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How photographer Chris Bucher is turning popped tires into pop art

March 27, 2018

We've all been there: Driving down the road, paying just enough attention, and then your car jerks forward and bounces you in your seat. Looks like that shallow puddle wasn't that shallow.

Whether they leave you with a flat tire or a swift kick to your suspension, potholes are a huge issue across Indiana. But this time of year is especially dangerous, when the constantly shifting weather has roads freezing, cracking, filling with rain and ice – it all adds up to disaster for your car.

Chris Bucher saw these bumps in the road as an opportunity. The idea hit the Indianapolis photographer like…well, like water to the face.


“We had just a rainy, gloomy day,” Bucher said. “I got splashed because someone didn’t see there were potholes, and [my dog and I] got drenched.”

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Surprised by the sheer amount of water in the pothole, inspiration struck to recreate that classic Loch Ness Monster photo.

“I literally got home and drove to a toy store and bought some rubber dinosaurs…I just started with that one right away,” Bucher said.

Loch ness vs. Indianapolis pothole Who wore it best?
Credit: Chris Bucher (right)

From there, he got some toys together and spent the weeks following playing in the street. His work gives the illusion of a Jeep traversing a crag or a lunar module on the cratered surface of the moon. Indianapolis is a long way from the Death Star, but Bucher used a model X-Wing to recreate the iconic trench run from “Star Wars.”

The response to Chris’ photos was instantly positive; people saw a tongue-in-cheek perspective to an everyday annoyance, and they were more than generous with location scouting.

“It’s been really interesting to see all the people that have sent me texts or emails about the potholes by their house.”

The pothole project is something of a departure from Bucher’s usual work as a commercial photographer. His photos are used on billboards, advertisements, brochures – Bucher said if you’ve been to the Indianapolis airport, you’ve probably seen his shots.

He’s also a huge fan of motorsports. His Instagram is packed with shots of sports cars and pit crews as a way of building out his brand.

There are about 10 or so pothole photos on Bucher’s Instagram at time of writing, but he says he isn’t done with the series just yet. He’s working on a handful of other photos, but there’s a lot more work that goes into these pictures than dropping a toy car in the street during a red light.

Referencing another photo, Bucher said, “To get the shark to be submerged, that was a fair amount of work the night before. I used piano wire to get it hooked and then had a vice grip so I could adjust the distance. And I submerged this whole vice-grip-and-wire rig into the pothole to get just the tail coming out of the water.”

And not all of the toys make it out in one piece.

“We did have a toy casualty. I had two toys in a pothole; I had my camera in one hand and so with the other hand I grabbed one of the toys. And I thought, ‘Surely this car won’t run right through this giant pothole.’ And sure enough, they plowed right through the pothole and smashed a small Millennium Falcon,” he said. “I have some explaining to do with my nephew.”

Apart from the several other shots he’s working on, he’s setting the table for a small gallery show of the photos. Bucher just announced the show, "Potholes, Potholes Everywhere: An Urban Photographic Exploration," will be April 21 at Flat 12 Bierwerks in Indianapolis. He's planning on giving a portion of the proceeds to Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, a group that works to improve and maintain public spaces by cleaning up litter and planting trees and flowers around the city.

The one group that hasn’t responded to his photos is the city itself, but Bucher is fine with that.

“The city has not reached out to me in any way, shape or form, nor would I expect them to,” he laughs. “I did notice that I do get Department of Public Works emails now that I don’t remember ever getting before. I don’t know how I got on that list.”

The only people who aren’t completely thrilled about the photos are just concerned about Bucher’s safety.

“Most of that is from my friends who are mothers, and my mom herself – talk about playing in the streets,” Bucher said.

For more of Bucher's work and future updates on the gallery show, you can find him on Instagram @bucherphoto or on his website.

LISTEN: Profiles talks with award-winning photographer Osamu James Nakagawa (via WFIU)