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.

-

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

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



Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Oculus



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




Thursday, September 11, 2014

Rank



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




Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Room 12



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

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



Monday, September 8, 2014

Empty



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


Sunday, September 7, 2014

Saturday, September 6, 2014

No Exit



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





Friday, September 5, 2014

Piranesi's Garland



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

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

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

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





Thursday, September 4, 2014

Bethlehem




PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: 

Photographing Bethlehem

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



Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Blast Furnace



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

Be sure to click the image to view it large.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Mills - Bethlehem Steel



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

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

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

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

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




Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Rejoice! (The Dressmaker's Daughters 16)



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




Sunday, August 17, 2014

Headstrong (The Dressmaker's Daughters 10)



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

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

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

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




Friday, August 15, 2014

Unstrung



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: 


No Electricity

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

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





Thursday, August 14, 2014

Rust Belt Dies



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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Watercolors No.6



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

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

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

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





Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Dressmaker's Daughters 9



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:

Primers

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





Friday, August 1, 2014

Wanted (The Dressmaker's Daughters 8)



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

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

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



Thursday, July 31, 2014

Old Fashioned Steam (The Dressmaker's Daughters 7)



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



Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Dressmaker's Daughters 6



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

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


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Bench 23



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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Bias (The Dressmaker's Daughters 3)



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

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

Click the image to view it larger.



Sunday, July 13, 2014

Basting (The Dressmaker's Daughters 2)



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

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

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