Saturday, August 22, 2015

Inside Bristol's, Waterbury, 2013

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Brass Valley overflows with stories. By telling who we were, they help us know who we are. We forget them at our peril.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Bristol's, Freight-Side, 2013

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: The news of the fire at "Bristol’s,” came while we had house guests, and I have only today taken a ride by to see what remains, though the web video told me it would be inconsequential. This image was shot in 2013 on one of several visits. The blaze is a sad end to a place with a noble history, and I mourn its passing personally, while knowing it will be better when the earth is leveled over the site. It should not have lingered so long.

Professor Bristol’s story deserves to be better known, his passion for creating devices for metering and recording anything, his appearances at the great World’s Fairs of the 19th century, his part in controlling industrial waste and pollution, his early years in the Workingman’s School of the Ethical Society, and his role in the creation of the first full-length talkie a year before the "Jazz Singer." He is one of the great, unsung innovators of Brass Valley.

This morning I drove past the site, and the gates were open and lights flashing beyond. These were, I assume, security people and investigators. It appeared as if at least one of the high walls was still standing for cranes to demolish.

The buildings (I’ve read there were as many as 15) have for many years been beyond re-purposing. What might they have added to this South Waterbury area had Bristol’s not been left for a quarter century to rot and burn? How does one measure the value that would have accrued had they been re-purposed as the William Henry Bristol technical school, training teens for new technologies? Imagine kids learning new media skills inside walls where talkies were invented? …or if they had become the Bristol Garden Apartments anchoring the community in time and culture at a spot beside the Naugatuck where I often see people fishing? Imagine possibilities. We worry about the cost of clean-up but are far less scrupulous of the on-going bill for mess-up and decay that transgress property lines. 

These buildings were lost a quarter century ago. Brass Valley has vanished, and what is left is its fading afterglow, alas in this case too literally so.  What fragments can yet be preserved to give future generations something to touch and connect them to a proud tradition? –to connect the future to the achievements and lessons of the past?

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

On Composition

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: As a photographer I appreciate the concentrated focus of the welders craft, as he adds metal in order to even out worn train wheels. What others find tedious, he finds centering. Like a farmer plowing, row by row, his fields, the welder lays down rows of new metal that the wheel can be milled to precision and turn true.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Bread Yard

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: To me, it has always been the “Bread Yard,” though I’m quite certain there was never more bread here than it takes to supply a few workers' lunch boxes. The bread crane, with its vine-covered hook and its shantytown cab as photographed from above through that chain link fence in 2011, drew me to Farrel Foundry. ( At the time I had no idea whether the Bread Yard was within Farrel or was on the property of the neighbor to the north, Ansonia Copper & Brass. 

After searching unsuccessfully at Ansonia Copper & Brass, it was one of the first places I tried to find when I briefly got inside Farrel Foundry in 2011, and I found it. However, it was so clogged with semi-trailors that I realized the best photo had been the one I took through the links of the fence, though I had thrown away thousands of pixels. 

Bread or no bread, it was a senseless place to put a yard for semis, hemmed in on all sides and at farthest remove from street or rail, a place only reached by bringing semis through the busy, dirty, danger-filled center of the foundry with cranes shuttling 60 ton castings overhead. 

The reason for the Bread Yard lies hidden beyond the tin building at the back of this picture, in a space like the secret compartment on an old desk, and accessible behind an unused building at Ansonia Copper and Brass. It was another year before I found my way to the long pool that lay between the buildings of Ansonia Copper and Farrel. Even when I saw it I was too dense to realize that the pool and pump house marked the aborted end of the old Ansonia Canal which still flows from the Kinneytown dam, a mile and half north, and which once continued south, before there was a pump house, through the Bread Yard and on along one edge of Farrel Foundry beside Main Street, then crossing under Main Street and the firehouse and flowing south, eventually looping back to the river. The eastern bay of Farrel sheds and the Bread Yard had been built where the canal once flowed.

Finally, last fall the semis were removed, all but the bread truck, and I took a number of pictures of the Bread Yard through which the canal once flowed, though the vine that had filagreed the hook was long gone. When the bread truck is gone, will there be cake? 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Big Hook

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: I first began noticing hooks at Farrel Works. Even before I got permission to shoot inside in 2011 I was shooting through the chain link fence trying to photograph a vine-covered hook the size of a gorilla that once spanned Farrel's sunken courtyard beside Main Street. It seemed to say everything that needed to be said about heavy industry in the valley, though it resisted becoming a photograph. 

I’ve been noticing cranes ever since. Like silos on old farms, lingering long after the barns have blown away, cranes are often the last hint of the scale of what went on in a place after the looting is done. The large bridge cranes are frequently tucked up at each end, rusted in place. The big ones may have more than one trolley and more than one hook. And along each aisle, at every station, jib cranes mark the size and sometimes the nature of the work done there. Even in the most ruined sheds, one can still usually read, painted on the side, the load for which each crane and hook was built. From what still exists, 3 to 5 tons seems to have handled much of what had to be hefted up and down Brass Valley, even in big sheds. 

Inside the abandoned basilicas of Farrel Works there are probably twenty to thirty traveling, bridge cranes. The smallest is rated at 5 tons. Many are rated at over 40 tons. This is part of one of two bridge cranes that span the main foundry aisle and travel the length of the nave, a space in which half a dozen football teams might practice simultaneously. The large hook is rated at sixty tons. The bridge is rated for carrying ninety tons of load. Whatever it lifted had to be passed through the factory to reach the siding where it could be loaded onto a railroad car. The hooks here at the south end are shy, hiding up in a shadowy corner, hard to photograph, but they are the largest I’ve found. 

In a dark attic byway threaded through the roof trusses of two abutting sheds, in a space which happened to have its own crane, I came upon a spare hook. The space was high and narrow, and I had to point my flashlight into the shadows to be sure the massive shape wasn’t the carcass of a beast, but it was another 60 ton hook, lying on its side at the base of an attic crane-way, an inert remnant in a place once well prepared and humming. These are among corridors to be visited on a magical mystery tour of Farrel Works.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Orgblo

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: These are noble spaces, but it’s not only in their high vaulting, shadowed tracery and dark silences that these Farrel sheds resemble cathedrals. Here, in the side aisles behind the cathedral nave, a hose saddle waits like a minor altar inscribed, "Spencer Turbine Company, Windsor, CT, Hose Rack No. 2.”  It was one of various vestiges hinting that purposeful work once took place here, but nothing explained what part the Spencer Turbine Company’s rusting hose reel played in Farrel Foundry’s daily devotions and in the rites of those who came here religiously for long hours in service to the Foundry. It made me curious: Hose? Turbines? What did they do here beside the casting ovens? 

I went on a Google pilgrimage and learned that Spencer Turbine still exists in Windsor, CT, and an email inquiry brought a friendly reply from Janis, Spencer Turbine Marketing Manager. She explained that the company had begun in 1892 as manufacturers of the “Orgblo.” 

In an age when keyboard music in church, theater, or soon in silent movie houses may have been most people's major experience of professionally made music, the Orgblo, Janis wrote, "provided air to pipe organs – many are still in operation today – churches, theaters, universities, etc.” 

In 1892 practical electrical motors were still in their first decade, but they were already powering new trolley travel bringing people over greater distances to dance halls and skating rinks, to churches and theaters where the stomach rumbling organs could be felt, and Orgblo was giving organs new lungs at the dawn of that era.

It’s not clear what hose was wound here, but it’s not likely Farrel Foundry had a pipe organ. What they had was a lot of hot and dirty air, and the makers of Orgblo had a useful engineering expertise for moving it. Janis of Spencer explained further: “Today we manufacture multiple types of air and gas handling equipment including central vacuum systems for industrial applications and at a  few noteworthy landmarks (Statue of Liberty, Chrysler Building, White House,etc.)” 

The saddle looks not too different in size from a saddle for garden hose, and I’d take a wild guess that pressurized air might play a role in cleaning debris from fresh castings. Whatever was done here, the hose saddle and the small crane behind it are relics of equipment long gone and labors long ceased in a world that is vanishing as I write. It’s good to know Spencer Turbine is still in Windsor, Connecticut.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Re: Flags

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:    I had thought to post this without comment, but I took it in 2011 before flags were in the news, in order to tell the story of High Rock, and so I add this footnote.

This is High Rock. Those who drive Route 8 know this stretch where the Naugatuck Valley narrows between Beacon Falls and Naugatuck.  Men with dynamite blasted into the hillside to let the highway through, but the valley remains rocky and narrow by High Rock. From time to time people plant a flag here, though few realize how fitting the display at one of democracies minor monuments.

From the highway today this region feels remote and wild. Few remember that in 1880, in the era before trolleys made people mobile, George W. Beech, Superintendent of the Railroad, created High Rock Grove, planted gardens and built a pavilion for roller skating. He built a platform by the tracks, and for a quarter century people came from up and down the Naugatuck Valley to picnic and party and row in the still waters behind the factory dam. There was always live music. What other kind? And people dancing, hiking, having fun in a variety of accents and languages. There were extra trains on the fourth of July, and the Valley mingled. Today it’s just a clearing at the end of a dirt road where waters tumble from a mountain gorge and trails lead here, to the top of High Rock. People celebrate elsewhere, and hikers know little of what happened here.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Farrel Cathedral

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: There’s just no better word to describe the grandeur of this work shed, no fitter term to describe it’s place in the diocese of Farrel buildings or the orbit of Brass Valley. It feels no less regal for the degradation the building suffers. I first came here in 2011 knowing little of it’s history, but a man hired to clean up and inventory let me explore and shoot then, a permission later rescinded by order of his boss. 

Even then, I knew that the passage from the sand elevator over the rail line must end somewhere in these buildings at the foundry. I had no real idea of where or what the foundry was or why they needed sand. However, my instincts led me part way down this nave to a pace where a transept seemed to cross. My first surprise was when I climbed a half flight of stairs into that transept and found myself looking down through a window on sheds below as vast as this cathedral above.

I had no more than four or five hours to shoot then before I was exiled. The photo record of that first visit caught the noble spaces warehousing industrial electronic components packed so tightly that getting around was a maze for a mouse, but I found my way into grand and mouse-sized spaces, and it was not until I finally got back inside in 2014 that I could place all my pictures and discover how much I had missed.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Farrel Foundry: Imperial Basilica

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Farrel Works feels like a giant cathedral. Or rather it is a half dozen giant cathedrals set side by side, some end to end. Stand anywhere, and the space you are in is a basilica echoed by side aisles on one side or both and reverberating on into shadow. Trusses soar like tracery and end either in stained and broken glass skylights, or along rusted stair rails with checkerboard shadows and catwalks between ducts and stacks into darkness. Suites of chambers are apparently carved inside of walls between buildings and sometimes into bedrock. Beneath, the foundry is tunneled with catacombs that wind past open wells where molds were set for casting. One needs a flashlight to find the way from well to well and out to air and sunlight. There are places, beyond locked doors and across catwalks too frail for cats, that may never reveal their secrets. 

Almon Farrel, son of a Waterbury millwright, built Ansonia and pioneered in the manufacturing the tools used for large scale manufacturing. This was the foundry that produced large machinery for making paper and rubber and for grinding sugar cane. Of all spaces of Farrel Works, none is as grand and exalted as the nave of Farrel Foundry. Is it Connecticut’s greatest surviving cathedral of industry? It deserves the title: Imperial Basilica. Whether there is anything of it that can be preserved other than memories, I have no idea.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Cliff Walkers

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Cliff walkers, heads in the clouds, suspended on time, bearers of the seeded fruit.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Confluence (Paper Mill, Lyons Falls)

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: When my journal was side tracked and broke off a week and a half ago, I was in the midst of telling about the ancient Black River Canal, now a dark mucky groove, lined crisply with massive rocks, that cleaves the earth’s crust with canal-lock stairways beneath a forest canopy lost to time. (

Lyons Falls, New York is at the top of the stairway, at the confluence of the Black River and the Moose River, where there is a beautiful waterfall and a long dam. It was famous once for its "triple bridge that joined three shores with a junction over the water. Lyons Falls was a paper mill town whose vitality depended on the lumberman upstream and the seasonal supply of new logs that flowed on the river, and the dangerous work on the river was a sign of the town’s spunk. 

The once thriving mill has become a wreck and a hazard and a constant reminder to a community on the brink, of a life that is gone. I arrived even as a crew of three, with cranes that wielded jack-hammers, chipped at a section of brick structure, as the rivers at this confluence idled and flowed.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Back to the River: Ghost Road

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: They called it "Castle Bridge,” though I have no idea why, but at one time I suspect it was one of few landmarks along the road through the long, wooded narrows of the Naugatuck Valley between Torrington and Thomaston. It was just below Campville, where in 1841 Jebez Camp built his sawmill, when the valley road was all dirt. 

Today it is a ghost road, pavement appearing first where it begins to bank and rise toward stranded concrete piers that once carried it across a rocky cleft and rushing Naugatuck waters. The span is long gone. Vanished. The banked road stops before the piers. One must climb steeply up to the long, black, level pad of pavement, crust cracked and sprouting forest. “One two, buckle my shoe… nine ten, start again."

Monday, June 1, 2015

Since 1825 and Ready for 2015

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  Between 1905 and 1918 old Erie Canal and offshoot canals of the system, with their towpaths and mules were re-engineered into the Erie Canal System for motorized freight barges. It remains a triumph of Jules Verne era engineering. Nothing is too big to be magnificently detailed and spit-shined. Tubes, meters, valves, insignias of brass - even the fuses have heavy caps that shine like gold. There are watch-like mechanisms of levers and gears, and escape valves that fly open by centrifugal force when they spin too quickly, and all still as a pin in a little windowed house, like a museum display.

Even today each lock is kept polished and painted by a lock master and crew who greeted us on our arrival. They work with military precision and compete much as local volunteer fire departments do to maintain the discipline of their work. Even if the canal system is no longer essential to commercial traffic it is an integral part of flood control throughout the Mohawk Valley. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Flight of Locks, Black River Canal, near Boontown

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: The audacity of it! Three-hundred-and-sixty-three miles over which the supply of water must be monitored and sustained through knowledge and control of runoff throughout the watershed and through the management of feeder canals and reservoirs to keep the canal flowing, and never over-flowing, evenly throughout its length. 

The Black River Canal is one of the feeder canals. It was built between 1837 and 1850, and it carried barge traffic for 34 miles through 109 locks from the Black River, high up in Lyons Falls, over a summit in Boonville and then steeply down through tightly clustered lock stairways to the Erie Canal. Here, midway in its course, hidden in the woods beside Route 46, is either a “flight of four” or a “flight of five locks,” once a vital byway.  The path from the rim was trecherous, the ground in the lock too muddy for further exploration.

The earliest rumblings of our Faustian future were probably earth shifting beneath us for dams and canals, reservoirs, aqueducts, and water tunnels, even before there were railroads. The Erie Canal system is an engineering marvel, and it is no accident that the town where the Black River Canal meets the Erie Canal was named audaciously, “Rome.”

The upper section of the canal north of Boonville was abandoned as unprofitable in 1900, but parts of the system remained active until 1920. In 1925 it was officially declared an abandoned waterway.

What seems to me audacious, may, however, have seemed logical, even inevitable, to men who had been following the paths of the native people, portaging between rivers and ponds for a century until they knew the options for tying it all together into a waterway to reach beyond Niagara to an infinite resource with the port of New York City, its gateway. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

By Packet to Niagara

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Imagine a riff of water on wooden gunwales and the slow song of your packet boat and mules drawing you through the mountains back in time along the Erie Canal through frontier Albany, Utica, Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo; towns linked by the goods and news that flowed along the water and by the idea that still lurked out there along the edges of great inland seas. Some saw wealth, some power, some just the chance for an honest wage, but it was the idea of the almost accessible frontier and its limitless possibilities that animated the new canal.

Upstate by stage coach was bone-rattling agony over mountain roads beset by washouts and falling limbs. In 1825  there were no railroads but among the barges for freight, packets began carrying visitors through 363 wilderness miles along a smooth canal through 83 locks rising 568 feet from the Hudson River up to Lake Erie and level seas into wilderness.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Canal Beckons

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Rivers always try to carry us downstream. But a canal beckons in two directions.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Control Tower

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: From his matchstick tower the crane operator saw all and controlled levers and pedals that connected by rods and cables to the motors and gears beneath him that made the crane do all its tricks. Before the windows were boarded, this was the eye of operations. The crane operators I’ve known were all deliberate people aware of the momentum of the mass they moved. How long did it take to master the technique for controlling the machine? How many master crane operators have sat here since the crane was built in 1917? Or did they stand? Was there once a chair, or did one have to lean into the machinery with the whole of one’s body?

Saturday, May 23, 2015


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: One must stand here, at the base of the mast, and observe how the cables fasten to the great wheel to appreciate the operation of the crane’s pivot. 

If there is a postcard shot of the dry dock, this is it. I relinquished this angle once when we entered the dry dock, and the  sky was good, and everyone streamed into the area around the boom. The spot was occupied throughout the workshop, and by the time I got back and found the tranquility to study the composition, the sky was glaring and awkward.

Although this corner was occupied with photographers studying the geometries throughout the workshop, nobody else offered an image from this location at our nightly image sessions. Seeing this (in a preliminary version), Tillman was rightly emphatic about the need for choosing an angle that allows for a person’s passage between the wheel and the railing; he ran his fingers along the empty passage to emphasize his message. Indeed, I had a number of shots that I’d ruled out for this defect. That’s only one of the geometric issues posed, but it is the first major constraint on where one must stand. Clearing the full path of the leading line was only possible in post-processing or by elevating the camera above my limits.

I wanted to include something of the tower from which the crane was operated, but opening too wide meant admitting more of the unpleasant sky. The final decision on where to crop the top was determined by the window, the brim of roof, and the need to show enough of the mast to give it importance. Even with sky minimized, as it is here (27mm DX), processing the sky required invention.

Tillman warns against the easy seductions of the postcard shot. Now, having taken this and understood it, I’m eager to go back and shoot it again, though I’d be sorry to have leaves on the trees.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Crane's Philosophy

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Eventually, I did go to the very back of the dark, damp room which was the front of the operator’s shack, underneath the tower where the operator sat. Here is the clockwork. The tensile load from the boom is anchored to spools turned by motors and large gears to do the lifting. A second cable system, smaller, wraps around the horizontal wheel on which the crane turns. Together these make up the crane’s philosophy.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Tank & Hose

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: My eye was held by the large rivets on the compression tank and the coils of hose. It may have been used for nothing more than watering a lawn. Meanwhile, in a darker space behind me, too tight for good picture-making, the key to the dry dock’s operation remained still undiscovered, easy to miss while fixed on the eye of this serpent. 

Might I have gotten closer - made the serpent lunge? On a first shoot there’s always tension between the urge to stay and study, the need for an overview of all there is, and a reluctance to poke into the dark and damp.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

From the Gates of the Dry Dock

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: For me, part of the fascination of a place like this comes from understanding what it did and how it worked, and the essential photographic challenge is how to make it all clear in a single shot, not merely the crane as it is now, slackened, spiritless, resting on wood blocks. Can it be seen in its stilt-walking glory, overseen by the crane operator in his matchstick tower, yanking and poking at levers and pedals to rotate the wheel that swung the boom that lifted steel plates onto and off of waiting barges where welders made repairs? The age of mules and wooden barges was gone; in 1917 motorized steel barges sought to make the Erie Canal competitive with the railroads, and dry docks like this kept commercial barges afloat on the  Erie Canal for another half century.

Monday, May 18, 2015


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  The dry dock was the first thing on the agenda for day two of the Erie Canal workshop. The site had been described as “uncertain”; nobody had yet seen if anything worth shooting was there. If it proved uninteresting, we were set to move on. However, we stayed. The dry dock was a relic from 1917 when the canal was rebuilt and enlarged. It ended the era of tow paths, mule boats and the complex routines in which teams of mules or horses pulled the barges in six-hour shifts. When the canals were widened, the mules were gone, and there was a need for large dry docks along the canal’s length with machine shops, mechanics, welders, and machinists to keep the large barges in repair. 

The postcard shot, the obvious angle from which to reveal the workings of the dry dock, was from behind the great wheel on which the crane sat. I got there quickly, but I had barely begun to study its complex geometries when, all the other workshop participants streamed into my picture. Conscious that the shot I wanted meant clearing one side of site where half a dozen might shoot, I relinquished my postcard perspective after only a couple of quick shots. I went instead where I could shoot uncontested and tried to photograph intimations.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Just off the Erie Canal a disused dry dock, once a busy place with a truss-boomed crane, rested ghostly and still. A canal keeper who let us in had run the crane, swung the boom, lowered the plates to repair rusting canal barges, but he was much younger then. He said the dock and crane were built in 1917.

The opening in the boom lattice was just large enough for my DSLR and fist. An LCD viewfinder is essential here. This is the kind of task where small lens cameras, with their extended depth of field, excel. I was uncertain if my DSLR would handle the task. We become the tools we use.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

On the Canal, Just Fishing

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Most people think the tripod’s purpose is primarily to steady the camera, but tripod shooting fosters compositional seeing, allows one to study and fine-tune compositional detail, and probably aids in habituating the mind to compositional strategies. Unless I am doing street photography, on vacation, or shooting family, I almost always shoot from a tripod. However, tripod shooting has important disadvantages. It is awkward to use at interesting angles and low to the ground, hard to nuzzle into corners and often just recalcitrant.

When my friend and I reached the canal we decided to walk a bit and leave our tripods behind. As we began shooting both of us saw this opportunity at the same moment from different angles. Had I been shooting from a tripod, I would have scrambled to get in position in time to catch the fisherman in his pose. Camera in hand, exposure already set, I focused, aimed and clicked three times in fast succession. The whole thing took me no more than two seconds, but by the second shot he was already turning to leave, and the moment was lost. I recall wondering, “Would it suffice if the first shot were blurred?"

The devil is in the details; compositional thinking begins below consciousness. Years of tripod shooting led me to watch the edge where the pylon must be carefully placed and the opposite corner where the tip of the triangle must not be lost. Shooting hand-held encourages tunnel vision. I recall making a quick choice to leave no more than the triangular wedge of the bridge’s outer face. On reflection, it was the right choice leaving the parallel undersides of the girders to lead the eye with the river’s flow.

Luck, nature, or instinct placed the bit of branch and the diagonal post where they needed to be, leading your eye to the fisherman. In finding a tonal solution for the image I discovered that brightening the squarish end of the concrete crosspiece in the upper right corner reinforced the mass of the structure and the geometries within the picture frame. When it all works like this, I receive it as a gift, whatever its merit. Although a bit later in the day the light might have been truly spectacular on the river and the pier, I’m happy with the story of the patient fisherman, contemplating the flow beneath the thundering highway.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Canal Gate

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: My friend and I arrived in Rome, New York, a few hours before the Erie Canal workshop was scheduled to begin. With a few free hours we decided to explore, and after passing through the center of town we found ourselves at the intersection of the Mohawk River and the modern Erie Canal. Two large gates were held open along the canal beside where the river joined it.

The Erie Canal was begun in 1817. Sometimes called, “Clinton’s Ditch,” the original 389 mile canal was complete in 1825 connecting Lake Erie in Buffalo to the Port of New York via Albany and the Hudson River. It was a a landmark achievement that transformed a new nation and made New York City into the nation’s commercial center, and it provided quick access to the midwest. It quickly became, not just a single canal, but a canal system that opened a broad commercial region in upstate New York. It was rebuilt twice, and as “The Erie Canal National Heritage Corridor,” it continues operating today.

“Obliques are dynamic.” Those were the words Freeman Patterson used to cement in my mind a principle I already knew. That was in 2001, and I’ve thought of it often since then. Socrates was right, all important learning is really just remembering what you were born knowing. It was the first of Freeman's lectures on the syntax of photography, and it was the first formal photo workshop I had taken. 

The angle here is determined by where the oblique begins and ends and how it relates to all four corners. There are many choices to be made in processing. My intent was to contrast the dark massiveness of the gates with the wispiness of the clouds. Monochrome allowed me to maximize both.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

I'm Back

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  It’s hard for me to think of the Erie Canal without hearing the strains of “Fifteen miles…” and imagining the mule barges bringing their cargoes to market. I’m just back from a five-day workshop with Tillman Crane on the Erie Canal near Rome, NY. Tillman has been systematically exploring and  photographing along the canal for several years, and has offered yearly workshops at different locations along the canal system. He was an excellent guide, leading us all to good photo sites that revealed the canal’s twisted history and provided rich opportunities for making pictures, and I look forward to seeing Tillman's finished collection of images for his unique vision.

I’ve found the experience of shooting with a bunch of strangers, and sharing images nightly is invaluable in learning new ways of seeing. The group of photographers who tend to follow Tillman’s workshops are often devotees of medium and large format photography. It is a different medium than 35mm photography with a long tradition of chemical processing that is fundamental to photography as an art form. Tillman’s license plate number is made from the chemical symbols for platinum (Pt) and palladium (Pd), and he is known as an expert in the intricacies of chemical processing and large format imaging. For me, his workshops provide a rare chance to focus a bit on what distinguishes 35mm photography from larger formats. Many of those who brought samples of their work to show brought only monochrome images. 

This image comes from the afternoon of the workshop’s first day spent in an empty amusement park. It followed a morning spent in “Erie Canal Village,” a recreated town made from 19th century salvage that had seen better days. 

Another workshop participant took a similarly composed shot. However, I was surprised by many of the elements that others found to isolate from the chaos of carnival rides and signage. A considerable part of the skill one learns as a photographer involves mentally imprinting strategies of pictorial composition. Head-on, frontal symmetry is a core strategy. That does not make it less apt in the right situations, but those who see primarily in monochrome will find very different things to isolate here. Either way, the devil is always in the details.

Be sure to view this large and against a dark background. You may even need to zoom in.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Back to the River: Upstream Headwaters


It has been a hectic week with much to be happy about, but by Friday I ached to be out making photographs, and I followed the Naugatuck River past a series of dams to this one which impounds Hall Meadow Brook Reservoir near the top of the Torrington Hills. If pushed for a word to describe these hills, I might say “primeval." I would say it despite knowing that the land was timbered and mined even as it was dammed and milled. First came iron and timber. Climbing the hill I passed Wolcott Road, named for the woolen mill that that opened here at the beginning of the 19th century and Brass Mill Road, named for the brass mill that followed it. And yet it feels primeval.

I left my car at the northern end of the Reservoir and explored the ruins of some sort of concrete bunker, now roofless, but otherwise impervious to all except gang graffiti. In a scrubby area, where land turned to swamp, a pile of asphalt had been dumped, and I climbed to the top to see if elevation would better tip the pond into my picture. The muffled light of the clouds made the wet hillsides thatchy and added a bit of color. Finally, I walked south along the side of the reservoir on what must once have been the old road into the valley to the point where the road goes under and becomes a highway for fish mostly. In front of me was the rubble wall of the dam with a tiny hut and a stair down that seemed only big enough to let insects climb inside the dam. The dam was one of a series installed by the insects to control the river’s surge and keep it from washing over the flimsy villages in its path. 

That was 1955, and it was remembered as the year of the great flood. There is nothing primeval here it is only that here the world feels momentarily in remission while old scars heal a bit and the hills seem again to become ancient and holy.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Farrel Sand Elevator

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Even before I wanted to know what it was, I imagined what it might be like up in those tin can offices with their rickety terraces and dangling stairs, and what treasures had been left moldering deep in the bowels of the beast? It is as much a relic of industry as of railroading and an archetype for model railroad enthusiasts to miniaturize. Some of the track remains in place that threaded the rail yard to carry trains through the opening under the elevator and into the long shed that stretched to the end of the property.

I didn’t know then that the bridge and tower dated at least to the start of World War I, nor had I yet discovered what was still up in the long passageway or how deeply it penetrated the rows of Farrel, work sheds to deliver sand from train cars to molds used by the foundry to make giant rubber and sugar calenders for which Farrel-Birmingham became famous. 

What does Connecticut want to remember from what’s left of Ansonia’s industrial heritage? What does future Connecticut need to know about those who came before? Should any part of this place be salvaged to help tell its story or provoke a question? 

I’m only a photographer, and my photographs are not meant to answer those questions, only to show the things that caught the camera-eye of one of time’s vagrants looking for shelter along the track. 

Thursday, April 9, 2015


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Final furnace fires were extinguished in 2013, and the fate of this corridor of industry is coming at us like a speeding train. A century and a half of expansion, adaptation, refinement and economics can be read in an anthill of sheds, workshops and passages where the greatest of Brass Valley furnaces cast metal into billets, blocks, and giant machine parts. 

The corridor follows the river and the rail through downtown Ansonia from Bridge Street to the power plant by 6th Street. This was the home of two companies that have been here as long as Ansonia. The giant calenders made by Farrel Birmingham built the rubber and sugar industries. The metal Mike is tending in this American Brass furnace wound up as large diameter tubes inside the Navy's atomic submarines.

Before the old mills are swept away and the ground under them leveled to anonymity, is anyone asking: What does Connecticut want to remember here? What does future Connecticut need to know about those who came before? Should any part of this place be salvaged to help tell its story or provoke a question?

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Old Paint

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: I was asked to do something decorative.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  I photographed this headstone somewhere in the hills of Sharon in 2011. It was a single shot between places I know, but I have only vague recollections of making the exposure or of which path I might have followed, no gps tracking.  

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Victory Theatre, Holyoke, MA


The Victory Theatre

Steeply raked to carry sound 
to the last seat in the top balcony, 
it is the drama of slow collapse that 
makes the pregnant silences now. 
The orchestra pit has filled with spring rain 
as icicles linger in the fly space. 
The scene changes with the seasons 
and transfixes audiences in their seats.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Attic Pigeons

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Friends tell me houses are haunted by spirits who dreamed their lives there, but old factory buildings are haunted mostly by pigeons. I’ve learned to be wary of the sudden flash and brush of wings urgently scooping air out of the shadows. They were my constant companions, dimly cooing, as I explored and photographed in the attic of Holmes, Booth & Haydens lampworks, and more than once I photographed their attic graves.

Until December of 2013 the 1880, Holmes, Booth, & Haydens lamp works, in Waterbury, was still part of an active brass mill, the last in Brass Valley. I learned yesterday it is to be demolished.

Holmes, Booth & Haydens developed this site before the Civil War. It straddles the original roadbed of the Naugatuck Railroad in the South End of Waterbury. Israel Holmes is the one who in the 1830s unlocked the secrets of England’s brass industry, smuggling the workers and equipment who built the brass industry in America. Hiram Haydens was a mechanical wizard, photographer, sometime artist who held more patents than anyone in Brass Valley. His machine to spin kettles transformed kettle-making. He held patents for oil-burner designs for oil lamps and patents for photographic processes including what is probably the first successful process for photographing directly onto paper. This is the last building standing from the Holmes, Booth and Haydens campus.

The building has three floors and an attic and two stair towers. It is structurally sound and could be used as the cornerstone of new development on this beautiful, but polluted, riverside site.

I know that it’s easy to stand on the sidelines and call for preservation with no real knowledge of the underlying difficulties and costs involved. I also know and respect that most people in the neighborhood look at the old wrecks of factories, and they properly see only blight and danger. It’s hard to discern the gem from the trash. This is a routine mill building, but it is honest masonry laid at the same time as nearby St. Anne’s. Age has given the Holmes, Booth & Haydens Lampworks character and history; it could be a gem if given a new setting. It could be a living link to our past.

Here is a photograph of the exterior of the building that appeared on this blog awhile ago:

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Watercolors No.8

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  Time to dream of spring.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Southington Forge 3

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  The first time we visited, the gate was wide open. Neither of us had seen an industrial forge before. They looked Wagnerian in their grim grandeur, and we felt dwarfed. We’d seen presses but not like these. I couldn’t quite imagine how their brutality was finessed into usable products or what those products might be. 

Today I met a fellow along the Farmington Canal who told me he used to work here. I asked what they made. He said, “We made everything,” and carefully pointed out some of the shops he had worked in and other places he’d worked. It seems common among the retired machinists and metal workers, the pride in what they did. So I let him reminisce - it was a privilege listening - before I pressed my question. He finally suggested, “elbow joints,” and I managed to understand that they received blanks and there were forms, and I’m still having trouble imagining the stamping of elbow joints, and I suspect the truth is, one really had to be there amid the racket and the grease and the soot, but standing inside the sanctuary helped me understand. The dirt underfoot was real.

What is the importance of knowing that elbow joints were once forged on Wagnerian presses in two sheds along the canal that was built in 1826 from Massachusetts to Long Island Sound? What is added by the experience of being there and seeing them? How does it enrich living there to know how Southington helped forge our world?

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Southington Forge 2: Beside the Farmington Canal, 2014


3/26/15: Today they are dream. These two tin cathedrals were industrial forges. 

Since 1826, when Irishmen dug a canal from Massachusetts to Long Island Sound, this has been a busy industrial community, and people who lived here earned good livings from the work they did in the mills beside the canal. 

Before the Civil War the railroad replaced the canal, and on the town green there is a memorial to the men who served in that war, and many of the things needed at the front were made by people back here, and by the the next century and those other wars, mills along here were ready to meet all challenges. 

Today the old railroad is a greenway, and the ancient canal is teeming with mallards, and this stretch, especially, has several blocks of old mill building, some beautifully restored. In one I visited an immaculate metal fabrication shop and saw a variety of light industries operating and authentic grunge as well. The greenway brings people here daily. They walk their dogs, wheel their babies, jog and ride bicycles through a memorial greenway that is a hymn to American Labor. Removal of the forges is like suddenly silencing the bass line.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Southington Forge 1: Jaws


My buddy and I were down in Southington today to try to photograph a pair of old forges. One has four large forge presses, ovens and other workshops inside. When we got there a power arm was high above the roofs, with a beak like a garden nipper, pulling at chunks.  I could see a forge standing beside rubble, 12 feet high, inside a partially demolished shed. My friend said we should come back Sunday when we can get into the other shed, but my hunch is that it's already gone.

I wrote that into an email shortly after returning home from this shoot yesterday. It is filled with the self-righteous anger and disappointment I felt immediately after shooting this. Saner minds than mine can tell me all the reasons why saving these asbestos-seasoned, corrugated metal sheds with 12 foot tall forge hammers, was more trouble than it was worth.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Back to the River - Ansonia Skyline

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: A skyline as pretty as a smiling set of teeth. Even the classic signage on Farrel is intact. I need to photograph it carefully. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Copper Monster

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Through his working life, the Copper Monster lived here at the American Brass tube mill in Waterbury. Installed at the beginning of the 20th century, he spent his life stretching cold metal tubes and served through two world wars. This photo was taken in December of 2014, after most of the factory had been either scrapped or sent to Mexico.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Farrel Corridor

This is a special edition of TODAY'S PHOTO. Click the "Emery Roth II" link below. You will be linked into my new Facebook Page as a visitor. You do not need to register to Facebook to see it all. However, I ask registered Facebook users to go to the top of the page and LIKE the whole page. Doing so will help spread the word about my new book: Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry. Then scroll down and click on the Farrel Corridor image to see the pictures and read the text. In the future, I will periodically offer other similar "special edition," TODAY'S in order to gather multiple pictures into mini exhibits.

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Many years ago I was told that if I wanted to take better pictures, the secret was to show fewer of them. Therefore, when I began this blog I decided to select no more than one picture per day. I’m now in my ninth year of TODAY’S PHOTO, and I look back with some satisfaction at the record of this work, but more and more I’m feeling the need to let multiple pictures tell a story. Facebook will answer to that need for now, and at the same time they will help me bring my photographs and new book to the attention of a wider audience. Thank you to all those who have subscribed to TODAY’S PHOTO and for your regular comments. They never go unanswered, and they are always much appreciated.

People are surprised when I refer to, "the beautiful skyline of Ansonia, CT., and here is one of the best vantage points. Between the river and Main Street lie the properties where Ansonia began. The track passes through the flood gate on the far right and reaches the Ansonia platform and the back of the old Opera House. For a mile north the track passes through one of the rustiest canyons of industry left in Brass Valley.

In the middle of the picture, up on the hill, is the Ansonia Armory and further left a workshop of the Farrel Works. Maple Street Bridge was under construction when this was taken, and more of the red passageway is exposed that carries Farrel workers over the tracks that run through the middle of Farrel Works.

Almon Farrel was the millwright Anson Phelps hired in 1845 to build the Ansonia Canal that powered his industrial village. [His story is told in my book.] The Farrel Foundry and Machine Company has been here as long as the village and still operates in some of these buildings.

Grandly above it, and facing away toward North Cliff Street, is the Roman Catholic Church of the Assumption. The church, designed by Patrick Keely, opened in 1907. The story of its building is told here:

But for the need to cross the Naugatuck frequently in Ansonia, one might almost forget it was a river town. However, it is still the hillscape and the river that open space for the beautiful skyline.