of how much earth had to be moved to make this project a reality.
After the day was done, Gerard returned to Calgary with full memory cards and fond memories. Although this project is hot off the presses, Gerard has received some very positive preliminary feedback from the client and CPR is already using some of his images on their website.
See more of Gerard at gerardyunker.com