Deer Hunter

This post could have waited until the hunting season opens here in Michigan, on November 15th, but while reading for this post I came to find out that between October 1st and November 15th  it is the archery season, so still “one shot”. Maybe even more so if you’re shooting with a crossbow.

When I first watched The Deer Hunter, by Michael Cimino, I was blown away. The transition between the life of middle-America, of the the working classes, and their departure to a foreign land to fight a war. The details in the wedding and the length of that scene, the bittersweet relationships of the main characters. And what about that first scene with the blue-collar steel workers handling the machinery?

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Clairton, Pennsylvania. And although none of the movie is actually shot there, it is still part of the rust belt, part of that non-LA, non-NY America that pushes the economy. The manufacturing jobs. The old industry. The one that doesn’t get the hype of the Silicon Valley, but shit, you aren’t gonna drive across Ethernet bridges now are you?

Someone has to do it. Robert de Niro and Christopher Walken give us a glimpse of what it might be like.

A still image from the movie showing what it was like.

And before I revert to using the word “shoot” solely for photography, “one shot” as Michael (Robert De Niro) says, ” You have to think about one shot. One shot is what it’s all about. A deer’s gotta be taken with one shot.”

Elliot Erwitt, legendary Magnum photographer, might consider “one shot” to have a different meaning with his photograph below, taken in Pennsylvania in 1950.

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I’m glad he’s not playing with De Niro and Walken at the same Russian Roulette game as in the Deer Hunter.

Steel. Industry. Clairton. I wanted to get my own. See it for myself. Pittsburgh wasn’t enough steel. No, my family and I had to see it first hand. Today Clairton still has the largest coke (fuel) manufacturing facility in the US.

I wanted to see the people. I wanted to document the workers. I wanted to meet Michael.

I wanted to see what such a factory looked like. From visiting the Google and Apple offices in sunny California the year before, to trying to figure out how the plant works.

I wanted to get my “one shot” of Clairton.

The coke factory, seen from above. Chimneys, smoke stacks, piles of earthly resources covered with snow and skeleton looking machinery in the bottom right show the scale of the infrastructure.

The smoke stack that blew constantly. Solid lines that cross the rounded cloud forms. Solid lines back at the bottom, the top of the train, and the railroad tracks. Ya, railroad tracks. Next time let’s try bringing coal through “the cloud”.

A desolate road in Clairton

It might not have been glamorous before, but it was sure even less glamorous in December 2016.

And although there were no fleeting moments for the “one shot”, I was happy to have documented Clairton, for what I saw Clairton to be.

But I also wanted to see how Elliot Erwitt photographed Pittsburgh in the 1950s.

Erwitt has been a Magnum photographer for 50 years and his images have become iconic for their irony and documentary of life. To summarize his work in the images below is certainly understating his grandeur, but they do show the master’s craft.

Rio de Janeiro, 1984


Paris, 1989


From Erwitt’s ongoing dogs project


Nixon and Khrushchev meet

According to Erwitt, in this video, the photo was used by Nixon’s campaign office but not authorized by Erwitt himself.

And years later some guy would be looking at Clairton, The Deer Hunter, the Vietnam War, and Nixon. Discovery through Photography?

Moving back in time, to Erwitt’s photos of Pittsburgh, when he first started his career you can already see Erwitt’s eye for life.  He was 22 when he was commissioned by Roy Stryker, an economist and government official, to change the image of the “City of Bridges”. It had to transform this blue-collar, gritty image

USA. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 1950. Workman on wrecking project at the Point.

into this

USA. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. November, 1950. Top row of Syria Mosque during concert.

or this

USA. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. September, 1950. Outside Presbyterian Church on Sixth Avenue.

And as the Supertramp Breakfast in America album plays repeatedly in the background, let’s look at how the “one shot” made the photographs.

He was there. Erwitt, who was given much freedom to express his vision, was there. He was ready, Leica in his hand, and prepared to take that moment.

It would be easy to say that the dancing man, crossing the Tour Eiffel, is the “decisive moment”. Yes, of course a moment before or a moment later the photograph would not be the same, it would not be as successful.

But the same cannot be said about the three women leaving church, and visually disturbed by Erwitt. That truly is the “one shot”. Camera in hand, vision in mind, and the desire to capture time. Document it.

And the look on the blue-collar worker? And what about the chaos from the rubble, but with a clear white sky on which the gentleman’s expression stands out? That moment doesn’t come back, and it can’t be staged.

Below is an early image I took while going to a car race here in Detroit. It was the first drag race on a public road in the history of Detroit. A drag race on a the famous Woodward Avenue.

A man managed to make a moving lazy-boy. Speakers and a fan to bring home with him no matter where he goes. Uncaring of the people admiring his genius, like the guy on the left pointing at the chair while he walks away, he’s just living the dream. Or the guy with the purple shirt, smiling at what he’s seeing. And the guy on the right, marveled by the man of the hour.

Ya, the guys loved it. The dark haired girl couldn’t care less.

People walking to view the road drag racing on Woodward Avenue, at the ‘Roadkill Nights’ event.

When discovering, documenting, learning and admiring the world around it  sometimes comes to that “one shot”.

It’s about having the courage to execute. Not the deer. Execute the vision.


Until Next Time,

Northern Psychiatry