Photographer Lou Vest, well-known for his series of Houston Ship Channel images, is looking for an ice cream truck. A professional ship pilot (he steers cargo ships from the Ship Channel to the open sea and back again), Vest regularly sees things few other Houstonians see - the sunrise over the channel, the mountains of cargo being moved and the extraordinary people who bustle across the gritty docks and boat decks. Several years ago, Vest was working on the channel when he saw an ice cream truck drive onto the docks. Several burly workers bought Popsicles and sat down for a break. "That was such a great image," he tells us. "The ice cream truck, the workers each with different colored Popsicles. I thought, 'Wow, I wish I had a camera.' Now I do."
Vest says he's never seen the ice cream truck again. "But I look for it every once in a while," he laughs.
The small size and light weight of digital cameras have freed Vest up to take photos while he's on the job. "I can't carry a tripod everywhere I go and most of the time I'm on a ship that's moving, so there's a limit to what I can do. I can't arrange shots and I can't just leave my post whenever I want to take a picture because of safety issues."
Even with those limitations, Vest feels his days are filled with photographic opportunities. "My role on the channel provides a niche that few people have. In 2004, Houston became the biggest port in the U.S. in terms of ship traffic and foreign trade. I get to see the whole operation from beginning to end. I'm out there in all kinds of weather and any time of day. I never have to wake up and wonder what photo project I need to work on. Someone usually calls me up, often in the middle of the night, and sends me down to one of the world's most image rich environments.
"At first I just took photos for myself, but people started asking for photos to use for presentations. One year someone asked me to make some prints to sell at a fund raiser for the Seaman's Center in Houston and they sold for enough money that I thought I should get a real camera and good lenses."
In 2011, one of Vest's images was named Best Photo of the Year at the Houston Web Awards. He participated in a FotoFest 2010 exhibit at City Hall for and had a show at the Arts Alliance during FotoFest 2012.