Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Cloisters on Mill Street



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Imagine a garden! I’ve photographed here before (http://rothphotos.blogspot.com/2014/04/ruins-on-mill-street.html). It has been more than two years since fire destroyed what was already a dangerous industrial ruin, and still brickwork embroidery speaks of bygone pride in craft and appearances that probably did not extend to care for the Mad River that flows behind or mother earth beneath. This ruin is well-placed beside a residential neighborhood that could benefit from a Riverside park with an elegant colonnade of Victorian brickwork and a couple of towers, perhaps for a lookout and a bell and a chimney for remembering who we were. It would be a park to reclaim the river.



Friday, September 19, 2014

Scaffolding




PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  I treasure the cold loneliness of Edward Hopper who has taught us all a way to see. Alas, to reference him here is only to call attention to how far short my photograph falls; I apologize for leaving it for viewers to imagine who Hopper might have painted into those windows or what he might have set on which stair treads and woven into a complex story.

Here is a previous “Not quite Hopper”: http://rothphotos.blogspot.com/2011/05/hoppers-moved-on.html




Thursday, September 18, 2014

Hartford from Colt





PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Yesterday’s round window was from Bethlehem Steel; today a photo through windows of the old Colt firearms factory in Hartford taken last May. My thoughts on it are below, but before reading mine, pause and consider your own. Windows have all sorts of stories to tell.

-

“Upheaval”! It’s a word to tremble on, suggesting violent movement of the earth beneath our feet. Technological upheaval uproots whole cities and the social fabric and human networks which define civilization. It uproots whole continents as we become more crowded together on the planet and more closely connected. 

“Upheaval.” It is also a word associated with renewal, as natural as the seasons and the seismic lurching of continental plates that test human spirit.



Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Oculus



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  When so little of the architecture is decorative, any gesture toward decoration becomes magnified, even when it is hidden behind a cobweb of steel. How many local government buildings and fine old homes include a similar window for symbolic echoes that barely sound, but here reverberations collide.




Thursday, September 11, 2014

Rank



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  I was impressed by the refined practicality of the Bethlehem mill architecture. There was nothing haphazard about the design; buildings of vastly different eras showed a consistent concern with details of construction, sensitivity to their appearance without ever extending such concerns to being decorative. The power of the buildings comes from the rigor of their honesty. Of course, over time most buildings are repurposed and the logic of their simplicity becomes a complex quilt. What lasts, however, is an efficiency of design that was sometimes matched by the brutal rigors of Bethlehem Steel’s labor practices. It was Bethlehem Steel President Eugene Grace who wrote, “Let it be your guiding, impelling aim to take your boss’s job away from him.” Upon learning of the outbreak of World War II he is said to have remarked to those present, “Gentlemen, we are going to make a lot of money."




Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Room 12



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: For the record, this group of factory interiors was all photographed inside a single factory building of the Bethlehem Steel Company. The building is a long, seven-story structure, four bays wide. The two western bays form a single, three-story high space at grade and two, two-story spaces above. The spaces are well lit by windows north, south and west and are linked by open hatchways and cranes. This wall runs down the center of the building. The eastern bays are broken into smaller rooms, and an additional floor is inserted making the first level only two stories high. The building is L-shaped, but I never found a passage into the L.  The roof failed long ago, and there were areas of floor I avoided.

The pictures were processed as individual statements without any real attempt to connect them. However, viewers are invited to consider them as a passage through the building’s spaces or a journey through industrial decay. The building was designed for steel manufacturing, but nothing remains to hint at what actual work went on here or that it was once noisy with people and machines building a middle class.



Monday, September 8, 2014

Empty



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  Something is necessary, or there could not be emptiness.


Sunday, September 7, 2014

Saturday, September 6, 2014

No Exit



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: “Art,” I think, is a presumptuous term. It is enough to say that I like photographs that have an attitude and places that tease and challenge me to find out what is inside, even when I find nothing more than peeling paint and abandoned hand carts and a bit of the sweat of honest work.





Friday, September 5, 2014

Piranesi's Garland



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Piranesi! Is he the father of all ruins photographers? Most people, if they know of him, know him by the images of Roman ruins that often adorn hotel rooms but are unfamiliar with his series of Prison images. To me he, his works, are kin not just of Goya's but of Escher's. Even his most sanctified Roman arches are teeming with raw nature beyond the few sprigs I can offer; in Piranesi there is no doubt, Nature conquers all. He would have had little patience with photographers’ qualms about compositing in a few extra sprigs when he could produce flights of imaginary arches springing through open air. What good is a camera if we can’t use it in heaven and hell!

It was a terrific shoot, the kind I like best: The western end of the row of stacks has acres of paved parking and nothing from blocking the sun’s light or to keep me from backing up. The lots were mostly empty, and there was a wide plane on which to move around, test ranges and angles interpose various elements of the mill architecture like props or toys that move when I move in relation to the stacks. Standing in some places there are pictures. I spent two hours with my tripod moving around within a six block square area while the sun was dropping, seeing what might be made at different angles trying to find the pictures before working my way to the arches and eventually getting close enough to discover the sprouting boscage. 

Because digital allows us to do anything, every print comes with the terror of the essentially blank canvas. Able to do anything, we must do something, and one explores and follows hunches or sometimes sees it all clearly. The previous two images offered one approach - a mood very much in sympathy with much Piranesi. Accordingly, I also tried to work in Piranesi’s style of the Roman ruins prints, with sepia toned paper and images of a certain inkiness fading suggestively at the edges. They were nothing more than terribly weak imitations of Piranesi. 

Meanwhile, I felt moved to  celebrate the fantasy and sandcastle-whimsy of these great steel sculptures and now offer them for the first time in living color. If you don’t know Piranesi, check him out on Wiki.





Thursday, September 4, 2014

Bethlehem




PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: 

Photographing Bethlehem

Built 
as best I can find out
for World War I
still soldier-like 
armored in rust and
industrial dusk 
tired husk of vanished empire
behind Roman arches 
that supplied legions 
back to the Civil War and 
the ra-ta-tat-tat of a
chain link fence and 
and two World Wars and
a lazy stream of visitors parked 
thinking about dinner 
before the sun sets
over Bethlehem.



Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Blast Furnace



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Normally my job is to take the ordinary and try to make it singular and representative. The five surviving blast furnaces of Bethlehem Steel are already singular and iconic. Their looming presence has its own messages and my job is to find unexpected angles, revealing light, telling juxtapositions, to find ways to improvise upon the tune and transform it.

Be sure to click the image to view it large.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Mills - Bethlehem Steel



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  Bethlehem, PA, is not at all what I expected it would be. The buildings have the solemn venerability of survivors. They seem to have escaped the worst desecrations of gangs, street people and metal thieves common at other derelict mill sites. That’s all good because unique and awe inspiring treasures of American industrial architecture survive here, and buildings like those in my image survive as important context.

Time, however, is a less forgiving vandal. It has been 20 years since the mills closed, the roofs are ragged and frayed, so I was pleased to learn that property here has been set aside to become the, “National Museum of Industrial History,” a project in cooperation with the Smithsonian Institute. 

I wonder, will help come fast enough to preserve the context of generic mill buildings that sets off the unique architectural miracles? It will not come soon enough for anyone to notice the brass mills at this moment being scrapped in Brass Valley.

While I was at the Bethlehem mill an exhibit they were setting up was demonstrated as as a "photo op." A moderate sized crucible was suspended in a manner not quite visible, and an arch of glowing plastic was lit as if it were a stream of molten steel. At one point the museum guide put on a silver coat and went over, pushed a button to emit fake smoke, and stood as if pouring the faux metal. Less than a year ago I photographed Mike doing that job with real brass for the last time in Brass Valley. Now that would be something worth putting in a museum! Until a month ago the brass mill was still a living museum, the subject of my forthcoming book.

I sent out a dozen or so images from my recent trip as previews to a few friends and two people picked this image alone to comment on. One thought it was too generic and ordinary to be of interest. The other picked it as the favorite of the group and thought it had enough atmosphere to illustrate a Dickens novel. I’ll try neither to exalt nor brood. I had chosen it as today’s post before either comment was received. The value of receiving such comments is not as a graph of opinion to chase after taste, but as a window into what/how different people see. To me the photograph is a straight-forward, business-like composition to reflect on these venerable, business-like structures fading in time. 




Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Rejoice! (The Dressmaker's Daughters 16)



PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Enough to say that images exist to fill in the intermediate posts in the Daughters series, though I'll leave it to those who care to imagine what they might contain to lead us to this happy moment.




Sunday, August 17, 2014

Headstrong (The Dressmaker's Daughters 10)



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Twenty-two mannequins and an opera house with large windows letting in filtered side light! 

How fluid the forms! How little it seems to require for these mannequins to spring to life with attitude and intent! How subtle the faceless cues of movement from which we intuit significance! Is it only the central figure whose presence is felt, or do all three come with distinct mental posture?

This is from a subset of the images that especially relies on the form and texture of the mannequins’ surfaces and that light. These images are extremely detailed. Even in these jpg reductions one can see most of the fabric’s weave and the stitching. However, on originals viewed 100% you will see beyond that to the wrapping of the fibers of the woven cloth. Such tiny details frequently cause moire patterns to appear when they fall in or out of phase with native screen dpi. They also seem to react strangely to various tools I use to control certain kinds of contrast adjustments, and there will probably be issues when I begin to print them. All of that only makes the more interesting to me.

Next time I go back, I want to get the camera even closer. How close can I get and still make them live?




Friday, August 15, 2014

Unstrung



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: 


No Electricity

Headbanger pumps
and enough gasoline
to empty hydraulic wells
and fluid basins
of a century of progress
half a century gone.

Silence and space
when they pause.
No heavy sounds,
sole-felt sounds,
bone-rap sounds, 
moving mass,
Immovable abutment.
No iron clank,
No clunk-
and-rumbling 
of unbundled tube.
No forlorn, whining
extrusion solo, soul-felt and whole.
Only headbanger’s return.





Thursday, August 14, 2014

Rust Belt Dies



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  I’m drawn to the mottled, crisp surfaces, the planes of light and leading geometries and shadowed recesses in these piles of dies now lying about the extrusion mill. I’m not sure I can say much more about why, but I react to them as I do to the mannequins at the opera house, as pure form. These are too heavy to move much and too dirty, so I move about trying to fit my rectangle around them. It’s no different than shooting a landscape. Occasionally I’ll mutter, “That’s it!” And most often I won’t know why, but sometimes my eye will. 

Of course there are many excellent photographers with good reasons who will tall me, “No, not there. Here!” …and they will be right.  And my irksome brain will be worrying me, “Isn’t it too fussy in that notch on the top edge, and the top left corner feels weak. Worst of all, the exercise is of no consequence and of little if any importance to anyone but me. However, that quite misses the point.  Looking again later I think I know a bit about why this feels right while many other similar shots don’t work at all.

There are thousands of these dies, and they have been piling up at the old extrusion mill for more than a century. They were everywhere in metal shelves between the benches and in clusters and clearings wherever there was room. Most range in size from a stack of salad plates to a stack of generous platters, though some are as large a car tire, and all are solid steel and heavy. They fit the four draw benches and the expansion bench that formed the basis of the original tube mill that was probably here in the 1890s. Now they have been carefully piled into wire cages to accompany the benches to Mexico, and it’s feeling spacious between the benches.

The dies fit various machines similar to the one shown operating in a recently posted photo: http://rothphotos.blogspot.com/2014/07/bench-23.html

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Watercolors No.6



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  It is often color that has surprised me in the working factory. Unlike the silk mill where I’m drawn to try images in monochrome, in the active brass mill spots and splashes of color seem to make the best images. Even as it is being taken apart they draw my camera.

My vigil continues, and today it rained most of the time while I was there while men were removing hydraulic pumps from the top of the extruder. The end is getting nearer. 

Now that I’m at home, and the sun is coming out, and I’m “developing” a few of the images I took, I’m regretting not getting a longer lens or my boots from the back of my car to explore close-up possibilities here, but the rain never stopped until after I left, and the car felt a long way off. What will tomorrow bring?

Viewed small this image has the effect of seeming clotted or blurred, but at proper scale details are all clear and it's easy to read the caution sign on the red post, and all of the writing stenciled on the side of the yellow crane at the back of the image.





Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Dressmaker's Daughters 9



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:

Primers

What is scent before a nose smells vanilla?
What is flavor before a tongue tastes ham?
What are light and dark before retinae paint a multicolored picture to sit down in?
What are sound and echo before cochleae hear whistles and waves; songs and words?
And what is touch before skin feels itch, ache, sting and caress?
The world makes our senses and our senses spin a world of sensations in our brains.
From whence comes self that makes brain into mind?
And has taught us there are worlds for which we have no senses.
And what am I without a cosmos of others?
Therefore, We Exist!
Children of Electricity,
Life’s purpose? To thrive.





Friday, August 1, 2014

Wanted (The Dressmaker's Daughters 8)



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Special thanks to all who sent thoughts for titling yesterday’s daughter. So many things I learned from the titles sent me! I puzzled a long time over, “Segregation,” But I had learned something about my image after I’d thought about ti awhile. Other titles sent were:

"On the Hot Seat"
"Hot Stuff"
"Hotsy Totsy"
"Hot Child in the City"
"Old Fashioned Steam”
"Lady Lashes"
“Ensconced” and
“Wallflower"

I’ve tentatively titled the new Daughter 8 (above) “Wanted,” because that’s what the sign says, but I’m ready to discover new dimensions of my picture by seeing it through your eyes. Please feel free to send titles. However, unless you can zoom in close, you’re missing much of the fun. I did a horizontal version, but I miss the layers of window glass and the knotting of the shade pull or whatever the cord is for. This is where a tablet that flips sideways has an advantage.



Thursday, July 31, 2014

Old Fashioned Steam (The Dressmaker's Daughters 7)



PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: I though t to title this, "Ego," but I decided to let viewers title it.



Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Dressmaker's Daughters 6



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  Taking our cue from the Food Channel’s “Chopped,” in which contestants are each given four unlikely ingredients from which they must prepare a dish, adding things as needed "from the Chopped pantry and fridge"; today Lazlo and I returned to our secret Chopped kitchen, not in competition, but cooperatively to figure out what else we could do with our cameras, 21 beige manneqins, one charcoal mannequin, and an abandoned opera house. We brought with us an ever-growing collection of props to enrich the chopped pantry.

We may return. All suggestions are welcome, and we will try almost anything so long as it respects the ladies' virtue, such as it is.


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Bench 23



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: This journal entry is meant to mark a significant moment in my photographic vigil of the demise of the Last Brass Mill. 

The machine in this picture is an expansion bench. Until last fall Rudy, Randy, and Ray ran this machine regularly. (Whew!) Extruded, seamless tube is repeatedly reworked cold on expansion benches and draw benches to bring it to the desired specification for the job. In the foreground Ray pushes buttons to work elevators that position the tube.  In the background Rudy controls a hydraulic valve that puts immense pressure behind the ram. Between them the ram is part way through the tube and is making it bulge. It traverses a tube in under five seconds, like a snake swallowing a mouse, increasing the diameter of the tube and evenly stretching the wall. In the far background are two, large electric motors. Once, one of them turned a hydraulic pump that applied the muscle to the hydraulic fluid behind the ram.

Hiram Hayden was famous for revolutionizing pot-making, and he was reputed to hold more patents than anyone else in Brass Valley. He was the embodiment of the inventive brass entrepreneur in a world that was just inventing engineering. In the early days, pots were hammered out in a “battery.” Battery workers usually were deaf long before they were dead. Hiram Hayden made better pots with machines that could spin them and shape them instead of battering them. It is not surprising, then, that he was also a pioneer in the making of seamless tube. He understood how cold metal flows and how to fit the wheels and gears and engines to do it.

The plans for this bench are in the factory offices nearby; they are dated 1905. Hiram Hayden died the year before.  The year before that the Wright brothers flew. This bench may have been here already at the start of World War I, when a new factory shed was built for an expanding tube mill to meet war’s rising production targets. Perhaps significantly, that the tube mill butts against an 1880s era, four-story factory that was built by Holmes, Booth, & Haydens to make burners for oil lamps. It was likely repurposed for tube-making as the world electrified and tube milling began below. It is not hard to imagine that Hayden and the men who pioneered the technology for making tube seamlessly, did so in the old lamp factory, and that the original equipment put in place here in the new tube mill was built and installed under the direct supervision of many of those innovators. It is a formative place for Brass Valley to finally expire. One might almost call it a holy land.

In the background, Rudy's controls are like no others. He adjusts the hydraulic pressure to the ram by turning a great wheel that sits horizontally, like the steering wheel on a city bus, but cast metal and heavy-looking. And the chair that Rudy sits on is made of welded metal and is fastened to the floor. It is an odd thing, inhuman in its engineered rigidity and with a high back out of all human proportion.

The homemade chair is a mystery. Perhaps the swing of the great wheel required such force that chairs made of wood were being turned to matchsticks. Or maybe the great wheel was at one time turned by a “big wheel,” who the engineers thought to honor with a throne. If so, it is a story that's lost. One of the men doing salvage work at the factory pointed out the back was made of expanded metal. Expanded metal was developed, patented and first marketed around 1889; it is an interesting use, a parody of wicker for a world of metal workers. 

Friday while I was shooting at the mill, the salvage men began removing the expansion bench. It will take awhile to cut it from the floor. They said it will be going to a factory in Mexico. If labor there remains cheap and the laws governing working conditions and pollution remain lax, the expansion bench may still be turning out seamless tube for another hundred years.


I’ve avoided discussion of the cold processing of tube on the blog as it will be treated in my book when it appears next spring. I’ve made an exception here as the occasion demanded recognition.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Bias (The Dressmaker's Daughters 3)



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Photos such as this in the Dressmaker’s Daughters series were finished in order to maximize fine detail. For me one of the pleasures of the image is in looking up close. These are dressmaker’s mannequins and are themselves, finely tailored.

Unfortunately, most of that fine detail is the first thing to be lost in downsizing and jpg compression for email. The coarse cloth not only catches light well, but the weave is clear. The seams along the shoulders that quickly pixelate here are in the hi-res original clear enough to see each stitch that binds front to back as far back as the second to last row of mannequins in the upper right corner. Such clarity is of little value for its own sake. Here it seems to me to be a part of the visceral impact of the image, a feeling a little bit raw and rough on the pin-cushion, tailored form. 

Click the image to view it larger.



Sunday, July 13, 2014

Basting (The Dressmaker's Daughters 2)



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: I used to think my photographs should be expressive. I’ve come to believe the best photographs are not expressive but impressive; they draw us in, engage us with their forms and say as much by what is left out as by what is included so that as viewers we are forced to make our own connections and fill the gaps with our own sensibilities and experiences. In seeking to express, the photograph risks overwhelming the viewer’s creative energies.  The point is not, “Do you get it?” Rather it is, “What do you find there? What do you make of it?”

I was delighted at the variety of responses I received on the previous “Dressmaker’s Daughters.”  This reply from Mary Weissbrod especially caught the spirit of enjoying open-ended possibilities:

"I see sadness. Perhaps a lady who worked all the time to support her kids and dreamed of a life of excitement and power as a designer to the rich and famous. Instead she sews for a hard ass boss who doesn't care if her talents show as long as she makes him look good. She is lonely because she works day and night and has only her mannequins as friends. I see the garment district and the juxtaposition of the haves and have nots who work there. I see a story similar to Pinocchio. The mannequins are longingly looking out the window wishing they could be real. I see the emptiness of the loft the mannequins are in and the coldness of the streets outside. New York can be like that. There’s no doubt that it is anywhere else but New York. 
...Your photo speaks many things to me. I could make up lots of stories that it creates in my mind.” -Mary Weissbrod


Saturday, July 5, 2014

Jaws 2



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: I spent long enough with the pointer to enjoy its bold form and graphic look. It seems to turn everything around it into part of an Art Deco abstract. This is where the man plugs into the machine. The machine is essentially a 19th century battery. 

I watched George pull and shove and lift and turn each heavy tube repeatedly. I photographed the constantly shifting arc of his back when he leaned into the work, pushing the pipe forward and when he cradled his fingers under it and pulled while pushing as much with his feet as he pulled with his hands near the pointer jaws. Each time he found the position he wanted, his foot fired the hydraulic hammers that drove the wedges into the thick-walled tube, gradually hammering it into a nipple of the correct size for a draw bench to grab. Every length of tube must be pointed. Sometimes I saw George at it all day long, and he still had all his fingers and a smile.

The OSHA sign hanging behind George is for a code violation that was remedied, I was told, by installation of the plastic guard in front of the pointer’s jaws. While most of the jobs in the brass mill required more monitoring than doing, running the pointer required constant attention over long periods and the strength to move the heavy lengths of tube constantly backward and forward.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Pointer



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  Attitude is everything. It is annoying to have again been blind sided by expectation, in this case: that the operation of a small piece of equipment used to prepare tube for a larger operation should be less interesting than the larger dinosaurs amid which I photographed for four years. Although I have been interested in the workings of industrial hydraulics, it was not until last night, looking at some of my photographs of the machines shut down, that I appreciated the simplicity of the Pointer’s design and followed the hydraulic lines to the place at which they deliver their punch. What photographs did I miss because I was on the other side photographing the operator and only got here after operation ceased? 

It is often my habit to explore various methods for developing an image, though I’ve been told that the permissible range in developing an image after shooting is limited, I would argue to the contrary, it is as limitless as I choose to make it. I welcome comments for or against either or both of these.



Monday, June 30, 2014

Epic II



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Photographed a week ago still mounted beside the annealer; found last week tossed aside as scrap.



Friday, June 27, 2014

Body Politic



PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: When I visited last week the tube racks that filled the aisle beside the annealer had been trashed and the beast lay cold and disemboweled in the empty space.  This week it was cut in two for easy scrapping.


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Remembering the Annealer



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: If the brass mill were a bestiary, the annealer would be some armor plated creature that hunches like a rock when enemies hover; it was an organism that lived at a tempo almost too slow for human observation. At one end of the annealer there was usually tube waiting on the rack to be rolled onto the conveyor. It might sit for twenty minutes, or it might sit for hours. Inevitably, when my back was turned, and I was photographing something else, the waiting tube was rolled, and the rare human interaction of man and beast was missed.  

The conveyor moved rows of tube through a long heated chamber - slowly the way a clock’s minute hand moves, too slow for observation. Eventually rows of tubes emerged slowly on the other side. Sometimes long wisps of steam rose from the ends of the tubes as they entered and exited the annealer. The vigor and the beauty of the steam varied with the diameter of the tube, the temperature of the shop, and elements beyond my ken, but I often tried to get human events and steam into the same image, but all the stars were never quite in alignment then. This shot with José is as close as I came.

The annealer heated tube that had been stressed and stretched as it was worked on the draw benches. Heat relaxed the crystal structure of the metal to prevent pinholes from developing. I always found it to be a photogenic tangle of tubes and pipes and wires and ducts, and even on occasion tried to photograph inside of it as it ran.



Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Mayor's Office



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: The Sterling Opera House, they say, is haunted. Upstairs plaster walls hang silently, and no applause follows, only cracks, but if it is the sound of bones rattling or chains being dragged, it more likely comes from down stairs behind the dressing rooms in the City Council Rooms where the city council met with the mayor before there was a city or a council or a mayor. There was only a benefactor manufacturer named Sterling. He made pianos, and employed many people in town. It could have been the plot of an opera. He paid for both city halls, they say, though there was no city.




Monday, June 2, 2014

Ghosts



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  The Sterling Opera House, they say, is haunted. Furniture moved, toys left, the usual stuff. How could it be otherwise? What fitter place for regrets to lodge or revenge to seethe? How many coughing Mimi’s upstaged? How many Lears, unforgiven while crooners got ready backstage? It could be any missed cue or final curtain that lingers like an animal caught in the wall, a warm spot when you pass through padded houses and empty houses and the closed house. An opera house without ghosts, they say, is like a mirror without reflection. 



Sunday, June 1, 2014

Pilgrimage to Forsaken Acres



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Lazlo and I were back at Forsaken Acres last week. The fields around the abandoned farm were planted and two-inch seedlings poked through the mud in tiny rows. Another week or two before they will be ripe for photos.

When I was last here the silo at the east end of the farmstead had collapsed, and I predicted these remaining two would not last the winter. In fact, the old farmer’s handiwork is tougher than I suspected and a comparison of this with the image I made then [http://rothphotos.blogspot.com/2013/10/shadows-cast.html] will show how little changed the farmstead is, though this time I caught it under midday sun with a lighting guy in the heavens who for a brief moment made the sun shine just behind the silos, and of many photos I took of his lighting experiments, this one best brought out the spirit of Forsaken Acres as I found it that day, a ruin that has survived so long nobody can tell me of a time there were cows in this milking room. The business of this valley then was milk, butter, and eggs for New York City.  Spring rains long ago made the roof and columns of the cow barn mushy, and the weight of snow and ice has pounded it as surely as if a giant foot had trampled here, but one can still creep inside where the structure rests on the metal cow stalls, at least until the new spring vines, fighting for their place in the sun, claim every shaft of available light. Although there are no graves here, this is a spot deserving of seasonal pilgrimages, at least until the cenotaphs implode.




Friday, May 30, 2014

Unnamed



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: I thought of calling this “Bodybuilding” or “Face-off,” but it quickly became clear that the fun was in finding ones own title.  I invite readers’ suggestions for a title for this photograph. What would you title this image?

A reader recently wrote to ask, if the way things looked does not determine processing, how do I choose? The more I do this, the more I try to respond to qualities I find in the image.  Sometimes I know them as I’m shooting.  More often, I only have an idea of possible directions. 

I make choices on processing as I make choices on composition. Everything is subjective. To a large extent, I left the mannequins as they were when Rick Pauline passed them to me. With more time I would have made other arrangements and other images. Perhaps I’ll go back and do that. They are a great subject.  Or maybe this says as much as need be said.

I adjusted the placement of the mannequin on the left and at the front and got down low enough to make the pattern of overlapping necks and shoulders interesting. The height of the camera controlled both the relationship of the rows of mannequins and the height of the entire shot. Thus, best placement was determined to make for interesting overlap and best proportions. 

This image was captured with care to preserve very sharp detail back to front because I liked the course fabric of the mannequins under the strong side light that made it stand out. My intuition as I began processing was to enhance and emphasize that as much as possible. As I began I had only a vague idea in what direction I wanted to develop the image. Though I shot in color, the result was a sepia-like monochrome. Some unnecessary detail on the floor was happily minimized by leaning into the image contrast and the natural vignette. I set the curve of the gradient to maximize contrast while minimizing the detail that would be lost except in the darkest areas. NIK’s Silver Efex Pro is one of the best plug-ins available and allows many ways to gain very precise control over all aspects of grayscale imagery. The treatment seemed to call for the full weight of B&W without sepia softening, though Silver Efex let me experiment with “silver toning” and paper tone..

By moving the vignette’s center to the left side of the screen, my hope was that the eye would be led along the picture’s diagonal and to the “dialogue” of eyeless audience and voiceless speaker.


Military Intelligence

You can tell by the seam of the spine
and the place where a nod should be and a brim for salutes
that these were men who’d heed a call to arms
and never lose their heads in battle.




Thursday, May 29, 2014

Hartford Metropolis from Colt



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Without us ever asking, our guide escorted us up a broad flight of wooden stairs and through a hatch in the roof, and in a few moments we stood beneath the Colt Dome with the city of Hartford in front of us. You see the closed hatch cover, lowered for shooting, in the foreground.

The image is a high resolution, stitched panorama made from 15 separate images. Usually one sets the tripod and shoots a sequence from one side to the other with 1/3 overlap, but the geometries were strange. Placing the towers of the Metropolis into the space of an opening between columns meant placing my tripod well off center under the dome. To include floor and ceiling I shot at 18mm, but unwrapping the panorama is a bit like flattening the globe into a Mercator projection.

I tried to visualize what the scene around me would look like when unwrapped and recalled a disastrous panorama attempt on the top of Cadillac Mountain at sunset in Maine. This time I shot a hasty sequence and then a bunch of extra “fill” shots so I’d have enough ceiling and floor. With a second chance, I’d be more methodical, but maybe not so lucky in the sky I’m granted.

Getting all the separate images stitched back together taxed the genius of Photoshop. Sometimes photoshop chose to join pieces where the shadow on the column makes a neutral gray. The consequence of this was that sometimes the railings butted the columns at random heights. In the end I discovered Photoshop very much appreciated having as much redundancy as I could give it, and when it was done I tugged on the corners with the skew and distort tools until I thought it looked right. 



Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Colt Legacy




PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Several weeks ago my friend Lazlo and I photographed at the old Colt firearms factory along the Connecticut River in Hartford, and I am just beginning to learn about the Colt legacy and Colonel Samuel Colt and his wife, Elizabeth.

The cupola on the surviving East Armory is the most distinctive and recognizable feature of the Hartford Skyline for those approaching from the south or east along the interstates. Every child who thought about being a cowboy or cowgirl knew about Colt revolvers. They rank alongside the cowboy hat as icons of the Wild West, but they were invented and made here in the Upright East.  This description of the Colonel’s funeral was a pretty good teaser to make me want to know more: http://connecticuthistory.org/sam-colts-funeral-the-day-hartford-stopped/

The buildings are survivals from a very different era that are being carefully restored and repurposed as “Colt Gateway, A Community Inspired by Imagination.”  They gave us a tour and permission to shoot in areas that had been cleared but had not yet been restored.  The rampant colt atop the cupola is a duplicate. The original is on display at the Museum of Connecticut History. Colt Gateway provides an excellent background history here: http://www.coltgateway.com/History-At-Colt




Monday, May 26, 2014

Arms



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: I’m trying to get back to the factory once a week for as long as I can. No power means no lights. It’s not good; it’s not bad; it just is. As I photograph I’m often aware of work going on in some distant corner. Occasionally Charlie passes on one of the little factory tow tractors, but most of the time I feel solitary in my mission. Here and there on various benches I can see where parts have been gathered. The annealer lies like an eviscerated beast, pipes and rollers that might as well be intestines have been pulled out and lie sprawling every which way in the passage.  The extruder’s great ram has been disarmed, but more often than not things are as they were left when work ceased last winter and calendars stopped turning.

Work at the foundry stopped first, and I found it too painful to photograph the great wheel coming to rest. Now that work has ceased entirely, the factory is already taking on the aura of a historical relic or archeological site, and I'm back. Without the constant motion of the working factory and men as subjects for photographs, I have the leisure to focus on what has been left behind as it is slowly dispersed and discarded and as bit by bit the purposeful actions of men pushing back chairs or setting down tools succumbs to irreversible entropy and Brass Valley and 200 years of evolved culture passes into history.

Some special photos must be saved for the book, and so I zoom in close and look for new directions.



Sunday, May 25, 2014

Another Old Saw



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: - Photographers’ Voice, Part 2

For most of my life I photographed things. I photographed as a traveler to remember my travels, and I photographed friends to remember our times together. I photographed as a student of architecture to study a site and a neighborhood. I photographed as a reporter to document events I thought mattered. When I retired I stopped photographing things, and then people said “Oh, you’re an Art Photographer.”  

Art photographer! It’s a term I dislike because it suggests that my pictures are aimed at audience who possess an occult knowledge that allows them to unlock secrets the rest do not see. To the extent there are secrets, I think they are only unlocked by looking and doing, and there are no authorities, but that’s another discussion. For others, it is a term for things that are decorative. I freely admit my photographs are a self-indulgence especially in a world overwhelmed with photographers and photographs; that there are too few people to look at all the photos being shot, but my aim is not decorative. My only answer is that photography is an addiction that gives me pleasure and harms no one, and that in my wanderings I occasionally stumble on images that seem to move others, that I’ve done it long enough that maybe, sometimes I see things others miss, but mostly I’m dogged in my wanderings, both at home while processing, and abroad while shooting. 

If I don’t photograph things, what do I photograph? It’s a reasonable question. I photograph what catches my eye, and sometimes I see what I feel. So it’s really my eye I hope you feel when you look at my photographs. And why should you care to feel my eye? All I can say is it’s different, which is a truism. A few days after I took this photograph of the old saw, it was packed up and shipped to another country, but I didn’t photograph in order to remember it when it was gone. No, it was something else I saw, a pathway for my eye, cheery colors, textures, forms; the timbre and pitch of the light, the passage of time; qualities that resonated inside me as I shot and processed.

Be sire to click and view it large.