While touring a plastics factory, I walked from station to station, photographing people as they worked. I was looking for people focused on their task, wearing a T-Shirt without a soft drink advertisement or sports team on it.
I was attracted to photographing the station where they made kayaks, which are sold in home improvement warehouses across the country for about $400. A new kayak would come freshly pressed out of the big machine about once every minute and a half. A worker would follow the excess plastic on the edge with a box cutter, as a child would do when cleaning the pieces of a model airplane. When it has been cleaned, it was taken to a different station, where workers quietly attached plastic knobs, ropes, and other accessories that made it a kayak, and not just a hunk of plastic.
I starting thinking about boat builders. At one time, there were people who were master boat builders, who dedicated their lives to making crafts that would allow their friends and family to survive many weeks away from home, or transport goods to places they would never see.
I’m curious to know what the emotions were that they felt as they stacked, carved, and tied their boats together. Were they angry at their lot in life? Bored? Tired? Entranced? Prideful? Did they think about the journeys that other people would take on them? Did that help them focus, or was it a distraction?
Maybe they run the gamut, as people do today. I thought the people I photographed working looked bored, cutting and screwing and snapping things into place. They moved uniform pieces into uniform slots in a uniform way, like the identical plastic beads that were heated up and melted together to form the kayak.
I wonder what kinds of things these workers would spend their money on after they left the plastics plant. Food their homes, warm coats, maybe save up for something fun, like a kayak.
I imagined the people who would enjoy these kayaks, who would have relaxing weekend memories with their children or best friends on them. I thought about the quiet moments one might have, thinking about nothing and just listening to the water.
There was a loud screeching sound that came from the kayak birthing machine. Things that ordinarily moved in one direction shifted back and forth, workers gathered to see what was wrong. A shriveled, misshapen boat was tugged from the machinery like a paper jam, and thrown in a machine that chopped up the plastic excess and turned them back into tiny balls or plastic. I was told that now as a good time to leave, because the machine was going to be down for another half hour, and it was already getting close to closing time.