Wednesday, 31 October 2012
So this weeks' Real Life Assignment involves a trip to the Exxon Mobile oil refinery at Fawley, Southampton to shoot a new safety lanyard used by the scaffolders on site. Sounds dull? We'll see.
First of all, my industry expert pal and myself needed to get on site - a task that took 4 months of badgering, emails and phone calls, before Exxon agreed to let us in. It would have been way easier to set this thing up on a building site someplace but my client (Spanset) like things to be authentic and this particular piece of kit was specifically designed for the refinery and was not in use anywhere else - so the photos had to be at Fawley.
A 6 hour drive overnight from Yorkshire put us in a Holiday Inn, 10 minutes drive from the gate, at midnight on Sunday. Monday morning we presented ourselves at the security gate. Step one - go watch the basic site safety health and safety induction video in the portacabin. Step two - fill out these forms. Do you have cameras? Well you're going to need a pass for them. Now fill out some more forms and sit over there until one of the security guys comes and gets you. OK, he's here, so put all your kit into his van and go for more satefy briefings. Are you getting the picture here? Basically, an oil refinery is just one big terrorist target waiting to get hit and just about everything in here can hurt, maim or kill you. There's hot steam, and poisonous gas and stuff that can fall on your head from 200 feet up and so on.
Anyway - turns out we are not allowed to go anywhere on site without a minder and we definately, definately can't go over there, or in there and certainly not over there. Now it's time for another safety video and a check list. And it's a big site too. 5 square miles. Let me just repeat that. The Exxon Mobile Fawley oil refinery is 5 square miles of pipes, tunnels, towers, ladders and machinery. It's actually the biggest refinery in Europe and it produces - well everything in your life that is made from oil-derived products. Everything here is a massive scale. And I've just come to photograph a little bit of safety kit.
Ok, I'm suited and booted. I'm gloved and goggled. I'm sweating like a pig in my over-sized boiler suit and I can't hear a thing with my ear defenders on. Ready to do your best creative work then?
We are led into the grid. The noise is horrendous. The hiss of steam, clanking and banging of construction crews doing whatever - I realise why everyone has to wear ear defenders. We weave through muddy corridors of pipework and towers and steel stuff whilst gangs of workers do whatever they are doing all around. This looks like hell to me. I can't imagine calling this my office! But these guys do, 24/7.
And so we went to work - an hour of shooting whatever angles I could get, trying to think creatively and find ways of illustrating a small safety lanyard being used in the correct way. When it was over, we trooped back out to the van, back to the office and slumped onto plastic chairs utterly exhausted by the whole thing. Then drove 6 hours back up the motorway. So this is industrial photography eh? Cool!