November 14, 2013
By Jamie Laughlin
“We’ve got about five minutes, then we gotta bail,” says photographer Irby Pace, who’s looking over his shoulder as he plans the escape. A white patrol truck just passed by, again.
This spot where he’s shooting isn’t public property. It’s an open-air industrial filling site attached to an old grain elevator, and it’s seen better days. Built in the 1940s, this structure and the nearby train worked to transfer crops into and out of Fort Worth. Today disjointed piping segments cling to the exterior walls. Nests of stiff clothing and broken glass lie piled beneath the encroaching hackberries, evidence of layover visits from other less artful occupants. The building’s function has evolved too: It now serves as a holding pen for fracking sand which will eventually make its way to drilling areas like Odessa, Irby Pace’s West Texas hometown.
He’s moving faster since spotting that patrolman, weaving a pattern of fishing lines around concrete support beams. Pace glances back at the road, rips a swath of tape with his teeth and wraps it around a smoke bomb, securing the canister into his freshly spun web.
“Average police response is five to 10 minutes,” he says. Then, he lights the fuse.
Blue smoke kicks out, first in a spurt followed by hissing. Soon it billows, wafting out of frame. Then it churns back on itself, entering diffusional chaos. The wind’s picked up, and the trail of gaseous pigment lifts higher, doubling as a brilliant smoke signal of our visit. Pace stands at his camera, cautiously pressing the shutter until the fuming device rattles out its death snap. Glancing through his shots, Pace’s disappointment is apparent. We hop into the car and move on.