On Assignment—Muffler Men

One of the most rewarding aspects of being a freelance travel photographer is shooting an assignment. Yes, it can be scary because you have to get the shot, but it is also an opportunity to photograph subjects that, in many cases, you did not even know existed. That was the case when I was asked by New Mexico Journey Magazine to photograph two “muffler men” to illustrate a feature article. Muffler men were turning 50 and the magazine wanted to mark the event with a nice article and pictures.

After accepting the assignment my first stop was “The Google.” It turns out that muffler men are fiberglass sculptures, about 20 to 25 ft. tall, depicting a man holding, you guessed it, a muffler. The sculptures were placed on top of muffler shops (of course) to advertise their business to passing motorists. Originally some muffler shops and their men resided along Route 66, becoming attractions on their own right along the Mother Road. Many of these muffler men are still working today, attracting attention by their size and, well, uniqueness.

Over the years muffler men have broadened their usefulness and are used to advertise non-muffler businesses such as used cars and glass windows. One of the muffler men I was supposed to photograph, “Sunny the Big Man” (they all have names), lived atop a glass shop in Farmington, New Mexico. Because of the 50th anniversary, Sunny was dressed with a party hat and was holding a cake.

On the day of the shoot, as I was walking around Sunny to set up some shots, the glass shop owner asked if I wanted to use the “man lift.” A man lift is a fork lift with a bucket, sort of like a poor-man’s cherry picker. I immediately accepted; otherwise I would have been restricted to ground shots. It is always best to get images of your subject from unlikely angles, and being on the level with Sunny helped get me some clean shots of him holding the cake.

 Cover, NM Journey ("Sunny" the Muffler Man, Farmington, NM)

The magazine liked one of my images so much, it made the cover. That’s how you know your client was pleased with your work. As part of the assignment I also photographed “Dude Man” at another location, but he did not make the cover, so we won’t talk about him.

Now get out and shoot something