I was driving home along a rural road one evening last week, and came across a burning van in a lay by. The driver was OK, but the van was completely destroyed. It seems to have been an under bonnet fuel fire that caused it.
Going past it again in daylight a few days later, I thought the van did look a bit incongruous stuck next to a beautiful area of the Lambourn Downs, but that it may have creative photography possibilities.
My first shots concentrated on the whole van, as I liked the diagonal flame patterns on the sides. This image is an HDR composite of various exposures. It was amazing just how fast rust had formed on the exposed steel. The heat had burnt off all the protective coatings on the metal, and the van had been sprayed with water. I decided to take a closer look…
To me, the burnt paint on the van looked like a parched landscape from above. With this sort of photography, where all the clues about scale have been excluded, it’s hard to determine the size of things. Is it from miles away or is it something very close?
It was fascinating how much variation in shape and colour there was on the van’s surface. The colours ranged from rust red to blue-white. The texture varied as well. This area of the bonnet had lots of scrape marks from some sort of tool. The curve made it look a bit like a planet floating in space.
Some areas look more like images of giant gas planets taken from a passing satellite. The areas of colour swirled into each other. I’m sure a chemist who studies fires would be able to explain the processes involved, but how it ended up looking like this doesn’t really matter. All that matters is that it did end up looking like this.
Other areas looked more structured. The lines in this image could be roads in a town, or paintings on the wall of a cave. Perhaps they are ski runs in the snow. Anything with straight lines or a grid always looks more artificial than natural.
This final image is a volcanic island floating in a twinkling sea. Cloud shadows make darker areas on the water. It was taken from the small plane that’s due to land on the small airstrip on the north of the island. It is, of course, none of these things. It’s another shot of paint on the burnt out van, but these images let us free our imagination, and we can read many things into them.
The van fire was a huge inconvenience to the driver, and he has my sympathy, but it opened up a wealth of photographic possibilities. It really shows that it’s “An ill wind that blows nobody any good.”