"I look at these trucks as big sculptures - a huge artistic canvas - and it‘s my goal to create and publish the definitive coffee table book about custom trucks from around the world." -Roger Snider, photographer
Roger Snider wants to change the way people think about heavy commercial trucks - and this reporter is pulling for him to succeed in his quest in a big BIG way.
[Roger has a soft spot for retro cabovers, such as this one proudly displayed by Bill Rethwisch.]
I talked to Roger recently by phone after I‘d luckily been forwarded a link to his one-of-a-kind website, “Ultra Rigs of the World.” To say I was blown away by his photography is an understatement - to characterize his photographs as “gorgeous” doesn‘t do them an ounce of justice.
This is a guy that‘s held four ART GALLERY shows to display his work - the kind of shows one usually associates with snobby New York City faux-intellectuals, looking all kinds of bizarre nonsense being passed off as art whilst nibbling on foo-foo food. And do you know what Roger did? He brought not one but TWO of the custom trucks and their owners pictured in his photographs to those shows, so the people could see these rigs live and in living color and get the owners to expound on their craftsmanship in detail.
[He also got his truck shots featured in the counter-cultural hip art mag Swindle this year as well ... not the place you'd expect to find a feature on custom trucks, let me tell you!]
“I want to take this custom truck culture out of its niche and bring it to the public at large,” Roger told me. “And I want a couple of the truck owner‘s there because I don‘t like to speak on their behalf - I am not nearly as intimate with these artistic creations as they are. I want the public to connect with THEM through my work, not just with me.”
How COOL is that philosophy, I ask you? Bringing custom truck owners to ART GALLERY shows about big rigs? Not hiding them away out of sight and out of mind, but getting the public to mingle with them?
“To me, these are the coolest, most amazing works of art - and it‘s WORKING art, too,” Snider said. “These people literally live in these trucks - they don‘t just sit in a museum somewhere.”
A native of Miami, Roger fell in love with trucks at a very young age after numerous road trips to the outskirts of Roanoke, Va., to visit family relatives in the late 1970s. He badgered his parents into taking him to the truck stop down the road every night so he could look at all the glistening steel and chrome for hours on end it seemed - cementing in his mind the desire to be one of those truck drivers when he grew up.
Yet another passion intervened - photography. Bitten by the shutter bug in college in the mid 1990s, he became a fashion photographer, leaving Florida for San Francisco, then eventually New York and finally Los Angeles. Trucking had receded into the dim memories of his brain until fate, leavened with grief, intervened in August 2005.
“My father was dying of cancer and I was on a plane back to Miami - needless to say, in no frame of mind to talk with anyone. I just wasn‘t in a good place,” Roger told me. “So on the plane with me is a group of three people I immediately peg as a film crew. And while waiting for our bags, the director comments on my cool shoes - which were the same brand he was wearing. One thing led to another and we started talking.”
That director was none other than Doug Pray (who‘s been in this space before), at the time on the final leg of a five year effort to make the documentary “Big Rig” about the trucking industry. As luck would have it, that conversation eventually led Pray to hire Snider to take some still shots of the last leg of their nationwide tour in May 2006 to find truckers willing to let Pray film their stories. That re-awakened the long-dormant trucker inside of Snider, leading to his dramatic shift from fashion to trucking photography.
“For me, I‘m focusing on the worldwide phenomenon of custom trucks - it‘s not just about the trucks here in the U.S.,” he explained to me. “In Japan, they have these exquisite ‘art trucks‘ - mirrored by similar creations in countries like Australia, Pakistan, even Switzerland.”
[Custom trucks are not just a U.S. phenomenon.]
Snider‘s gone to Japan and Europe to photograph custom rigs and hopes to line up sponsors to allow him to travel to Australia and photograph the mighty road trains plying the Outback, to Asia, Latin America, and who knows where else.
“My goal for the next four years is to go all over the world, take pictures of all these different custom trucks, and put together the ultimate global coffee table book about them,” he said. “I‘m really coming at this from an eight year-olds sensitivity, trying to capture that level of excitement, passion, and wonder in my work. As I meet more custom truck owners and they learn to trust me, I‘ll keep expanding my work, too.”
[Roger makes sure the owner -- not just the custom rig -- gets highlighted in his work.]
Snider‘s over-arching goal, though, is to change how people think about trucking, truckers, and the rigs they drive. And so far, he thinks it‘s working.
“After my gallery shows, the people attending told me they viewed trucks differently - in some cases actually began ‘seeing‘ them for the first time ever,” he told me. “Trucks used to be almost invisible to them on the highway, merely part of the background. Now, they noticed them, respected them, treated them differently. That‘s what I want to achieve.”
[Roger and his wife touring Japan to record images of that country's venerable "art truck" culture.]
If he keeps taking pictures like the ones you see here, let me tell you, Roger will have no problem doing it. Here's to you, Roger! Keep at it man!