The Abandoned Gas Station Build (Part 1)

The project I am currently working on.

Lately, with my photography, I’ve been focusing on mood and building that mood by using signifiers that represent meaning both personally and universally.

This landed me on a gas station at night. I’ve shot gas stations before. I had wanted to do one of my rabbit head pictures with one. That day I carried the rabbit head on my bike. I was crossing a bridge when I passed two little people – is that what they prefer to be called? I’ve never seen them before in Ajax and I haven’t seen them since. I don’t know if they actually live here or they were visitors. I mean, I remember that more than whether I was successful at getting the actual shot. What did we look like on that bridge that day?

Anyway, gas stations represent a kind of transient aspect. I had actually written a lengthy post on my phone about all this, and my various traveling road trip experiences in my life, but as luck would have it my phone, where I was drafting the post, died just as I was plugging it in to charge it. So maybe another time.

Enough to say as I was doing my research on them, I imagined a character on the run perhaps, and without a car, seeing i like a mirage at night. A beacon of light, a beacon of hope, only to arrive to find it abandoned.

Here is the first conceptual sketch I made in my journal. What I was trying to represent here was both the graphic simplicity of the shot.

I had considered something that would make it feel like it was abandoned by designing it with a shape that signified an older time but I might use a neon strip around a curved roof to give it that feel and keep the posts simple.

The sketch also shows how the figure would be lit so it’s just barely there. But with the graphic simplicity, your eye will be drawn to it.

I have this shot, an extension of the series about the room. Here there is also a barely there component to the character, I realized. In this shot, the intention was to be drawn outside where you are faced with another wall, an a window you can’t get through. She is hardly a subject in her own life.

Unfortunately, my sister thought this cropping was an Instagram cropping accident when she saw it on Instagram. I don’t know whether this simply means that Instagram was the wrong place to present it, or whether the cropping itself just feels unintentional.

But I had hoped with her barely-there shape in the dark with your eye being drawn out the window, with the emphasis on the light and her in the dark, the unmade bed, the arms crossed, and yet she lounges back that you might get the feeling of it. Light through a window has often represented God in art history. yet despite the emphasis on light, this is a dark picture. It was meant to be the third in the series where the character finds herself in this room after something has happened. There is a succession to this, less dark, but not necessarily more helpful, as she sinks into her new life. I don’t know whether I will go back to shoot it or not.

For now, I am excited about this project and while it is not the same story, it is along the same theme.

Despite that excitement, I procrastinated. I just didn’t know what size to make it and I knew I could probably make it any size, but ugh, I don’t want to make it just any old size. That’ll be my film training there. Very little in a movie is by accident.

So that lead me down the rabbit hole of research which, well, you have to be careful, and you have to make sure you are not actually procrastinating for some other reason you are not conscious of. I mean research can suck time. And you have to make sure you don’t get stuck trying to replicate reality because that can also suck time, and it may actually not help with your vision. Reality is a distraction. In more ways than one.

Using this building in this photo by Paul J Bucknell as a starting point for measurements, I used the door as my point of reference (assuming it was 80 inches high) for the “t” point I’m looking for and measured out the dimensions I might base my model on. I also used plans for a modern Sunoco station signage that I found to fill out the width between the pumps which you can’t see in this photo. I don’t plan to have the building itself in the shot, so I am not building that, but I wouldn’t want to rule it out for later.

Below, the posts for the roof and base models for the gas pumps that will appear just behind the posts are made, newly glued and drying. I plan to sand the curves into the pumps, one anyway, maybe two if I want to shoot this from other angles. I did a little testing and hoping this will work to create the right silhouette shape I’m looking for. Modern pumps are very angular but in the past they had curves. I think, I hope, the curves will get just enough to suggest on a subconscious level that the station might be from another time.

You can see the blue foam works bevelling tool in the background I used. I don’t know whether I’d recommend it or not. It’s definitely easier than hand bevelling, but it seems like it’s not designed to easily make the cuts precisely where you want using a straight edge as a guide. I used up drawing a line and hand cutting it and even then I struggled getting the right depth and exactly where to make the cut.

I may just try to design something myself and beg my sister to help me get it into a 3D design and print it for me.

The lighting plan below with some ideas on making the textures and base which I hope to start this afternoon.

Other than the neon strip (which might not even make it into the shot but I hope it does) I am not a 100% sure I will actually light it this way. I am toying with the idea of doing some light painting to give it a bit of a surreal glow. Lit without an unmotivated source as in.

The advantage of lighting it with practicals is that you can then create some atmosphere in the air helping to sell the reality of the shot. I’ve been looking into LED strip lights, but I think I’ll got with these other dollar store lights I bought and poke them through the foam core.

But then, I’m not entirely sure I want to make it dead obvious that all of the lights are on as that suggests the gas station is running and no one is there, rather than being outright abandoned and forgotten about. I like the idea some kids broke into it and turned on the neon for laughs. I mean, I am doing what I can to justify the neon! I want neon! Gimme the neon! It may get sacrificed, though. We’ll see!

So at this point I’m leaving the lighting options open. This is a decision that will either happen in the construction phase, shooting phase or editing phase.