Want to See Where BMWs Are Born? Of Course You Do
Photographer Edgar Martins has a knack for shooting where no one else can. He’s managed to get a look inside the UK’s Metropolitan Police elite forces training center and the European Space Agency’s coolest sites. So it’s no surprise that BMW gave him all-areas access to its factory in Munich, where he spent 18 months shooting his latest project, 00:00:00.
Martins essentially cold-called BMW in late 2012 when he sent a detailed shot list to a generic email address he found on the company’s website. “Needless to say, at this stage I did not have great expectations that they would get back to me,” he says. Surprisingly, someone contacted him within a week, and the communications folks invited him to Munich to discuss the project a few weeks later. If anyone would support his project, Martins thought, it would be Bayerische Motoren Werke. “BMW has a long history of collaborating with artists,” Martins says.
The Munich plant, built in 1922, employs nearly 9,000 people and builds some 228,000 cars and 628,000 engines annually. Martins is fascinated by auto factories and wanted to use his slow, deliberate style to freeze time in a place usually bustling with industry.
Martins started photographing in January 2013, and completed his final shoot in October 2014. He kept his equipment to a minimum—a large format 8×10″ film camera on a tripod and a small handheld flashgun. He used a slow speed Kodak film and favored long exposures of five to 45 minutes. Martins worked during the plant’s seasonal and mandatory breaks, like when workers prepare the line for a new model. That ensured the machines weren’t running, as the vibrations would interfere with his long exposures.
Because of this, the images are devoid of people, creating a strange, sterile environment where the machines rule over all. Cars are stopped midway through a paint inspection. Test dummies idly pass time before their next crash. Stacks of steel await the dies and presses that stamp them into panels. Time appears to stand still, which is Martin’s point. “I like to see this and other projects I have produced as a sort of point of resistance to the fast-paced, consumerist world we live in,” he says. “In making use of long exposures, I am looking to slow down time.”
The size, efficiency and odd beauty of the factory awed Martins. But he was most impressed by the paint shops, which he describes as cathedral-like. Building an automobile is immensely complicated, requiring thousands of parts and processes to come together just so. “For a complex site like this to function at the level of precision it does, there has to be a perfect convergence and symbiosis of man and machine, industrial and labour forces and processes,” he says. “Watching these in operation is quite remarkable.”
00:00:00 will be published as a photo book by The Moth House in November.