Mousetrap

Mousetrap is an entry in the annual Port Townsend Kinetic Sculpture Race. You bring an art vehicle and pilot it through water, sand, mud, and seven miles of road. The other contestants all had wheels and variants on bicycle-style pedaled chain drives (except for one kid on a skateboard), but Mousetrap’s pilot walked, pushed, and sometimes pulled this huge tube, barefoot, the whole way. Their goal was just to finish. They’d been in two previous similar races and had run out of time in both.

The water part, at the beginning, was particularly difficult. She lay in the water with swim fins and pushed the tube, open end first, all the way down the Port Townsend waterfront and back. Near the end, she was too tired to keep fighting the wind and ran aground, so she walked the last hundred feet along the shoreline. I heard a woman nearby rooting for her: “You can do it, sweetie!”

I’m excited about this image, so I hope you don’t mind if I go on a bit longer than usual. I was in Port Townsend for the first ever Close to Home photography workshop (I’m the one in yellow), and I stayed an extra day for the World-Wide Photo Walk and the race. The workshop inspired me on race day to try something different from my usual photographic style. I used to use a view camera (a big, old-fashioned-looking wooden box with a bellows), and I still mostly think that way. I always use a tripod, set everything manually, and spend a lot of time on each shot.

I think many photographers, especially new ones, could stand to use a tripod more, but I could perhaps stand to use mine a bit less. So, Sunday I left it in the car and went entirely hand-held. I dialed up the ISO, turned on image stabilization, and took the camera out of manual exposure mode. It felt a little wild. Most important, I spent a lot of time with team Mousetrap. I chatted with them before the race, I photographed them through the water section, and, after lunch and goodbyes with the workshop and photo-walk participants, I walked the course until I found them again and stayed with them to the finish.

I missed shot after shot. A policeman in a bright vest stopped traffic for them to cross an intersection. He briefly talked with and smiled at the pilot. I wasn’t ready. A couple of faster race vehicles overtook and passed Mousetrap. I just missed it. Mousetrap stopped at a big chicken sculpture in a yard and left a trinket (“bribe the chicken” – a race requirement). Just before leaving the bribe, the pilot curtsied to the chicken with a flourish. I wasn’t expecting it.

When I set out to find Mousetrap after lunch, I was anticipating a photo of the dogged last-place finisher. Perhaps the black tube looking small on a long, empty road. But as I walked with them, what I saw was the teamwork. Besides the tube and pilot, there were two guys on bicycles and at least one more person, the designer, back in town. They’re engineering students from Oregon. They’ve built several versions of the sculpture and have taken it to many events. On the course, the inflated rings leaked, and periodically the team would stop and one of the cyclists would pump the rings back up. (You can see the pump in the photo.)

I started looking for opportunities to show them together, and I had several near misses before I finally got this shot. It was very gratifying. I believe I made a small noise. I hope you like it as much as I do. It’s very simple, and it probably doesn’t show that it took me much of a day to get. For me, though, whenever I look at it, I’ll remember.

And, yes, they did finish in time. With a half hour to spare, even. (I don’t know if they won anything; I don’t see results on the race site yet.)

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7 responses

  1. You have made my day with this post. Just trying something new is one of the ways we learn to see more and I think you have succeeded quite well. The point of the Kinetic race is to finish in the middle, the way to win it is in mediocrity. What can I say it is PT.
    I really enjoyed meeting you and hope you get back to PT soon, there is a lot we didn’t get to see.

    October 6, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    • Thanks, Ray. Your comment makes my day.

      October 6, 2011 at 4:36 pm

  2. Dave Neiman

    Franz–thank you for the post, and your support of Mousetrap. Allen , the designer, has designed other machines including the late, lamented Rex. The PT race is great fun–glad you enjoyed it (and got such a superb shot).

    October 6, 2011 at 11:15 pm

    • Glad you like it. Once I get them put together, I’ll send Allen a few others (we’ve been emailing).

      October 7, 2011 at 5:14 pm

  3. A fine shot. Sounds and looks like you have been seduced by both the passion of the the artists and the spirit of this goofy thing and maybe PT …

    October 7, 2011 at 2:57 am

    • Thanks. It is all pretty goofy, but seeing her struggle with the wind and the water, and walking such a long way, made it something more.

      October 7, 2011 at 5:16 pm

  4. Pingback: Once More with Feeling « Franz Amador's Photoblog

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