Monday, September 18, 2017

Valley Names


Sunday, Sept 24 @ 4:00pm

The Norfolk Library, 9 Greenwoods Rd. E.

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: The names are nearly forgotten: Israel Holmes, Aaron Benedict, Hiram Hayden among others. The name "Brass Valley” is rarely heard. We pass surviving building clusters without recognition. Few know why brass mattered or that by 1890 brass was Connecticut’s leading industry or that the towns along the Naugatuck River down to Bridgeport and New Haven,  produced 85% of the rolled brass and brass products of the United States.

The Naugatuck River flows across this picture from left to right between the two stacks. On the far side of the river next to the masonry stack chalky smudges on the brick powerhouse still spell out “Benedict & Burnham,” though the company has not existed for more than a century. They made brass wire, rods, tubes, and sheets in buildings on the property around the powerhouse.

On the near side of the river beside the metal stack there is no old sign to identify the property. The brick, gabled building with the Victorian tower was the lampworks of Holmes, Booth, & Haydens, built in 1880 after their original lampworks, on the same site, burned. Between the lampworks and the second Victorian tower can be seen the tube mill building added before 1900. Holmes, Booth & Haydens manufactured a range of brass parts and products in buildings that are no longer grouped around the lampworks and tube mill.

In about 1900 it all became part of a new entity, the American Brass Company, largest brass manufacturer in the world, and the brass industry in the Naugatuck Valley fueled the dreams from which the cities and countryside around Brass Valley flourished. At the same time the old names began to fade, though from the riverside one can still read letters spelling Benedict & Burnham.

Jose at Pickling, 2011


Tuesday, September 5, 2017


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: I used to think that art was as natural as crabgrass, hemlocks and rabbits; to ask its purpose was to miss the point. While I still believe that, I also believe that art which is lasting explores ones relation to oneself and others, to the planet and nature and to universal forces. Art which dazzles, fades quickly. Art which touches us with some truth has a chance to hold our attention longer and even stay with us. 

After a weekend photographing lobstermen, harborscapes, water and sunsets in the area around Bass and Southwest Harbors I drove to Rockport for a weeklong workshop with, photographer, Keith Carter. His work as represented on this web site ( had touched me, and I wondered who the man behind the lens might be, and what he might do to help me open new work. There were 14 of us, and I suspect we all sought the same thing, the path forward. Class time was largely spent reviewing the portfolios we brought and learning about the pictures that most inspired Keith and about many he had made and why. 

Each day we also reviewed photos we’d taken in response to daily assignments which were completed outside class time. Keith provided poems as a springboard to seeing/making new images, but mostly the places around Rockport looked to me as they had looked on previous trips. On the second afternoon, however, we went to an artist’s barn, home and studio where four models were ready to pose for us among an array of curios. My best photos were made there.

One of Keith’s pleas was to ignore the rules. I recalled Freeman Patterson describing the beauty of a roll of pictures that one of his students thought she had ruined by overexposing. Keith told about his own discovery of the power of accidental blurring in his first recognized image. For whatever it’s worth, prior to this workshop I would have rejected this image and not thought to develop it. Although I recalled the moment when Maya’s hands came into full blossom, I had hoped to have stopped them still; I never would have developed the softness of their motion or the moving catchlight in her eye.

By the end of the week we had seen much of Keith’s excellent photography, but it was clear that the roadblocks to new work were at least as difficult for him as for us, and that our most important answers lay in ourselves and in our work. 

I was helped in my photo by Maya who was as much an artist in her modeling as I struggle to be in my pictures. She internalized each of our requests to her as if it was part of a story she was living. Much of the credit for this image goes to her.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

We Are Makers

You are invited 
to view seven of my images from an earlier exhibition

On display throughout September 

Stratford Public Library
2201 Main Street,  Stratford, CT. 
Visit the library web site for times

Stratford Library slide-talk: November 5 at 2 PM

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: We are Makers. After our time in the trees, our human minds freed our dexterous hands to do impossible things. Making stuff, handiwork, is in our DNA. At least it’s in mine, which is maybe why it feels like death when a manufacturing region vanishes and a culture of innovation is hollowed out.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Sunset Conversation at Southwest Harbor

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Great photographers warn us that it is not enough to photograph the picturesque. Although photographs such as this may have a short shelf-life, the feelings they evoke are genuine, and when I’m in the area, I never miss a chance for sunrise or sunset at Southwest Harbor. 

The first time I passed here was in the spring of 2006 in an ephemeral moment of hallelujah light. I had scouted the area on my way to a workshop in New Brunswick, Canada, and had returned here from the workshop full of the week’s energies. After two hours photographing seagulls near Seawall, a few miles further south, I had lost my light. The road to my B&B took me past the head of Southwest Harbor, and as I passed, the water and sky blended raspberry to cornflower, the anchored boats gleamed in the light of the setting sun, while mist like whipped cream floated over the horizon behind them. I was blinded by the beauty and pulled the car off the road, but I was already too late. 

I know, it’s only another sunset in another Maine harbor, but I’ve come here many times since. The sun rises beyond the harbor and sets behind it, and I’ve photographed here at sunrises and sunsets. In the back of my mind is always that missed photograph and the knowledge that extraordinary things happen here if one is just persistent and patient and seeking the picturesque.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Bass Harbor II

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: By afternoon the cove is quiet, lobstering done for the day. In the morning, when the lobstermen leave, it will be different.

Bass Harbor is a well-sheltered cove at the outer, western edge of the Acadian Peninsula, the outer edge of the mainland. This edge gives Bass Harbor lobstermen an edge in getting to the lobsters and the mainland link gives an edge in getting them to market. Anyone who wakes early and goes down to the town dock before dawn will begin to see the pickups roll in and will meet the fishermen of Bernard getting the edge. Most have been here for generations. Long before the sun is up captains will row or motor to lobster smacks anchored mid-harbor, while mates gather whatever is not already aboard and stack it beside the winch where the smack will dock. There may be hampers of bait, new traps, new lines & buoys, food and coffee to be handed or lowered to the captain when the boat pulls up and docks. Once loaded, captain and mate will sail past the jetty and the large pier where the ferries to Swans Island and Frenchboro dock, past the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse to the sea between coastal islands and to the traps the fishermen have set. The pickups will continue arriving at the Town Dock throughout the morning and slowly the parking area behind the dock will fill with a tide of pickups which will begin to turn around 10 or 10:30 AM after the lobster buyer has arrived with his white truck and scales. 

In the afternoon civilians and tourists will begin arriving for a lobster dinner at Thurston’s, a walk along the docks and a few selfies.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

I’m pleased to share the news that two of my photographs:

Waterbury Grit
Holmes, Booth & Haydens’ Lampworks from Rolling Mill Playground

 will be included in an exhibition:

I Believe in Waterbury

at the
Mattatuck Museum
Sept. 10 to Dec. 3
Opening Reception: Sept 10, 1-3 PM

Waterbury Grit:

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: What portion of the program of local Connecticut art museums should be focused on artists whose muses are local, who sometimes speak with a special intimacy because they speak of places that have gotten under their fingernails? What responsibility do Connecticut museums have to nurture this resource, or do we already look and behave like everywhere else? What rewards might come from people seeing their own communities through an artist’s eyes, not just the pretty places but the real places? It’s my own feeling that every Connecticut museum should have an ongoing series of exhibits of locally inspired art. 

I applaud the Mattatuck Museum for calling on local artist to create art that I hope will challenge the people of Connecticut to look again at Waterbury and to understand it and to celebrate its strengths? I hope everyone will get there, and I invite friends to come to the opening reception on Sept. 10 from 1-3

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Bass Harbor

Bass Harbor

Bedrock America 
Of soil and sea
Toil and commerce
Right of passage
Father to son
Island of tradition
Water suffering the shore.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Maine Lobsterman at Dawn

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: The typical lobsterman sets his pots and visits a portion of them each day. The routine, done at a sprint, is grueling. The lobsterman knows his traps by the markings on the buoys that float above them, and "lobster wars" have been started by men who disrespected other men’s pots or set pots in the wrong waters. Rules and forums for settling disputes have evolved a culture to make lobster fishing profitable for all. Typically, the captain steers to where he can grab a buoy and wraps the rope around a winch on the side of the boat beside the helm. With the flip of a switch a pot is pulled from the bottom. 

Dan's pots are set in pairs. Hauling them onto the gunwale is hard work for strong men who hope the pots will be heavier with lobsters. As soon as Dan and Nate have hauled the first pot onto the gunwale, Dan is retrieving a second one and Nate is emptying the first. Nate works like a film on fast-forward as I struggle to snap meaningful frames. Each lobster must be checked. It must be above a certain length, below a certain weight, not have eggs or a notched tail. If the lobster has eggs, Nate must notch the tail and toss it back. That lobster has been granted a long and productive life unthreatened by the men who will catch her children. A female with eggs or a notch that makes it into the tank can result in a $500 fine to the lobstermen. After Nate has selected the keepers, he bands two claws faster than a toupee in a hurricane and drops them through a hole to a tank filled with water. Hard-shell lobsters get double-banded and set aside; they are double the value.

Lobster fishing is a classic American Industry. It’s still carried on by hundreds of independent businesspeople who own their own boats, hire workers and maintain a capital investment. About twice as many lobsters are caught on the North Atlantic Coast in Maine and Canada as in second-ranked Norway. Lobster became fine dining in Boston and New York in the mid-nineteenth century; before that lobsters were sea bugs. To meet the new demand, Maine lobstermen developed the ubiquitous "lobster smack," a boat customized with an open cabin and a place to store the lobsters to keep them alive. The large American Lobster found in Maine and Canada is considered by many to be the best dining-lobster in the world.

Of course, the smallest markup goes to the men who make the catch; none live lavishly. In the middle of Bass Harbor are floating docks where senior lobstermen have been granted space where they may pen a small portion of the lobsters they have caught. This allows them to catch when lobsters are plentiful and sell when they are scarce and the price has risen. While visiting Stonington, later in the trip, I passed a wooden impoundment in one of the coves. I learned that is where the big lobster companies can store tens of thousands of lobsters employing the same strategy to maximize profits while fit supply to demand. Tanking the catch is not an option for most lobstermen, however. They live at the bottom of the food chain and must take what they are given. Their houses are small, but the ocean’s horizon is large. All I met cherish their way of living.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Maine Lobsterman Before Dawn

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  I met Dan in 2011 as he docked and tied off the smallest lobster boat I’d ever seen. He called it his “skiff.” At the time, he was a young man still in school. He had recently been given privileges to set a small number of traps in the region serviced by Bass Harbor. I’d just been out photographing on a full size boat, and I had some idea how much hard work there was for a team of two to pull, bait and set traps. I was struck by Dan’s self-confidence and drive. I’d never seen a lobster boat like his before; the cabin on his skiff was almost narrower than his shoulders. I’ve been told that’s the way many young lobstermen begin.

It happened that the next day I was on the opposite shore of Bass Harbor, and I caught a picture of him in his skiff as he returned to port in the cove below me. When I saw him on the dock one more time, we exchanged emails so I could send him the picture, and we have remained in contact from time to time since. In six years he has traded his skiff for a full boat, married and begun a family and increased the number of traps he pulls, baits and sets, and he has a mate who works for him now. When he contacted me recently and asked to buy a print of the picture I’d taken of him in his skiff, I asked if he would trade it for a chance to photograph him at work. We met on the dock at 4 AM, and I gave him a large, framed photograph. This shot was taken as soon as there was enough light to make an image and 20 minutes before the sun rose. 

My thanks to Dan and Nate for letting me photograph them at their work.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL, April 14, 2017:  I am writing from my hotel room in Jersey City where an easy commute to lower Manhattan has made this hard-working town posh. From my window I can almost touch the World Trade Center. It is my third night here. My friend, Gary, and I spent the day exploring Bayonne and the two long fingers that reach into the center of New York Bay. I wondered what, if anything, remained of the bay in which Henry Hudson dropped anchor, or even of the shore frequented by Yachtsmen and vacationers after the Civil War. Between 1880 and 1920 Standard Oil transformed the landscape and the two fingers are piers built in the 1930s that have long been at the center of world's shipping stream in war and peace.

As expected, this is a high-security area, and finding places to shoot the giant cranes and gantries was difficult. This is a surreal patch of Jersey wasteland, and I am amazed at the strange things one can compose into a photo that includes the World Trade Center. At one point we got tangled up in traffic where a six-lane stream of tractor trailers pulling container flatbeds was cued waiting to pick up or deliver containers. Every few seconds another six trucks would be released from the cargo gate to drive beneath the cranes for loading and unloading. The line may have been as much as 50 trucks long. We were row boats amid a convoy of freighters coming and going, and we scrambled to make a u-turn and get out of their way. We were told that this was a slow day due to Good Friday, but I have a hunch the stream of trucks flows thru here 24/7.

In the afternoon we found our way to the closed Military Ocean Terminal where roads made alleys between abandoned truck bays no longer appropriate for a world that flows through shipping containers. The road ends at the Cape Liberty Cruise Port where all was still, and on our way out we passed again between alleys of bays still as quiet as a ghost town, but as we approached the far end of the last alley of shipping bays there were festively painted, patchwork food trucks waiting, and suddenly a stream of men and women dressed from head to toe all in black flowed into the street in front of us. All was commotion as they swarmed the food trucks, and transit buses began arriving to take them away. Where had they come from? What did they do here? Where were they going? In the late day shadows their dark faces and coveralls were featureless. I thought of Niebelungen dwarves emerging from Niebelheim. It might have made remarkable pictures, but neither my friend nor I had the nerve.

Most of the day lacked the clouds that might compose desolate, flat pictures, but in the middle of the day we had found a wasteland “park” at the edge of the busy shipping complex. As I photographed amid broken culverts, industrial rubble, and a forest that was struggling to be reborn, two mockingbirds began an ever-changing musical dialogue, and as I continued making pictures I found myself singing along. When I emerged from the park back on Goldsborough Drive the clouds had shifted. Across Upper New York Bay to the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, all of New York Harbor was talking to the sky.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  To reach the choir loft one must dance. The fluid wind of the stair offers no hint at the awkwardness of the Fandango.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Style Sense - Woodbury North

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  I missed it initially. The First Congregational Church of Woodbury (previous TODAY’S post, 7-4-17) and the North Congregational Church of Woodbury (photographed here) are very similar in size and overall plan with similar wrap-around galleries and ceilings similarly domed between the side galleries; they are alike in form, but in style they are distinct. 

I walked north on Main Street – strolled really – from the First Congregational Church to North Congregational Church, and it took me under ten minutes. It took no longer when the two meeting houses were built nearly simultaneously between 1814 and 1818, and there is still a friendly rivalry over which building came first, but what was the need for two meeting houses in such proximity?

Petition to the General Assembly of the State of Connecticut in New Haven on the 2nd Thursday of October, A.D. 1816:
"The Petition of the subscribers, Inhabitants of the Town of Woodbury in the County of Litchfield to your Honors humbly showeth…that for forty years past unhappy dissensions have prevailed in said town respecting the location of a meeting house for the use of the located Ecclesiastical Society in said town, which is coextensive with the limits of sd town…." [The petition continues by explaining the history of the dispute.]

“Dissensions!” The petition makes clear the history of attempts to build a new meeting house. It is a dispute repeated in towns all over Connecticut as communities swelled following the Revolution. Just as growth pushed new settlers to plantations on the fringes of established communities where they established daughter churches, similar growth enlarged the membership of the mother church as well. 

By 1795 Woodbury's second meeting house was inadequate for the swelling population. New settlers opened land in the north and made it valuable, while the original settlement at the south end of town had hardly changed. In 1795 a new central location was suggested and, the 1816 petition tells us the central site was, “approved… by a large majority" of the church membership, but disapproved by two-thirds of members allowed to vote. In spite of this, the central location was quickly approved by the Court of Litchfield, but no church was subsequently built.

By 1813 there were even more settlers in the north. Some had built sawmills and gristmills along the Weekeepeenee River in the section known still as Hotchkissville, and a new application was submitted approved, and still no church was built. In 1814 the dissenting northern settlers, having raised their own money, began building their church on the twice-approved site. However, in 1816 it was still illegal in Connecticut to have two churches of the same denomination in a single town. We’re told that in order to get around this law, the congregation submitted the 1816 petition distinguishing its theology by calling itself the "Strict Congregational Society.” We’re told they wrote it inside the meeting house they still had no permission to build. 

What might we read into the Congregation’s chosen name at a time when religious awakening had gotten a second wind, and men like Lyman Beecher were taking up the old, fiery rhetoric and emotional appeal that had languished during a half century of strife with England and through the struggle to establish upon rational principles an independent nation out of thirteen squabbling colonies? Does the name “Strict Congregational Society” imply anything about how northern dissenters viewed of their neighbors, long established at the other end of town? 

And what part was played by Connecticut’s new Constitution which became the law of the state in 1818 taking the town out of the church’s business and the church out of the town’s? If nothing else, there was a new reason to move the church from the town’s green; was that change to everyone’s liking?

But mostly, what should we make of those differences of architectural style? The First Congregational Church is richly detailed with fluted square columns that carry the gallery rail, which is divided into framed panels and supports a second set of round columns topped by crisp ionic capitals that hold up the roof. The elaborately carved altar is framed by paired, fluted ionic pilasters carrying a tripartite entablature and a broad, ornately carved arch. The church is a virtuoso display of the woodcarvers craft and of Classical detailing that catches our eye and imprints human proportions on every surface of the large space. 

In contrast, North Congregational Church is simple, chaste, without hand-crafted classical references, and the meeting space is dominated by eight, round, floor to ceiling columns, like ship’s masts, that swaddle the congregation as they lead eyes upward. How much significance might we place on such differences in style? Pastor Sandy told me the eight columns were a special gift from a member of the congregation, and that they were made by Mystic, CT, ship builders and hauled up into the hills by oxen. It’s a story worthy to have been passed across two centuries.

"…{I}t is Resolved by this Assembly that the Petitioners and their Associates be… incorporated into a distinct ecclesiastical Society by the name of the Strict Congregational Society of the town of Woodbury… And whereas said society has the same limits and boundaries as said First Ecclesiastical Society.

"And the inhabitants of said Town, and those who may hereafter become inhabitants thereof, or residents therein, may elect to which of said society he, she, or they will belong agreeable to the provisions of the thirteenth section of the act entitled “An Act, for forming, ordering, and regulating Societies.” And any of the members of the respectful Societies, shall have liberty at any time hereafier within the month of March annually to leave the society to which he or she may then belong, and attach him or herself to and become a member of the other society by enrolling his or her name as aforesaid with the Clerk of the Society to which he or she may attach him or herself, and shall thereupon be exempt from being taxed for the future expenses of the Society which he or she may have so left as aforesaid."


Special thanks to Kathy Logan, Marty and Rev. Sandy Koenig of North Congregational and  Maria Platt and Rev. Howard Mayer for assistance and permission to photograph.

North Congregational Toward Altar

First Congregational Toward Altar

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Blossoming (A July 4th Meditation)

"Early in the spring of 1673, fifteen members of the Second Church of Stratford, Connecticut, and their families left their comfortable homes in that community to set out for “the wilderness of Pomperaug” Gothen’s History of Ancient Woodury tells the familiar story. They were to follow the Pootatook [Housatonie] River to t.he point where a large stream, the Pomperaug, flowed into it from the north and then travel up that stream a short distance to their destination; but thinking the Pomperaug too small to answer the description given them, they went on to the Shepaug. Tuming north at that point, they soon found themselves in rugged country quite different from the valley they were seeking, and they realized that they had overshot their mark. There was nothing to do but to turn back east. This they did and so reached Good Hill from which “they perceived the valley of the Pomperaug lying below in solitude and silence.” Cothren goes on to tel] 115 that at this point. Deacon john Minor fell on his knees, leading the weary but thankful little band of pilgrims in prayer, “invoking the blessing of Heaven upon their enterprise, and praying thattheir posterity might be an upright and godly people to the latest generation.”

[Retelling by Marion Kilpatrick in her history of the First Congregational Church of Woodbury]

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Puritan values settled Connecticut, and evolving struggles of Puritan values governed it from the meeting house of each new outpost the Congregationalists settled. The Puritans who came to America in the 1630s came in search of a place where local congregations of the elect might purify religion by freeing it of control by a remote church hierarchy. They sought to live where their church would be run by the congregants rather than the minister. Even the General Court of the Colony of Connecticut might advise local Congregations but not overrule them.

The descent of “daughter" congregations blazed a trail into wilderness Connecticut where pioneers cleared the land for cultivation, as they also built the first meeting house and school. At the outer edge of colonization the pioneers were drawn by the opportunity of new, prime land; at the inner edge they often left the mother congregation out of differences on issues of governance or doctrine. As trees were felled a culture and values evolved.

The first meetinghouse was built in Woodbury in 1681 by Puritans from Stratford. The success of the Woodbury settlement brought newcomers just as it had done in Stratford. A half century later the newcomers quest for new land would give birth to daughter churches in Southbury (1731), Bethlehem (1738), Washington (Judea, 1741) and Roxbury (1743). However, from the beginning newcomers brought questions of who was eligible to receive the rights of and membership in the purified congregation. Among the newcomers there were Anglicans, Baptists, Sinners and Scoundrels; occasional Quakers and Jews, and a few “indians” and “negroes,” and some sought the church’s sacraments and spiritual guidance. 

Who among these new immigrants would be admitted into the community of “the elect”? Stratford was settled c.1639 by Puritans from England, and it was the question of new membership that divided them. A minority faction favored something called the Halfway Covenant. It offered Baptism and membership to those who failed to convince the church members of the truth of their conversion. However, it refused them voting rights, wine, wafer or admission to the community of the elect. 

The First Church of Woodbury began life in 1670 as the Second Church of Stratford when they were unable to either resolve their differences or to share the existing meeting house. Although granted the right to build a second congregation and meeting house in Stratford, by 1672 the leaders of the minority faction were also granted "liberty to erect a plantation at Pomperoage,” establishing the First Church of Woodbury. From the earliest days of colonization the question of newcomers has divided us.

[My thanks to Rev. Howard Mayer and to Maria Platt for allowing me to photograph inside the First Congregational Church of Woodbury and for the excellent history of the church written by Marion Kilpatrick, published by the church in 1994.]