I just returned from a 10-day photography gig in Alaska. My client is an industrial scales distributor of commercial scales; truck scales, fish scales, warehouse scales and much more. The average person would maybe not find that all that interesting but the variety of industrial businesses that depend on accurate weight measurement for overall company profitability and State of Alaska compliance makes a person realize how important scales are. In ten days, I probably drove over 1500 miles (barely scratching the overall distances available in Alaska) and 20 different business locations.
What makes this type of shoot possible is that I used to live in Alaska and the client is a good friend. Thus, I use a company truck and when visiting the bulk of businesses in the Southcentral area of Alaska (Anchorage and the Mat-Su) I am able to bunk at my friend plush home in Wasilla. During the summer months, if you have not made hotel reservations months in advance, even the most ghetto room in Anchorage might run $350/night versus $49 in the off-season. Rental cars are not available as well.
First-things-first – It’s Sunday…time to play up at Hatcher’s Pass.
Hatcher Pass (3,886 ft or 1,148 m), also known as Hatcher’s Pass, is a mountain pass through the southwest part of the Talkeetna Mountains, Alaska. It is named after Robert Hatcher, a prospector and miner. The nearest cities are Palmer and Wasilla approximately 12 miles (19 km) to the south, and Willow approximately 26 mi (42 km) to the west. The communities are at an elevation of approximately 250 ft (76 m) in the Mat-Su valley.
Back in the day, Dena’ina Indians hunted for caribou, sheep, and moose in the western Talkeetna Mountains until the 1930s. Human development in the area, including the road over the pass, is almost entirely due to gold mining.
Almost all the land around the pass is public; there are numerous widely distributed small private land holdings, mainly mineral estates. The area is popular for daytrip recreation; sledding, skiing, snowmobiling, hiking, camping, hunting, white-water kayaking, berry-picking, climbing, recreational gold-mining, mountain biking, etc. Independence Mine State Historic Park, a few miles east of the pass, consists of 271 acres (1.10 km2), with well-preserved mine buildings, and a mining museum which offers underground mine tours. A large tract of land organized as the Hatcher Pass State Management area includes and surrounds the State Park and the pass.
My first location was 49th State Brewing Company at the Healy location just outside Denali National Park and about 150 miles south of Fairbanks. They were expecting me and very accommodating. The task here was to take some photos of the bench scales they use to measure their ingredients and their kegs. Brewing begins with raw barley, wheat, oats or rye that has germinated in a malt house. The grain is then dried in a kiln and sometimes roasted, a process that usually takes place in a separate location from the brewery.
At the brewery, the malt is sent through a grist mill, cracking open the husks of the kernels, which helps expose the starches during the mashing process. The process of steep milling, or soaking the grain before milling, is also an option for large-scale brewers.
Several years ago cannabis was legalized in Alaska. At that time I was able to get my client a booth in one of the first cannabis expos. As you can expect most of the vendors were directed at consumers but cannabis providers sooned realized they needed to buy scales from a company in Alaska that worked with the State of Alaska for calibration and certification.
Our first stop was Grass Station 49 in Fairbanks. Mason and Gary Evans (bros) saw the opportunity to build a new business for the community of Fairabanks. They sought out the best cannabis cultivators and growers in the state and now provide Interior residents with a large selection of rotating cannabis inventory at the best prices in town. We arrived at the right time to see how they receive product that is weighed and shipped and then weighed again upon delivery. Then, it is broken down into various commodities.
On our way back to Anchorage a few days later we stopped by the Houston Grass Station and met up with Ron Bass. SUPER FRIENDLY guy and super funny. We wanted to get some stock photos of a grow house and he was very accomodating! I am not a cannabis user but even when I lived in Wasilla I remember hearing of the cannabis strain called “Matanuska Thunder Fuck aka MTF” and Ron was very proud of his MTF! items for me to shoot. Food photography is tough in a non-studio environment but they now have an updated library of images to pull from.
Founded in 1943 by Emil Usibelli, Usibelli Coal Mine is located in the mountains of the Alaska Range, near the town of Healy, Alaska. UCM is 115 miles south of Fairbanks and 250 miles north of Anchorage adjacent to the Parks Highway and Alaska Railroad. We were tasked with only delivering a few replacement parts for their scale but it was an adventure getting out to the facility. You are required to drive on the left side of the dirt road because the earth haulers (carrying over 300,000 lbs) are driven from the left side of the compartment (similar to a car) but they have zero visibility that high up and to the right. Your car would be crushed instantly. And, due to security, photography was not allowed.
UCM currently has a work force of approximately 115 employees, and operates year-round. Mine production has grown from 10,000 tons in 1943 to an average between 1.2 and 2 million tons of coal per year. Currently the only operational coal mine in Alaska, UCM is supported by the most modern mining equipment and state-of-the-art engineering. Today, UCM supplies coal to six Interior Alaska power plants and over the years has exported coal to Chile, South Korea, Japan and several other Pacific Rim destinations.
Another location we were tasked with was a remote explosives manufacturer and distributor that sell a complete line of packaged and bulk explosives, detoniating systems and blasting accessories. The mining industry is their primary target market.
Photographically, I was tasked with capturing the load cells that weigh product in the silos. We were required to complete a safety seminar and we were escorted throughout. Bottom line – If you hear a buzzer….jump in your rig and haul ass! Very interesting facility and the staff were super friendly and also accommodating.
Back in Anchorage, there is alot of activity going on at both military bases outside Eagle River. My customer was in the midst of new installations of “truck” scales at secure locations. Another location on the base allowed me to shoot and share this portable truck scale. What was unique was that heavy duty forklifts could load pods from the side but also trucks could drive on it. The real benefit was that for the space this took, it could be removed quickly and stored until it was required again.
Wrapping up the week, I was contracted for a photoshoot with Settlers Bay Lodge in Wasilla. New ownership and the new owners are investing in a new makeover. I provided them a basic shot list and they did a great job actually producing the best menu items for me to shoot. Food photography is tough in a non-studio environment but they now have an updated library of images to pull from.
Nobody is accidentally in Alaska. The people who are in Alaska are there because they choose to be, so they’ve sort of got a real frontier ethic. The people are incredibly friendly, interesting, smart people – but they also stay out of each other’s business.