Saturday, November 22, 2014

'Tween



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Back in April I visited Pennhurst State School and Hospital, commonly known as Pennhurst Assylum. I posted 6 photos then (click & scroll to mid-page). I had more photos to post at the time, but I chose to move on because the images became too dark to post, or at least too dark to post day after day after day. It’s a fair question to ask, “Why post at all?”

I have good friends, supportive of my photography who cheer me on when images are sunny but try to pass dark subjects by, and occasionally someone who knows me less well will ask in kindness, “Is everything OK?" One only has to look at the state of the world to know everything is not OK, but I’m fine, and thank you. We follow the news in order to understand and to remain compassionate, and we continue to function normally, even when we are helpless to know how to fix the world. My natural buoyancy lets me use my camera to explore the past that lies around me, a time traveler lingering in another age to try and understand where we came from and to grasp hold of the metamorphosis that is existence. I like things lost or abandoned and anything with a coating of dust or rust, peeling paint or the patina of age. I’ve been attracted to dried up beetles and festering water lilies, things we have been or are made from or might become. It’s sometimes a graveyard shift and well suited to my dullness or my sanguinity.

I went to Pennhurst largely ignorant of its special history but interested to find out what it had to teach me about a very different kind of human condition. When I came into this space what struck me immediately were the walls, flat metal panels rusted to the color of puke, the blankness of them and the lack of horizon. Even where there were windows, they were small breaks in the flatness of the walls. There were some wheelchairs and beds on wheels with rails to keep people from rolling out, and some walkers. I placed one of the walkers where the panels made an intersection and began composing images.

There are many things one may think at such a crossroad, the worst must be to think you are alone, forgotten by the living and the dead.



Friday, November 21, 2014

Rhinecliff Tower



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Today we went in search of John Bird and his church and found neither.  At the four corners of Mulberry and Livingston there were four beautiful old wood frame houses with plenty of Victorian trimming, but there never was a church. We found a church by John Bird, but it had no brick.  And so, here’s one more photo of Rhinecliff while I try to track down John Bird and his brickwork.




Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Rhinecliff Autumn



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Stone steps that tumble like a woodland stream to greet dream visitors ushered through Miss Jones’ magical doorway to the castle within. Even in its current state, these brick decorations are trumpet flourishes. Since posting yesterday I’ve learned that a master mason, John Bird, was responsible for the brickwork of Rhinecliff as well as for the church at the corner of Livingston and Mulberry ten years later. 

The old town history records the building of a church, “under the direction of Father Scully, in 1864, with George Veitch as architect, and John Bird as master mason.” It goes on to list the names of large contributors to the church parish: "Mrs. Mary R. Miller, Mrs. Franklin Delano, Miss Elizabeth Jones, Mr. Horatio Miller, Mr. Edward Jones, Mr. William Astor, and Mr. Lewis Livingston.” - a church for Miss Elizabeth and the people who kept up with her and probably passed through this door regularly. I look forward to finding out how John Bird's imagination met the commission for a church.


In the meantime, it’s worth noting that the decorations appear to be mostly composed of standard shape bricks, but with a precise technique for cutting brick to meet immediate conditions. Each point on the sunburst arches is uniquely shaped, no two points are alike. This is a building ahead of its time, designed and executed before there was a demand for brick shaped into a variety of curves and a complement of precast decorative details. 

There is an excellent collection of documents on Rhinecliff and including a plan, here: http://loc.gov/pictures/item/ny0191/ at the Library of Congress.

The best collection of early photos I’ve found is here: (http://www.historic-structures.com/ny/rhinebeck/wyndcliffe.php). Be sure to click through the different sets of pictures. Much of the porch (All of it on the left side) is gone now, and we see directly to the second layer of brickwork. Among the interiors is a shot looking into the central hall that is a similar view to mine where the floor was gone (http://rothphotos.blogspot.com/2014/11/rhinecliff-open-house.html). 

When you’re done looking elsewhere, come back to this picture; open it up to full screen if you can, and turn down any light around the screen or reflecting from it. Look until you’ve convinced yourself there’s nobody lurking behind the window or about to come through the opening door. Can you find Miss Elizabeth in a mansion's folly, or John Bird?



Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Toccata in Brick



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Although the architect of Rhinecliff remains uncertain, whoever it was could call on the services of virtuoso masons to execute a needlepoint sampler of masonry forms, patterns, and decorations to bedazzle visitors. Nobody piled brick like the Joneses. Expand the image to the width of your screen, and slowly scroll from bottom to top as if you had stopped and slowly let your eyes climb the walls in front of you and then walked by.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Rhinecliff Open House



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  I’d like to invite you across the floor to the room where everyone’s socializing, but as you see, there is no floor and the food’s probably overstored. Resist the urge to look around through that door to see how the table is set or the entertainment is arrayed in the back of the room. Imagine dancing here at the housewarming in 1853. Imagine the music playing, echoing across the Hudson.



Sunday, November 16, 2014

Rhinecliff on Hudson



To learn more about Edith Wharton’s Rhinecliff, click here

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: “Wyndclyffe,” its actual name, was built in 1853 high on a bluff to command the view, and green lawns and gardens stretched to the river. It set a mark, and everyone tried to keep up with the Joneses.



Thursday, November 13, 2014

Twin Stoops



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: On traveling in time

My friend took me here where paths no longer lead, and the stoops grow slippery with moss.
Inside, a stringless piano, gospel hymns forgotten, where once there was song.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Watercolors No.7



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Here is an October moment that composed a pond beside a friend’s cabin in Virginia. It has waited since 2012 for its moment on the blog. 

To see more of the “Watercolors” series, type, "watercolors" into the box in the upper left.




Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Autumn Colors



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  

Cider time
Leaves will crumble 
Galaxies dissolve 



Monday, November 10, 2014

Factory Flag



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Yesterday's flagpole image was composed on a melancholy walk around the empty campus of American Brass / Anaconda. The empty flagpole begs numerous questions at what they say was once the largest, busiest brass manufacturing plant in the world, a place where the American Dream was designed, assembled, and tested.  

Until I walked up Liberty Street, I never realized the company had a flagpole, though I’ve long been aware of the immense part this factory and the Valley played during both world wars. In the four years I photographed here I don’t think I ever saw a flag flying; the administration had already moved out, so the flagpole was positioned facing a locked gate. 

Of course the men carrying out the final shut-down of the brass mill remember when the flag was raised and lowered daily, and they can name the men who did it, but even they have no knowledge of this mysterious memorial in the long-closed rod mill. Who placed the flag and when? - here in a west-facing window of one of the great basilicas of Brass Valley. What special resonances does it gather here? What is the music playing?



Sunday, November 9, 2014

Friday, November 7, 2014

Engagement



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: I bring to every photograph I take, the experience of the taking of it. That experience must either find expression in the composition, exposure, and processing of the image, or be lost to others. Does it matter? Would this image be any different with studio lights and a few dusty props? Yet for me this set of images remains tied to shadows in the rugged engineer’s office, a quarter century abandoned, sacked and quiet while the afternoon sun slants through broken skylights high in the work shed roof and through the window, from which the engineer sometimes looked down on production below, or sat at his desk where the sunbeam falls on the old cart where the gears were left after everything else had been looted. 



Thursday, November 6, 2014

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Ritual of Sunshine



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  It’s hard to know what went on here, and without presses or paint hoods or ovens to distinguish one space from another, it was often difficult to know where I was. Of course every building, floor, and column, though nearly identical to its neighbors, is carefully numbered. Passing from room to room, floor to floor I kept track of my place on a mental grid in a space that might as well have been endless in all directions until I hit the cellar below the sub-basement or the roof or the last hall.  




Sunday, November 2, 2014

Station Unknown



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: I’ve asked all the old-timers. Nobody can tell me anything about the flag and the board beneath it, with twelve similar calendar photos of antique automobiles. It is just beside the loading bay where a tractor-trailor truck has been parked and left since 2008, when the rod mill closed. Exploding pinholes of light bore through window cracks and burn out grimy surfaces, but a sharp military crease remains in the flag, and I imagine a bugle’s call. Whatever the occasion and the dear memories that prompted such tribute, it reverberates in many dimensions here in the brass mill.



Saturday, November 1, 2014

Annealer's Station



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Eight years closed - still not tea time…




Thursday, October 30, 2014

Nevermore at the Opera House



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  All the leaves are yellow and orange and red and brown and the raven has perched in the top balcony of the Sterling Opera House to await the phantom.




Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Numbering Station No. 2



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: 


Becoming and Going

There are basilicas 
and passages 
first and last. 

Between 
there are stations in bays, 
properly equipped, that come, 

and the people 
that come 
and go 

and the power 
to make it all move 
and a river of raw material 

becoming and going.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Empty Stations



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: For a long time when I shot here in the rod mill, the existence of the long passageway with the monorail, that runs above the bay on the right, remained hidden. Switch back and forth between the previous image and this one, and you’ll understand how things are. The spot where the skylight is interrupted in the bay on the left is where the pedestrian bridge passes over the roof. The monorail crossed further down.

They say that cranes, the avian kind, are very expressive, and those that are left have a very large vocabulary of vocalizations; in certain seasons, I’ve been told, they even sing to each other. These cranes are silent. Some avian cranes also communicate by color changes and through a large vocabulary of non-vocalized communications. I think sometimes when I’m facing the other way these cranes turn slightly and lower their hooks a bit, and I turn in time to see a cat darting into a shadow. Though these cranes rarely whoop, they are endangered. That’s the way things are.



Sunday, October 26, 2014

Parked



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  Even after I found the long hall to the pedestrian bridge across the track (previous entry), I took no notice of this hulking piece of machinery parked in the only alcove. There are numerous lessons in that:

1.  Sometimes I see only what I’m looking for. I didn’t visit this hall often, but I must have passed the alcove a half dozen times. It is one of the few features in a very long space, and yet it made little impression on me until Corky happened to tell me the factory once had a monorail system, and I began looking for its remains. Lazlo had missed it too, but when I pointed it out, he gave it his super panorama treatment, while I took out my wide-angle lens. There’s never a shortage of things to see or ways of seeing them.

2.  I don’t usually photograph “things.” However, until I understood that the beam was a track and the car, a monorail vehicle, I was mindless and saw no picture here. The picture lies in the purpose - in the thought of that thing impelled along the track, perhaps with hampers of scrap metal hanging from it, perhaps a workmen walking next to it. Until I knew what it was, I saw no picture. However, the picture must speak without any explanation. It’s not a photograph of a thing; it’s an image.

3. If there is power in the image, visual should precede verbal, and the power will lie in realms unstated.

For the record:

The "long perpendicular hall” remains a bit of a mystery; why so long? It continues behind me and well past both bridges to where the building once ended and where other structures might once have stood. In any case, like the pedestrian passage, this alcove once went across the roof of the rod shop and then entered an enclosed bridge over the track to the flat wire mill. Of course, I’m not sure what the mills were doing when the monorail was in operation. The bridge is gone, this end walled over, and on the other end the buildings are much changed, though its easy to see how the bridge and monorail might have fit in. 

The monorail began there, in the flat wire mill.  Passing into the rod mill and turning here, it zigged down at the far end to the right, and then zagged left out of the building. It then crossed in front of the powerhouse to the foundry. Gables remain high on the roofs where it entered each building, and I think I can see it in the 1921 and 1934 aerials. 

Inside the foundry it made another turn left and crossed back over the tracks through one of the bridges pictured earlier.  That bridge must have been similar to the missing bridge of this picture. Inside the extrusion mill you can barely see where the bridge abuts, but it is at a spot where trains and trucks had access. 

A bridge, two gables, and this stretch of track where the "monorail" vehicle came to rest are all that is left of a system that once was a major artery for materials and people and the flow of product. What, exactly, it did, I don’t know, but I never realized how much this campus was once like a single, big, humming machine, back before reality was digitized.


Friday, October 24, 2014

Pedestrian Passages



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: What is it about such passages that draw me in, that tease the child inside many of us? I remember the day we discovered the other entrance to this bridge across the track. It was one of our first explorations of the American Brass flat-wire mill. I noted the condition of the bridge decking, and my better judgement decided that it was enough to look through the dirty glass of the locked door and not risk crossing the track, but the hunt had begun for the other side. 

Had I crossed the bridge then I would have been totally lost, and it took more than a year of searching before I found my way to the end above the rod mill. It was not where I had expected it to be. The trick is that this is not the bridge but a passage across the rooftop to the edge of this building. The track and bridge are just beyond the door, and the existence of the long, perpendicular hall in which I stood to take this picture, that runs for hundreds of feet to my right and left, was unknown. The only access is a small stair leading from the second story men's locker room. Old plastic sheeting blocked the way and made it look especially uninviting, and it was a long walk from the bridge entrance I was trying to locate.

So what factory function warranted the expense of building a bridge over the track to a long room, one bay wide and only accessible by a narrow bridge or three flights of stairs at the far end?



Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Passages



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Back before reality became digital, before stuff that mattered had turned to LEDs on a FedEx map tweeted and twittered at the speed of light, before Amazon orders were beamed to us in a day, we used to value physical connection. What mattered was, literally, weighty. Strong backs and heavy machinery were needed to lift and move such weighty matter. This may be the rustiest corridor in Brass Valley. Lazlo and I have now photographed in all of the industrial buildings along this stretch of rail and nudged our lenses even into some of the corners that time has forgotten. 

Of those bridges over rails that were once essential to the efficiency of industry, what child isn’t intrigued to know what passes through them and where they lead! Modern factories are thrown up in a moment; they are like beetles with huge tin shells enclosing lots of hollow space, but these companies grew slowly, adding workshops and basilicas as needed; they hugged the rail corridor, crowding and climbing over each other as if to get a better view of the locomotives' smoke and steam and soot. Every bridge implies some network of passages that wind like intestines within the tumble of factory sheds to network stations and functions and offices. Footsteps passing through real passages made product move as smoothly as the even hum of well-greased wheels and pistons and gears, and I’ve found both inside these bridges.

We’ve visited all that cross over the track here, as close as one may safely get, photographed some. The red one at the far back is broad and high and it connects two large machine shops where heavy industrial parts are still being finished for various industrial machines made elsewhere. There is space to drive a fork lift, and support for a heavy load over that bridge. The one in the center is the longest and most mysterious, passing across rooftops from interior sheds so as to to reach across the track to a tall derelict structure of corrugated metal. The nearest bridge was not for people. It was part of a “monorail system,” that linked a rod mill a wire mill and a tube extrusion mill to the central foundry. 

Six bridges appear crossing the tracks in the 1921 view of this area. Continuing in order, the next was all electrical connections: tubes and wires; one carried the last leg of the monorail back over the tracks, and the last was a bridge to save pedestrian steps. Five of the six bridges still exist today, and one that was not there in 1921 has been added, so there are still six. However, their days may be numbered.



Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Cooling



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  This is, to my knowledge, the end of the old Ansonia Canal that once ran from the Kinneytown Dam through the center of Ansonia. It was built in 1845 by Almon and Franklin Farrel for Anson Phelps and the new industrial village he was building. At one time the canal ran openly through town. Much of the canal is intact, though it’s mostly invisible to the public now, and few people know it’s there. 

The small building ahead and the buildings to the right are part of the old American Brass Company Ansonia site. It was once the site of Anson Phelps’ brass battery. Farther ahead, the two more modern looking buildings were part of Farrel Foundry & Machine Company. The small building directly ahead contains large pipes, valves, and other equipment that until very recently provided water for cooling freshly-poured metal in the Anaconda-American Brass casting house. 

Farther north, water is drawn off to generate electricity and then returned to the Naugatuck River. It’s about another mile further north along the canal to the Kinneytown Dam, and for all that length the canal flows invisibly beneath a vaulting of tree tracery in a land known joyfully to possums and voles, herons and robins, chipmunks and squirrels.

Composed for my brother by request.




Sunday, October 19, 2014

Autumn in Brass Valley



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Storm clouds and crisp, blue days and nights have produced a picture-perfect autumn. Whenever I leave my house the hillsides are dazzling, but I have not yet taken a picture of them. This morning I found myself in the abandoned yards beside the old Benedict & Burnham powerhouse. The Naugatuck River winds through the old, abandoned factory compound.The sagging roof across the river in the background on the right dates from before the Civil War, I’m told. Behind are the slopes and gables of Waterbury’s Brooklyn. Only Autumn and graffiti are thriving here, and I enjoyed both shows.

IMAGINE what this site might become once the toxic waste is gone.




Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Grand Basilica



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: “Basilica.” There is no better word for identifying these buildings, especially those with peaked roofs. “Factory,” does not necessarily mean a single building. Shed is reductive, suggesting an add-on with a shed roof. “Mill,” “plant,” “shop,” and “workshop” all offer various problems, and none brings to mind these long high spaces where large objects could be built and moved. Often there is a central aisle where the largest work is handled and side aisles for contributing processes. Also like the early churches to which the term is historically applied, additions are made as needed, and often I find several "naves" side-by-side. As I understand it, to the Romans, basilica referred to the hall of justice, and sometime later in history it referred to the hall of  the godly.

I’ve been in none as grand as this, which is an admission I’ve come too late and must have missed the grandest. Note that there are two cranes parked here. The front one is clearly marked for a 30-ton limit. The one in back is marked both on the crane and the hook for not more than 60 tons. The braced rails, of course, must support the weight of both cranes and the loads they carry.

Be sure to click and view this one full screen.



Monday, October 13, 2014

Basilicas of Power



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: They say at one time a single machine manufactured here could fill an entire steamship bound for the sugar plantations of Cuba and South America. I scramble through passages between salvaged parts to find the old work stations where those machines might have been made.



Sunday, October 12, 2014

Welding Station



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Unlike gluing or soldering, welding joins two things and makes them one, as when people of different backgrounds speaking different languages bring skills, energy, strength, thought and time toward a common purpose. 



Friday, October 10, 2014

Filing Station



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: 


Still Time

How deeply 
in our DNA 
is time embedded? 

How closely 
is the steady pulse of day to night to day 
synchronized with the pumping of our blood? 

Some say 
the cycles of the moon 
thread our dreams like the tide, 

but for 150 years 
it is the face of a clock 
that time has worn. 

Railroads and factories 
tuned us to standard time 
and everything else fell into step. 

It is not clear to me 
what happened at this station, 
but it is clear it happened punctually. 

Sometimes a clock 
is the only trace that marks a spot of floor by a column or a window,
once a work station where someone spent the better part of a lifetime... 

"Lifetime!"


Monday, October 6, 2014

Safety First



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: The pickling tanks are empty and crusted with residue, and nearby is the emergency shower with its simultaneous threat of danger and promise of safety no longer operational.



Sunday, October 5, 2014

Fittings & Dies (color)



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: It remains to be seen whether yesterday’s posting was a serendipity or just a clumsy mistake. The B&W image was inadvertently made from a seriously underexposed RAW file that had been previously developed for compositing the overly bright, windows. It was never intended to be the base of a finished interpretation, but I didn’t realize that when I worked on it this week - thought it was just poor lighting that kept it from working in color.

A story Freeman Patterson told near the start of a week-long workshop ten years ago has stuck with me. It was about a student who realized after a day of wonderful shooting, that her camera was set incorrectly, and all of her exposures were horribly over-exposed. She was in tears and was about to throw everything away although she knew it had been otherwise a sensational shoot. Fortunately, Freeman saw the images and persuaded her to show them to the group. They had been shooting in an old house, and when the group saw the overexposed images, they thought the effect a brilliant way of treating the ghostly, timeless features of the decayed dwelling. The mis-exposed images were a serendipitous discovery.

The group’s discovery bore fruit at the end of the workshop when we all presented a final project on topics drawn from a hat. The most memorable of these was a slideshow of images of a young girl posing in the abandoned house that Freeman’s workshops often used. The model was a frail thing, and the photographer had dressed her in lace and placed her where the light was streaming and had created a series of eerie, haunting high-key images amid the wreckage of the house and highlighting the phrase the photographer had pulled from the hat: “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue."

Often we think photography is about getting it sharp and “properly” exposed, but it seems to me technique should be a means to an end, rarely an end in itself, and properly focused, properly exposed are not always what the finished photograph calls for. That said, I didn’t know yesterday when I struggled to render this image in color that I was working on a seriously underexposed original. No matter what I did, colors that should have been vivid would not come to life, and color relationships were off. The shoes, especially, were lost with their orange linings turned to dark rust. However, what was noisy, weak and unusable in color became a flattening gritty surface that led to the image produced. This morning while updating my catalogue, I discovered the mixup and found that if I used the right original, I could render the image as originally visualized in color. 

I also made a new B&W version from the new color version. The new B&W rendering has more local depth than the posted version, more polish, and it lacks the scratchy noise that flattens the posted version, but it’s not entirely clear to me the scratchy flattening is bad and I’m undecided which B&W version is preferable.


Friday, October 3, 2014

Fittings & Dies



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  It took a long time for me to find the right treatment for this composition, and it was hard to give up some of the bright colors that punctuated it, but in the end my eye wanted evenness, clarity and detail to wander through. It is best viewed large. This is one more in a series of manufacturing stations that I began assembling four years ago. Sometimes the stations have been long abandoned, essential items removed or altered, curious items added. Sometimes they are still in daily use and the objects are of the moment.

Dies and fittings such as these were a prominent feature of the brass mill. Metal racks and shelves, both round and square, filled every alley and space between the long draw benches and expansion benches used to work cold tube. In the far back on the left is the giant extruder. Before the pipe can be worked on the benches it must be run through the pointers, right middle-ground. Part of the expander bench can be seen in the row behind the desk.

I knew the man who worked this station, but whatever station he worked, I knew he had been working there by the way he left his gloves. I took this photograph six months after the factory closed; I’d never known him to leave his shoes.



Thursday, October 2, 2014

Control Booth



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: I suppose it could be anything now, the cab of a tractor or the booth from the shamed TV show, The $64,000 Question, but it is perched above a pit where I believe giant machine parts were once cast. 

How long does it take for darkness to sink into a thing and the hum of life to subside? Who still remembers what it felt like to stand here and run these controls that managed the flesh-searing liquid metal that splattered from the molds with only a bit of glass and wire screening to defend against the heat and stink. The machine parts made here required cranes that carry 40-ton loads. It has been at least a quarter century since anyone sat here, and the foundry behind is stacked with the flotsam and jetsam of factories everywhere closed or failed.

I find pleasure here in the various ways light and color are filtered and reflected and changed. The soft colors refused all my attempts to brighten and clarify lest I disturb time's dust.

Be sure to double click the image to get the feel of standing inside. Full resolution images clearly show the weave of the various levels of wire screen.




Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Abrasion



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Once I knew what this photograph was about, the choice of B&W was easy. There was no reason for the glove to be bright blue, and bleached out, crisp processing would make the image more visceral. I decided to keep the spot of light at the top for the bit of definition it adds and the suggestion of space beyond.




Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Load



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  My brother raised the question this time when he asked in response to yesterday’s post, “Cogs,” if I had tried it in color. When I first went digital I shot only color, and I recall a photographer friend who campaigned for me to start shooting in monochrome, and there was a time before that when I had access to a dark room and shot only monochrome. Some photographers tell me it’s not art unless it’s black and white, and I know others who would convince me monochrome is an artsy affectation of another age; they call it “pretentious.”

For me, monochrome is just another way by which I can try to abstract the realities of the routine in an effort to make them reverberate in a wider cultural space. How an image is to be processed, whether it is to be presented in color or monochrome or is to be bleached out or burned in or manipulated in an infinite number of other ways comes from the image itself. Monochrome has a unique set of virtues and vices. Some feel it always evokes a bygone time. Sometimes misplaced color disrupts composition. Switching to monochrome can reveal the problem, and offers an approach to solving it. Monochrome can filter irrelevancy. There are photographs that only work in monochrome, just as there are photographs that only work in color. There are no aesthetic laws governing the use and abuse of the saturation sliders.

I wonder if other photographers have adopted this practice: I will often do both monochrome and color versions, and when I find myself preferring one, I challenge myself to make the other one better. However, it soon becomes clear to me why I prefer one or the other approach. In the case of yesterday’s image I chose monochrome because color seemed superfluous. It added nothing - became a distraction from the utter simplicity of the image. However, pulling back a bit to reveal more of the old hand cart and background, the subtle interplay of blue-grey and rose-gray tonalities makes something new of the same subject as it gives it scale. As B&W seemed essential to the former image, color feels to me necessary here; I can’t remove it without feeling the result is less. The image determines processing choices.

I’ve been lucky enough to be able to shoot in what may be the largest derelict mill in the Naugatuck Valley. It is filled with nooks and crannies and cathedral-like halls and catwalks and snaking, subterranean catacombs of darkness. However, for the past three visits I’ve been lured back to an office, hung between two giant cathedral-like sheds where every sunny afternoon the light streams through broken roof and rafter and through dusty windows into a loft-like attic space that was once the engineers’ office. I was here once in 2011 and photographed it then when it was filled with stuff. It has been emptied since. This cart and gears and the filtered beam of afternoon light that moves across the floor as I roll the hand-cart, they are among the few survivals along with a wall calendar dated 1989.



Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Monday, September 22, 2014

Proud Hartford



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: I’m sometimes asked about the surface texture of some of my images. Most often those asking describe it as like-a-painting or painterly. I can’t do better than to say that certain textures appeal to my eyes the way certain seasonings appeal to taste or the way certain timbres, harmonies and rhythms touch nerves and make me move. The treatment is not, I hope, a wash put over the picture, and it comes from several different sources. Various digital tools allow fine control over localized contrasts - contrasts within certain ranges. These, I find, must be tuned to the scale of detail within the image and set to achieve the emphasis my eye wants to see. In the image above Topaz Adjust allowed me to bring out shapes, especially in the middle-ground left and right, within specific size ranges until they held my eye as it wanted - needed. 

Sometimes I choose to bleach out colors or enhance them with a bit of extra saturation or more drastic conscious distortions of the image, and the measure is never how much the finished image duplicates the original. Often areas must be darkened or lightened to emphasize elements or lead the eye. Sometimes the texture is merely noise that results from pulling extra detail out of shadow or when shooting in very dark areas under natural or minimally enhanced light; for some images it makes excellent grunge. 

Thanks again to everyone at Colt Gateway for making it possible to photograph there.



Sunday, September 21, 2014

Bethlehem Window



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: From the outside, windows tease and mystify, becoming dusty, dark and labyrinthine passages though imagination. From the inside only rarely do they live up to expectations. This one at the mill in Bethlehem, PA, held on to it’s secrets until I found the hidden second stair that led to the third floor. Although I never found my way into the “L,” at one end of the elusive stairwell I found this window. The photo is an experiment in grunge.





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.

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“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.