Paul Cockrell’s unique side job has likely given him the distinction of having visited more treatment plants than anyone else in the country.
As the sun sets in the California foothills, a shadowy figure stands in silent regard, looking down on a wastewater treatment plant from the catwalks. His name is Paul Cockrell, and he’s setting up a camera and tripod to capture the splendor of the facility in its magic hour.
Being a water/wastewater design engineer, you might think Cockrell gets enough of treatment plants and their design during daylight hours. But you’d be wrong. There’s something inescapable about the finished product for the Placerville native, who has made a lasting side business out of treatment plant photography.
It started more than 20 years ago as a hobby. At that time, he worked for a design consulting firm called HDR Inc. and had taken a photo of a secondary clarifier as the sun was going down.
“There were nice reflections on the water, so I took a few photographs,” says Cockrell. “I gave the photos to HDR’s marekting people, and they forwarded them on.”
Water and wastewater treatment plants are surprisingly beautiful to photograph, according to Cockrell.
“There’s the geometric shapes, reflecting water surfaces, ample night lighting on site and the ability to get on top of buildings and processes for an elevated view,” he says. “At dusk or dawn, with the right mix of sky light and site lighting, the plants just glow. I call those images the ‘glamour shots.’”