Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Watercolors No.9

To see other images in the "Watercolors" series, click here:

Sunday, July 3, 2016

A Postcard Shot

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: I call a shot that under half-way decent lighting conditions sets itself up so naturally and so easily that one must be blind to miss it "a postcard shot.” It is an instant cliché. Many lie undiscovered, but others are known everywhere - are made into real postcards. The visitor center at Mt. Rushmore is so placed that, through all kinds of weather, every tourist with a camera owns the shot while photographers look hard to see something more. 

The view from Liberty Park is similar. It is so placed that if one knows where to look, one can see from the mouth of the East River and Battery Park to the Freedom Tower in Lower Manhattan to the Empire State Building on 34th Street, the Met Life and Chrysler Buildings on 42nd Street, to the suddenly famous, “pencil thin,” apartment tower on 57th Street, and including any new towers that sprout. Liberty Park offers, arguably, the ultimate NYC “postcard shot” - New York’s ultimate cliché? That didn’t stop me from standing in awe and then adding my own photographic moment to the river of such images.

A happy Fourth of July to all.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Ellis Island Hot Box

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  One room was filled with chairs piled as if for a bonfire, a few rooms had dressers, but most were empty. However, some hospital equipment must have just been too costly to remove. It was always a surprise after turning many similar corners to come on something different, and one might be forgiven for thinking s/he had arrived at the hospital’s secret center of operations. What strange, Medieval medical instrument was here devised to cure the aching human soul? In fact, those who read the "Abandoned Ellis Island" link I posted know it is a wholesome bit of early technology to sanitize hospital mattresses. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Ellis Island Hospital Abandoned

[When ready, click the image above, and scroll right as in a slide show.]

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: What does one make of photographic exposures made over eleven hours in a single visit to the abandoned Ellis Island Hospital? It is not just another ruin, though until I began researching I hadn’t really understood how the hospital's story was distinct from that of the island’s northern half with its “Great Hall," celebrated now as our gateway. 

The Ellis Island Hospital, opened in 1902, was the nation’s first public health hospital and one of the largest such efforts in the nation’s history. Hospital workers had to learn to respond to conditions never before seen. Doctor’s, nurses, orderlies, administrators and officials had to learn to work with immigrants deemed too sick to immediately enter the United States, who often had little or no English and had never seen a doctor or stripped off their clothes in public. All were in a strange new place far from networks of community. Many of them were our parents and grandparents. All faced a watershed moment in their lives. In order to stay, the sick had to get well, the pregnant had to give birth to a healthy baby.

Once fully operational, the hospital took in 10,000 patients a year. Medicine learned here was sometimes cutting edge, and the morgue was a lecture space for visiting doctors. The hospital closed in 1930 and the buildings were turned to other uses until 1954 when the islands were officially abandoned and ignored. In 1996 the hospital buildings were listed among the 100 most endangered historic places in the United States. I had recently come to appreciate this history when I arrived on Ellis Island at 6:45 AM to undergo security screening and begin the eleven-hour photo shoot at 7:00.

Ellis Island Hospital is not just another ruin. However, time has sand-blasted away almost all visible clues to its previous purpose, identity or occupants. A ward of beds is merely a large room, and the recent preservation efforts have left most windows covered with metal panels in a design that offers the minimum of light and air circulation, and which hides the bruised and broken windows. A giant kitchen, an industrial laundry, the morgue, a few residences offer only flickering shadows of the world once busy here and say nothing of the complex stories occurring daily in these spaces. 

The power of the Ellis Island experience lay in the slow exploration of the large, complex site made mostly of endlessly wandering hallways and empty spaces. My sense of where I was in the large complex was often vague.  This series of photos through some of those places is intended, not as a tour, but as an impression.

[Click the image above or below and scroll right as in a slide show]

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

American River

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Immigrants bought their train tickets on Ellis Island and waited for ferries taking those who were bound West here (Jersey City) or to Hoboken, while those heading East boarded ferries into Manhattan. Twelve agents typically sold 25 tickets per minute throughout the day. This is the train shed in Jersey City. It is directly adjacent to Ellis Island, and for many immigrants this was where they entered the restless flow of the nation.

The shed is in decay. Vegetation grows from the undulating roof, and the space beneath is secured by chain link fence. It was something of a challenge to poke a camera lens in at an appropriate angle. Even in its emptiness, it is bustling. The train shed was completed between 1912 and 1914.

The terminal building, below, was opened in 1889. At its peak in 1929, more than 65,000 people arrived or departed on 350 trains every day. Just beyond the terminal building are the crumbling ferry slips where passengers crossed through New York harbor.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Abandoned Ellis Island

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: At 7 AM last Sunday we crossed over the low, iron bridge, that staff and security people use to enter Ellis Island, to begin eleven-hours of making photographs inside the unrestored southern half of the Ellis Island complex. Tony Sweet organized this, first of its kind, event, and John McInnes, Public Programs Manager at Save Ellis Island guided us. The day was well planned and we were led by people who cared deeply about the places we were visiting.

There is an excellent photo tour of the buildings we visited here:

The southern half of Ellis Island holds the hospital buildings and related buildings as described on the link above. From within those buildings we could sometimes, see through grimy glass, the throngs of Sunday tourists disembarking to see the grand restorations on the northern half of the island. Ours was a world away and mostly silent.

I spent much of the day enjoying, but not photographing, an art installation entiteled, "Unframed –Ellis Island," placed in this most unlikely of galleries. There was much else to hold my lens. Late in the day I realized how much the art installation was calling to my lens to find ways to angle it and frame it.

We emerged from from this surreal journey Sunday evening and each of us encountered separately the news that had been blistering the world all day, and as I drove home from Jersey City Sunday night I thought about what Ellis island has still to say to us today.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Monorail Crane

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Factories are architectural machines. Earlier this year I photographed and wrote about what is left of the famous and infamous Carrie Furnaces in Homestead, PA. Nowhere is that statement more true than at those furnaces which ran 24/7 over durations of 8 or 10 years, while being constantly fed with ore and limestone and other smelting ingredients in careful quantities delivered by workers to a 17-story high conveyor that loaded the furnace at the top while men poured iron into pigs at the bottom. It was a balanced digestive system kept eupeptic by ant-sized chefs and cooks and a channel of train tracks and a river of barges constantly delivering deliciousness for the Carnegie-Frick beast.

The Farrel foundry, was at the other end of the food chain, where metal is cast and made into precision machines for manufacturing. Like the Carrie Furnaces, it is a fully integrated digestive system, though of an entirely different scale with time to rest. For its type, however, it is giant and when gearing for war there was no time to rest. By my calculation, this room is near the bottom of the digestive tract. From this terminal room the monorail follows the track overhead and enters a tall crevice between the three large foundry furnaces on one side, and the roll sheds on the other. 

There seem to have been just two stops for this shuttle: this room with a chute to the foundry's main floor, and the place just beyond where the crevice intersected the side of the sand elevator bridge and opened onto the cathedral space of the foundry. There, the crevice crane and the sand bridge crane met at right angles, and people and material in buckets could transfer to reach destinations in either direction.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Temple of Precision

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: They are rails out of another time. The scale, to the left of the door, which weighed castings as they left the foundry, is calibrated to 40,000 lbs. The foundry has been as still as a sanctuary since 1986

Across the yard the machine shop is still a temple of precision. Machines still hum and machinists work and recall the days when the foundry was dangerous and important. At the head of the machine shop Joe adjusts a narrow groove called a “keyway," at the base of the large screw. The machine is a bit like the carpenter's router I used to use. The size of the machine is matched by the heft of the bench that supports the work, and I shouldn’t have been surprised when the heavy, steel bench started to move as Joe pushed buttons on a digitally calibrated display. A couple of times I watched Joe stop and check himself, “Which axis must be adjusted, how much, and on bench or router?

Distinguished machines like this will be upgraded and modified long before they will be replaced, and they develop a history. When I sent this photo to my friend, Don Bristol, he wrote:

The picture you sent, is my old machine, I ran that machine for years. There is probably only one other person that knows that machine better than me, that would be Wendall. He is most likely cutting the keyway or keyways depending on the specs. Some have one keyway while others have two, 180 degrees apart. Notice who made that Planner-Mill, Farrel did. I believe they only made two. I think one was sold, and that one has been used by Farrel for many years. Its been back and fourth between the Ansonia and Derby plants.

The size of the machine and the bench allow a skilled machinist to achieve tolerances to 1/1000 of an inch. Making a machine like that requires tolerances many times greater.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Through the Tunnel, concluded

Machine Shop to Foundry

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Around 1890, when Farrel Foundry & Machine Company acquired the land beyond the old factory road north of their original buildings, it was to build a new foundry to handle demand for new and larger rolls and calenders. With the new foundry, people and materials were continually crossing the old factory road. Growth on the site over the next thirty years is well documented in the maps of Ansonia, and it is easy to imagine each expansion adding bridges to carry people, materials and utility lines over the factory road. 

However, from the start, the most important passage was across the small yard where the tunnel comes out of darkness. Along this axis heavy castings were regularly moved from the foundry to the machine shops where they were finished and assembled and readied for shipment. Several of the cranes on the foundry side are rated at 60 tons; the castings were huge.

Expansions would soon include new, larger roll mills parallel to the new foundry and lower on the hillside, and other axes would carry materials up from the rail line and down to the new roll sheds. Men working at the mill today tell me it was the largest machine foundry east of the Mississippi. It was becoming a machine-making machine.

Foundry to Machine Shop

Back down the Tunnel

Top of the Tunnel

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Through the Tunnel, No.3 - "Behind the Times"

Apr 27 @ 6:30 PM - Hagaman Memorial Library, East Haven
May 4 @ 7 PM - Windsor Locks Public Library
May 17 @ 6 PM - Wolcott Public Library

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Farrel Foundry & Machine Company has prospered and adapted, remaining vital across 160 years of change, and early buildings stand encrusted within expansions and repurposing that healed over awkward junctures never anticipated when the buildings were set parallel to Main Street, not Parallel to the railroad track. It would take an expert to peel back the layers of the onion to date each fantastic protrusion and bay, but at the bottom of geometry defying walls, bridges, catwalks and machinery, the old factory, road that circled the buildings before the Civil War and maybe before the railroad, still crosses the railroad siding remnants and ascends in shadows through two light wells to Main Street. Once understood, it is a journey through time more surprising than any amusement park fun house or tunnel of laughs.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Through the Tunnel N0.2, "Bodies in Motion"

Through the Tunnel, No.1

Apr 27 @ 6:30 PM - Hagaman Memorial Library, East Haven
May 4 @ 7 PM - Windsor Locks Public Library
May 17 @ 6 PM - Wolcott Public Library

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: A full trip through the tunnel might begin here. Behind me the roll-down gate has rusted shut, but that’s where the yard locomotive could push a flat car, so workers in the machine shop above could roll back the wooden roll-top cover and lower giant, crated machine castings for assembly in factories near and far. They say one machine for crushing sugar in Cuba required 60 train cars on its way to the docks in Bridgeport and one whole ship to take it to Havana. 

Beyond the shadowy passageways on the left is where the original dirt road passed beneath the cantilevered corner of the machine shed above, and that road still continues by these sheds and turns and enters another portal where light first pierces inside the tunnel ahead.

Once this track rolled on through the next portal, where the tunnel continues behind a wall of ancient, paned glass, across the factory road and on past a new gate to a shed where a truck is the only object left in a roll shed where machinists and welders finished and packaged giant calenders and chilled iron rolls bound for copper mills and rubber mills and paper mills and plastic mills and sugar mills and anywhere that rolling was part of manufacturing, and the track continues beneath the intersecting bridge to the sand elevator into a final shed that ends where the Farrel property ends and American Brass abuts. The shed is marked on the 1911 map, “Heavy Machine Work,” and is still, today, surmounted by two massive sixty-ton cranes. 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Sport Utility Vehicle

(continued from previous post) 

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Once, broad-beamed wagons followed the old factory road beneath the first tunnel segments, and later yard engines pushed rail cars for loading and unloading there.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Tunnel

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: When I asked a native if there was a name for the odd, alley roadway that snakes beneath the Farrel Foundry & Machine Co., up the hill to the just where Main Street crossed the canal; a name for the lane that divides the Farrel foundry and roll shops to the north from the other Farrel machine shops to the south, the name was given instantly: “The Tunnel.” I suspect there’s history in that name. 

Had we stood with the men who surveyed for the insurance map of 1884, we might have noted a patchwork appearance, as now. However, many of the quirky details would have made sense. Of course there was no tunnel yet, and all the buildings north of the tunnel, the foundry and the large roll mills had not been built; it was just what we see from the green gable to the brick shed with the Farrel signage. Back then the green gable was the roll mill, and the back end of the brick shed was the foundry; this end was the machine shop. That was all there was and the dirt factory road that encircled it.

The surveyors might have ridden down the dirt factory road, which their map shows descending the hill from Main Street before passing under the corner of the building with the signage, on the right. The passage is there today, though the reason seems obscure. It is just behind the brick wall that supports the cantilevered corner of the work shed above. The wall is neatly reinforced and protected with iron trim against the abuses of haulers. 

The surveyors might have tied their horses there where they would not be frightened by a passing train? The corner is an odd detail, and the map makers chose an odd way to represent it graphically. The same graphic device appears twice more. The device is used to show the opening beneath the green gable where the old factory road passed under another corner of the shed, and it is used again where the road slips under one back corner of the shed's opposing gable, as the road ascends again to join North Main Street. No tunnel, just a dirt road to carry wagons underneath the work floor at three corners so heavy rolls and large machine parts might be lowered down and pigs and sand raised up.

It wouldn’t be until 1906 that a siding would extend beneath the building. The track is still there where it passes through the opening beneath the word Machine in the signage. From the start, the factory was designed as a kind of machine. By 1911 most of the foundry sheds north of the road were in use, and the track would enter beneath the gable where the factory road had previously run, and continue across a yard and into a new, narrow shed designated for, “Heavy Machine Work,” beyond the sand elevator bridge.

And so the factory road had to be moved to the outside and allowed to cross the track outside the building to follow it’s old course back to Main Street even as factory passages crossed over it, enveloped it, and narrow stairways and passages opened onto it, and eventually the the final yard would be filled in between the factory road and the bridge to the sand elevator, and the factory road would enter a third opening, as it does today, where cars routinely cross blindly over the siding. It is the bottom gateway to the tunnel.

NOTE: If you were unable to clearly see small details referred to above, be assured the original from which it is made is a stitched pan which may be printed up to about 14 feet in length.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Pig Dinosaur

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: The Carrie Blast Furnaces, part of Andrew Carnegie's Homestead Steel Works along the Monongahela River above Pittsburgh, are awe inspiring for many reasons, not least because workers fed raw materials to a ceaseless conveyor into the furnace blast at one end while other workers withdrew liquid slag and pig iron in equal measure at the other, a balanced blast system running uninterrupted for periods of 4 to 8 years, fed by a constant flow of trains and barges and systems of overhead cranes and conveyors, unless all was stopped by a strike.

On Sunday I spent five hours at what is left of the Carrie Furnaces in a photo shoot made possible by Abandoned America Photo Workshops. My thanks to Matthew Christopher who does the leg work to make such shoots possible.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Brass Skyline

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  Anson Phelps played an important role in the creation of three of Brass Valley’s industrial mill cities: Torrington, Derby, and Ansonia, but because he was a metals trader and therefore also often a banker, he was known, and his influence was felt everywhere in Brass Valley. However, this city, which takes his name, was his consummate enterprise, and he died in 1853, before the end of Ansonia's first decade, but the beginnings of skyline were not far off.

The skyline of a city has many secrets known to its residents, but out of reach to those, like me, who never “skinned" their knees as children there. Other secrets lie hidden in plain site to locals, and it sometimes takes the outsider to at least give them a nod. When I speak of “Ansonia’s Skyline,” if listeners don't pass the phrase over as idle nonsense, they ask, “Ansonia has a skyline?” 

Ansonia’s skyline is a history of it’s creation. The stack at the back marks where Anson Phelps put his brass mill when the canal was dug in 1845 (still there), that once passed all the way through the middle of town. The next stack marks the back edge of the Farrel Foundry & Machine Company. Anson Phelps hired Almon Farrel to build the canal from the Kinneytown Dam to provide reliable power for his community of entrepreneurs. The railroad was coming, and the future of the valley looked bright. Almon Farrel put his own mill here, and Farrel Foundry & Machine Company grew prosperous manufacturing industrial equipment for the Valley and the world, and it is still at work inside the brick sheds near the center. However, the brick sheds partially conceal wood sheds that were already arming soldiers as the town grew through the Civil War. Peel the skyline like an onion and find layers of stories.

By the 1870s the town was in need of a meeting room. Immigrants were arriving, the town was growing, and a group of townsmen saw a chance to provide a service the town needed and maybe earn a profit, and they hired a rising young architect to build the town a finely detailed Opera House of red brick with a whimsical cornice, seen here from the back. It provided a large space for everything from roller-skating to weddings and high school graduation and became the essential meeting place in town. At the same time, up the street, newly settled Irish workers, having finished long shifts in the mills, spent the hours afterward digging a foundation so Ansonia could have its own Catholic church. In a generation the church had become cramped even after the Italian Catholics moved to their own church. The second Church of the Assumption, which stands above town, was completed in 1907 and tells the world how Ansonia had changed.

Just below the Church of the Assumption is the Ansonia Armory, built between 1919 and 1921. The town was growing; the Opera House was too small, and there was so much more one could do with an armory. Local newspapers reveal it was a valuable town facility in times of war and peace, a place for policemen’s balls, Veterans’ dinners, and automobile shows, for expositions on progress and for food banks; it was a place for the drills of EMTs, brass bands, units and brigades, and it was the home of the Purple Heart Association. It’s worth noting that it was built at a time of union busting and civil unrest with barracks to house troops to do what they had to do to prevent a repeat of the 1919 strikes.

Of skinned-knee memories, few can be passed on, they lie in our nostrils and on our tongues and at the edges of our eyes and are harder to convey. Those who were ten and remember antediluvian Ansonia are my age now, and these things are far older. However buildings from the past that were built for the ages connect us with time, lest we scatter like weeds.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Rod Mill Sunset

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Factories cluster along a rail corridor like swine at a food trough, and bridges carry everything from people to cranes to utility conduits over the tracks. There were many bridges, but there was only one road crossing the mill site. Sunset illuminates the road from the riverside up to Liberty Street. The old rolling mill was in the dark building on the left, though for modern workers it was the flat wire mill. The rod mill is on the right and stretches an equal distance behind me as in front of me. This is a universal landscape of industrial America, the landscape that Gropius idealized and aesthetized.  

A bridge was built here sometime between 1890 and 1895. There is a trick to this bridge, and for a long time it puzzled me. (text continued below)

The bridge does not end at the factory wall but continues across the bay to an attic-like space that runs above much of the length of the rod mill. Like this bridge, the bridge that crossed the tracks in 1895 reached well beyond the rail corridor to a narrow work shed which the map labels, “Burner Shop,” of "Wallace & Sons Manuf’rs of Brass and Copper Goods.” Men worked there on edging lathes, and in a press room. Was this the bridge that carried the finished burners across the tracks to the “Lamp Depart" and “Stock R’m” at about the time Edison and Tezla fought the battle of the currents in White City? (text continued below)

After White City was done glistening, factories became even more like big machines. The dark “dormer,” which casts it shadow beside the old rolling mill, is really the stub end of a missing bridge over which rode a monorail crane. The old crane is still parked inside the stub of the bridge (shown here:, and the track still runs down the length of the attic and turns right at the end of the rod mill. Once, it crossed the yard to the casting house, turned left and crossed back over the track, connecting finally to what used to be the rolling mill built by Ansonia Brass & Copper, the company started here by Anson Phelps. One can see both bridges for the first time in the 1921, aerial map of Ansonia ( The second monorail bridge is the covered bridge with the skylight and roof vents. Behind it is the two-story bridge of the Farrel sand elevator.