Drive By: Oilfield

Photo: Hamish Reid
Video: Hamish Reid

Another artifact of my fascination with the surreal landscape of pipes and pumpjacks hiding in plain sight in the oilfields of the Bakersfield area (all of this was done on local roads or state highways). This time it’s a video — and a proof-of-concept video to boot, one that I never followed up on. I still think it’s pretty good at giving you some idea what it’s like to (say) drive down Highway 33 in stinging sunshine while being surrounded by all this gleaming and rusted piping and weirdly-moving pumpjacks everywhere, but it’s definitely imperfect.

People ask how I did it — did I slow it up during editing? Did I have a stabiliser rig on my car? Obviously not, I think, if you know a bit about video — if nothing else, the quality of the finished video gives things away: it’s lo-tech (720p!), filled with little visual quirks and bumps, and generally looks like the test shot it really was. I meant to come back and do it again, properly, but hey, real life gets in the way sometimes, and this is all I have for now. And given the oil industry slump and some tighter security along these roads nowadays, it’s probably all I’ve ever get.

No, I didn’t slow anything down — instead, I often waited for ages (sometimes fifteen minutes) in my car next to the road for a long stretch of road without any traffic on it, then drove a stately 5MPH or so down the road (usually a two lane blacktop) concentrating on the road rather than the camera pointing out from my window. I was paranoid about traffic, and pulled over any time anyone approached. Nor did I — with one exception — do any stabilisation in post: not only does that tend to be both bloody obvious and visually annoying with subjects like this, but the camera actually had optically-stabilised VR lenses, which ended up being good enough for my purposes (it was a proof of concept, remember).

And there was no special gear — just an old video-capable DSLR attached to a small camera clamp on the half-closed front window on whatever side of my Subaru I needed it to be on for the specific shot. I didn’t even have an external monitor for the camera — I just had to look at the on-camera screen as I was setting a shot up and hope to christ I had the focus and angles right before I hit “record”. And that the bloody thing didn’t slip while I drove along. And that dust didn’t get onto the lens during the take (it’s a dusty old place). Etc. etc., ad frustratum.

Needless to say, most takes were crap. But there was enough there to fire up the editor and edit it all down to what you see here.

The soundtrack? A musician friend of mine (Stephen M Duffy in Oakland) put together a tentative soundtrack from stuff he had lying around for another project after watching the raw version of the video; I edited it down to loosely fit the transitions and length, and that’s what you hear here.