After discovering the Big Muskie while on a portrait shoot outside of Zanesville, Ohio, I knew this was something I had to shoot. The Muskie was a relic of an industrial age gradually disappearing. It was one of the largest shovels ever built. A iron monster sitting in the middle of nowhere begging to be documented. Of course, I also wanted to bring a nude into this scenario. What a better commentary on man and machine than this behemoth.
Luckily I knew a trainer at my gym who was a natural body builder – no steroids. He was huge! Perfect for the Muskie. Greg was also a very sweet easy-going sort of guy. When I described the concept, he was excited. He was definitely anxious to see this machine.
It was a fun trip. On the way, Greg insisted I stop at a McDonald’s so he could get a Fun Meal. He said he was missing one last toy in his collection and was hoping to get it this time. I was just dumbfounded by innocence of this giant child-like weightlifter. I guess his boyfriend was also concerned enough about this naïvete to invite himself along as a chaperone. It wasn’t a problem for me as long as there was no interference. He watched me with suspicion through most of the shoot.
We walked about a mile and a half down a dusty winding road through a treeless landscape. As you crested each little hill it seemed as though the shovel should appear. Much like a mirage, it was an evasive target. Finally when it came into view, we took a moment to admire this huge contraption, the amazing scale of its engineering technology. During the shoot, we could hear machinery rumbling close by. We knew from those sounds that the death of the Muskie had been fairly recent.
The Muskie was incredible. Its boom angled about 12 stories into the air. Buzzards were circling around the top as if it were some dead dinosaur. Even though there was a fence keeping us from entering the actual machine, there was plenty of it available outside the fence to produce some terrific images. And Greg was an enthusiastic subject, easily engaging the huge specimen. His only complaint was the sizzling temperature of the metal from the summer sun.
We spent about two hours making images and climbing about the wreckage. Toward the end, Greg’s boyfriend asked to be included, quickly disrobed and climbed aboard one of the chains. I’ve felt obliged to include one of his shots. Before we left the area, we also discovered a tremendously deep channel filled with water. This was the Muskie’s last meal. It seemed to stretch on forever. Such a strange land surrounding this machine. The cost of mans unquenchable desire for energy.
The Muskie actually sat in a depression with dirt mounded all around. As we started to leave the site and began walking up out of the recessed area, Greg’s boyfriend suddenly yelled “run!” Slowly driving down the path was a mine security truck. I quickly told them to stay put. As the vehicle pulled up beside us, an older gentleman asked us what we were doing. I mentioned that I was a photographer and I enjoyed shooting old machines. He immediately brightened and began telling us all about the Muskie. After a few minutes of this history lesson, he asked where we were going. I mentioned that we were going home. He smiled and gave a quick nod to the back of the pick-up. “Hop in! I’ll give ya’ a lift.” Greg’s boyfriend stared at me in dismay. “If you act guilty…”, I started.