Salvage Stories

Illuminated Space initially began with a desire to consider trauma-inducing places. In this case, I chose automobiles that were clearly damaged–ones where the driver or passengers may have been seriously injured or quite possibly even killed. In or around these vehicles, I found evidence of the spiritual, something literally and sometimes as an energy or intangible feeling–but always I sensed a space that felt open to intervention in a new, but reverent manner. Windshields were made into stained glass rendering the vehicle a sanctuary of sorts; saintly characters were brought to life with the nudge of a finger; formal elements were simply added to that I could more easily see the organic, energetic quality of the environment. Plainly stated, I photographed each vehicle with the intention of respectfully honoring the space. 


Growing up, I spent many hours at the site of this project. I worked and played in this salvage yard–a multi-generational family business–tearing out seats, pulling tail lights, welding wheels together, or just organizing and tidying parts and pieces that buyers would claim and consider for their own use. Growing up, I had a normal relationship to my parents’ business; but as I grew older, that changed as I spent less time there, as I received news that friends had lost their lives in car accidents, and as I developed a deeper sense of how I might process the reality of death in my own life. Slowly “the yard” took on an energy that blended nostalgia and melancholy. I’m certain that feeling will ebb and flow as long as Covington Salvage Yard and I exist; but for now, it has simply become a truly spirit-filled place that I’m reclaiming and reconsidering on a daily

Images that I made at Covington Salvage Yard the year before as a study for these landscapes. While it did lead to a more serious study, this ended up being a bit of a texture study–much more formal than the ones that came after it.

A few images I played with after the texture / landscape studies.

Last week was my mom’s birthday. Typically my dad, although he seems to sincerely want to purchase and participate in the purchase of my mom’s gifts, misses the perfect opportunity or moment when my mom also wants to go birthday shopping. This year was no exception.


I heard the story second hand, but I got the impression that after asking my mom to go shopping and after her begrudgingly accepting and after an almost totally failed attempt to get her something that she would truly like, my dad decided to do a different kind of shopping. As the owner of Covington Salvage Yard, he has the pick of the litter when it comes to used clothes and pretty much used anything that someone might leave in a car after it has been wrecked, recovered, and auctioned off to someone like him. So, he went shopping in his own mall and found an enormous collection of gifts.


I think he intended to present them to her, but perhaps because he actually did end up getting her some thoughtful gifts he decided to auction the gifts off to his four girls–my mom, my grandma, my sister, and I. My sister’s husband, Mark, was my dad’s chosen auctioneer. I should mention, too, that my dad gave us each $8 to purchase the goods.


The auction itself was hilarious and fun–both atypical and a supremely typical type of activity for our family. My prized purchase was a pair of rather beat-up rollerskates. After a little cleaning, new laces, and a lot of decorating they turned out almost as interesting as the event itself.

For some reason it feels important to me to include another place where I grew up–my grandparent’s home. These were the same grandparents who once owned the salvage yard. I don’t know if it’s coincidence or not, but they lived in a wonderland while owning a sort of graveyard.

2007 / This story doesn’t have a photograph to go along with it, fortunately, but I think about this often and thought I’d include it here anyway.


From the time I was able to work until the time I left for college, I spent summers working at what used to be my grandfather’s (and is now my father’s) salvage yard. I didn’t work there everyday, but often enough that I thought of it as my job. Generally, I was given the task of taking small parts of cars to fill a particular customer’s order. As a result, I was in and out of hundreds of cars and got in and out of them in a variety of ways. For example, my father might have asked me to pull a passenger-side tail light from an 89 Ford Escort. A tail light is relatively external, but if you don’t have a key you become fully invested in the internal workings of the car to get to it. You’ve got to go through the car, possibly tearing out the back seat and disengaging the trunk lock to eventually get to the screws that hold the tail light into place. It didn’t take long for me to acquire enough stuff–air fresheners, lighters, small change, clothing, and an unbelievable amount of odds and ends–to begin believing that someday I could actually start a store with it all. I believed it and somehow, in the midst of these spaces and all that I found within them, the connection to the then vacant human was completely absent from my thought process.


The last time I went home my dad said, “Hey Nic, we have a radio recycler coming today. I’ll give you $10 for every radio you pull.” I suited up while I dreamed about having extra money in my pocket. About halfway through the day I jumped into a front-impacted SUV with a particularly nice radio only to find that a man’s scalp was attached to the ceiling of the vehicle.

Something you can do with spare airbags.