Friday, October 26, 2018

Trolley Ride

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Culture: That shared amalgam of understandings, assumptions, institutions, events that bind people together — where does it come from? Trolleys once moved us; is it possible they also changed us? 

The first trolleys were horse trolleys. They barely moved faster than pedestrians on the sidewalk, and conversations were occasionally carried on between cab and curb. However, unlike stage coaches, trolleys followed tracks, maintained a schedule, and they provided space where people mixed and conversed publicly, often encouraged by the banter of the conductor. 

And even in the 1890’s when trolleys were electrified and horses were pastured, the motorman-conductor teams were known along their routes. They carried the news of the day, greeted their regulars by name, were a presence in each neighborhood assuring all’s well. The trolley’s whirring engine marked the city’s pulse, sang its lullaby.

Inter-city trolleys linked families, expanded horizons, tied cities into regions, made home bigger and mixed us up. 

When the trolley companies battled against the motormen and conductors, the riders often sided with the  faces they knew and trusted. Some children dreamed of becoming conductors, pillars of the community, beloved by all. Others dreamed of sitting up front, steering and controlling the engines that made the trolley stop and roll. Things often weren’t fair or friendly, but the civic space of the trolleys knitted neighborhoods and communities that made other things possible.

Trolley Wars: Streetcar Workers on the Line by Scott Mollow
Post Roads and Iron Horses, by Richard DeLuca

Friday, October 19, 2018

Cape Cod Seascape

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: How much water must one have to make a seascape? One more from Cape Cod as I turn to work on recent images shot last week in Pittsburgh area industrial legacies.

Color or b/w?

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Cape Cod September in Black & White

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Minor White famously advised, "One should not only photograph things for what they are but for what else they are.” It’s an idea I’ve found especially useful because photography usually leads me to places where my interest is in part on what it is or was, and I’m always aware that many who view my pictures are there for “what it is.” 

These coastal waters around Cape Cod are different. Here, place, time and history dissolve, subjects are accidental, and composition becomes everything. Photography becomes a kind of dance partnered with a fluid landscape.

Minor White later commented on his own formulation: "When you try to photograph something for what it is you have to go out of yourself, out of your way, to understand the object its facts and essence. When you photograph things for what 'Else' they are, the object goes out of its way to understand you.” - Minor White

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Low Tide on Cape Cod

Photo Slide-Talk

Making Photographs of Vanishing Industry in Brass Valley

North Haven Camera Club

Oct. 2, 2018 at 7 PM
free, non-members are welcome

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: I’m just back from a week of making photographs on Cape Cod in a workshop led by Tony Sweet. Tony is a disciple of Canadian legend, Freeman Patterson, and Tony's meticulously planned workshop reminded me of everything that so inspired me when I took a workshop with Freeman a dozen years ago. For both Tony and Freeman, photography is less about making the great photograph and more about the processes of shooting and making pictures and about the music of composition. Although my primary purpose in following Tony was to draw on his knowledge of good shooting sites, when the weather turned bland I recalled Freeman’s admonitions that good photographs can be made anywhere there is light, and Tony's approach to photography reminded me of my own photographic roots. Additionally, Tony was full of good tips related especially to software, processing and equipment. 

We met for shoots before sunrise and finished our day after the last glow of sunset began to fade. In three-and-a-half days we had seven shoots and visited ten good photo sites, and Tony’s partner, Susan provided a list of sites and coordinates so we could return later on our own. Recommended for all energetic photographers.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Journey — Extrusion Press

Photo Slide-Talk

Making Photographs of Vanishing Industry in Brass Valley

North Haven Camera Club

Oct. 2, 2018 at 7 PM
free, non-members are welcome

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: The first time I entered the American Brass tube mill in Waterbury I was overwhelmed and puzzled by a place that shouldn’t have existed and machinery that I didn’t understand.

In my book, Brass Valley: "The Fall of an American Industry I tell of turning my camera toward the giant machine whining and smoking near the front of the shed. I later learned it was the extrusion press, the only one of its kind in the country and the reason men were still at work in this ancient tube mill. For three years men who ran ancient machines explained what they were doing and allowed us to photograph them at their work. 

By the time the factory closed in December 2013 I knew its purpose, its rhythms, and its songs. When it closed I learned the journey hadn't ended, and I continued making pictures like the one above, as other workers scrapped and salvaged and detoxified, and when I returned last month, the day after the adjoining lampworks was gutted by fire, and I made one last photograph. The tube mill looked like every other abandoned factory I've photographed, and it was impossible to know what once happened there or what was produced. 

Below is a newly processed photograph of Gil, Spike and Bob running the press in 2012. Further down is the photo taken last month, the day after the fire.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Lobster Dance

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: The sideways do-se-dos are choreographed by the task: hooking, hauling, sorting, emptying, baiting, dropping. The tempo is always allegro and the swing and fling is spontaneous. At each location a buoy is circled, two traps pulled and reset, the steps repeated fifty, eighty times. The dance ends after the catch has been counted and hauled to the dock by the wholesaler. 

Monday, September 17, 2018

"Adventures in Lobstering" by Aiden Cherniske

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: While we were visiting coastal Maine this summer my grandson, Aiden, was learning about f/stops, iso, shutter speed and light, reading the manual, mastering a sophisticated camera I had loaned him, while he worked on his Boy Scout photography badge. He had never been to Maine before, never seen the ocean. We are grateful to Captain Dan and Nate for welcoming us aboard their lobster boat and allowing us to photograph them at their work. 

I'm proud to post the video that Aiden photographed, wrote, narrated and produced after we returned to Connecticut. It speaks for itself.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Moods of Greening Bay

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Maine’s coast famously features hundreds of coves, bays and other enclosed expanses where sea breezes meet microclimates and weather happens. We had found our spot to perch a dozen feet above a bay where climates mingle, an ideal spot for a photographer to compose the bay's many moods. Below was a fringe of pebbly shore that disappeared twice a day at high tide. Around the bay were passages that led to waters we only guessed at and through which boats appeared and vanished. 

Freeman Patterson advised photographers to go somewhere and try to compose ten photographs, So here are ten moments caught from my perch above the bay.

Toward Sand Point 7/18/18

Toward Sand Point with Bird 7/13/18

Toward Greening Ledge 7/16/18

Toward Greening Ledge, 7/16/18

Toward Greening Ledge, 7/21/18

Toward Sand Point, 7/16/18

Toward Greening Ledge, 7/16/18

Toward Sand Point at Sunrise, 7/13/18

Toward Sand Point Before Sunrise, 7/13/18

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Lampworks R.I.P.

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Another fire last week in an old mill - this one a brass mill on Bank Street in Waterbury. A big blaze makes a big story, but a more illuminating story lies in the history that burned. The building, unused in recent years, was a survivor with chaste Victorian styling and blackened eyes that held 138 years of memories.

For me, the fire that destroyed it felt personal; Lazlo Gyorsok and I had made photographs there and in the adjacent tube mill until work ceased in December, 2013. I’ve told the story in words and pictures in Brass Valley: Fall of an American Industry (Schiffer Books, 2015). For me, the fire felt like a chapter of life closing, and the aftermath has felt like mourning. 

Few today recall the distinguished role the building played in the evolution of Brass Valley. I share what I know of the Lampworks, in memoriam:

The ruins on Bank Street began life in 1880 as the new oil lamp factory of Holmes, Booth and Haydens. Israel Holmes was one of the patriarchs of the brass industry, and Hiram Hayden was one of its most creative minds. Holmes, Booth & Haydens was one of the two largest brass manufacturers consolidated (c.1905) to become American Brass Company, largest brass maker in the world. 

The oil lamps made in the Lampworks lit rooms around the world, and much of the artful brass work and the intricate mechanisms were the designs of Hiram Hayden. He was an artist and a photographer and an inventor. Among his many patents was one of the first for making photographs on paper. He held more patents than anyone in Brass Valley. However, the machine he devised for forming kettles reflects his understanding of the liquid nature of brass, and it revolutionized the industry, putting brass batteries and their battered kettles out of business and capturing an international kettle market.

Israel Holmes was of a different temperament, and it would be interesting to understand their relationship. Holmes began life as a school teacher; an early writer called him “flamboyant.” He became known for his exploits in England obtaining the secrets needed to make brass in Waterbury and Torrington. English law made exporting men, equipment, or knowledge treasonous, and Israel Holmes traveled armed, at least once narrowly escaping capture. He later told of having men sealed into wine casks, loaded on ships and, as he told it, “spirited away" as cargo. 

I don’t know when the Lampworks ceased making oil lamps, but by 1900 a small tube mill was operating in a building attached to the east end of the Lampworks, and a Victorian tower matching the one on the Lampworks unifed the design. This tower survives.

Machines added to thie tube mill in 1903 were still being used as late as 2013, and three, large, General Electric factory motors built in 1898 were still in place beside the tower until the mill finally closed. The tube mill was expanded and updated, under a sawtooth roof, in 1917 and at various times afterward, but it is not clear to me how use of the Lampworks building evolved.

By the time we began making photographs there, in 2011, only the first floor of The Lampworks was active. It was filled with powerful machine tools and served as the machine shop that kept the tube mill running sharp. Two stair towers provided access to floors above. The second, a shadowy, high space, was sparsely littered with gears and electrical boxes, an old scale and piled up, gray fluorescent fixtures. The floor above, however, was bright and carved into small rooms by vintage, glass office dividers through which light bounced in all directions, a suite of shadows shifting through the day. Beside it was a common area with an ancient "Graphotype" machine amid the rusting address plates of hundreds of Anaconda customers and contacts. In the attic above pigeons lived and died among things forgotten that were too far to fetch. 

In the book are many photographs of the tube mill, the men and the machines in production, men using ancient tools to make specification-critical tube for nuclear submarines. These pictures are of the Lampworks in memoriam.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Removing a Distributor Cup

This Wednesday, August 1, at 6:30 PM

Finding Brass Valley

A Place in Time that Has 

Almost Vanished

New Canaan Public Library
151 Main St., New Canaan, CT

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  The runner box has been removed. It directed liquid metal from the casting furnace to two, perforated distributor cups to break up the flow and prevent bubbles of gas from forming in the freshly poured billet. Mike removes the first distributor cup in preparation for opening the casting furnace and removing two, new, blisteringly hot, scarlet billets.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Tender Care – Contented Cow

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: While I was away in Maine biking, hiking, exploring with my family, and making photographs with my daughter and grandson, I received the following note from Michael Zients of the Sharon Historical Society:
"I hope you're enjoying your vacation. While you've been away the judges for Farm to Table awarded your photograph "Tender Care - Contented Cow" First Prize. Congratulations!"

I am honored and humbled at such a wave of good fortune and grateful to all, including my family, SHS, Luke Tanner and an unnamed cow, who helped make these two weeks so sweet.

Maine pictures to follow soon.

The exhibit. "Farm to Table,” with works by many artists continues at the Sharon Historical Society ( through August 24.