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 (http://sharonhist.org/) through August 24.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:   Too often we only come to appreciate things after they have passed. When Mike, Willy, Damir and Lucio were still pouring hot billets of metal in the casting shop across the yard, I never gave this desolate rod mill the attention it deserved. 

Most abandoned factories are quickly stripped of all that is of value, and there’s little left to tell what people once made there. The rod mill was different. The eastern aisles were still lined with machines, though I didn’t always know their purpose, but there were no workers to help a novice see how it all came together to make things.

Operations in the ancient mills of American Brass finally ceased in December, 2013, after Congress famously “sequestered" funds in the tax battles of what feels like another era. In 2014 I came to enjoy making pictures in the creaking, rattling silences of the rod mill; it seemed I could almost discern the trajectories and occasionally the spirits of those who once worked there.

It was then that I first noticed the American flag hanging on west-facing windows beside a loading bay. It was a natural subject. Had I previously missed it, or was it added after the factories closed? The flag retained the triangular creases of traditional fold. In the shadows on the wall beneath the flag was a board with pictures of 12 antique, classic cars. Was this the remnant of someone’s work station or a memorial to a fellow worker? What else does it speak about?

Friday, June 29, 2018

Five Points Panorama

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Get up high enough, and most towns turn into history books. From the top of Trinity Episcopal Church tower 250 years of Torrington can be read. 

Torrington is where the west and east branches of the Naugatuck River unite; from the beginning industrial Torrington was in the grip of that confluence. The waters of the West Branch flow into this picture part way up the right hand edge before disappearing under a bridge railing where  they flow under, and Main Street traffic flows through, the intersection that is now called Five Points. Follow the river emerging beyond Five Points, bending south. Beyond, electric towers follow the course of the East Branch as both branches follow the lowland toward confluence just beyond the picture frame on the right hand edge.

The first settlers cleared farms in the hills on either side of the great valley where the Naugatuck forms. The road between the two settlements enters this scene at the lower right, where the Comfort Control van heads away from the Western Hills along Water Street. To reach the eastern settlement, still known as Torringford, Comfort Control will cross Main Street and continue on East Main across the broad valley before climbing the hills to Torringford, where East Main disappears over the eastern ridge to strip malls, acres of parking and shoppers with cars.

In 1813 Frederick Wolcott, Oliver’s son, built a woolen mill on the narrow wedge of land between Water Street and the Naugatuck waters, and Torrington became known as Wolcottville. The mill was powered by the steep fall of West Branch water at what had come to be the intersection of two important turnpikes. Main Street had recently become part of the Waterbury Turnpike that followed the Naugatuck River Valley and linked its towns from Stratford and Bridgeport on the coast to Winsted and Norfolk, Massachusetts and on to Albany. Similarly, East Main Street crosses Main and becomes Litchfield Street. In 1813 it was known as the Litchfield Turnpike and linked Litchfield, Connecticut’s 4th largest town, with the Simsbury region.

Anson Phelps must have followed this road frequently. He was the founder of Phelps Dodge  and grew up in Simsbury. In the early 1830s he would be instrumental in creating Wolcottville's first brass mill, just upstream of the woolen mill, and in making Torrington part of a vast brass manufacturing region where he would sell the English metal he traded for Southern cotton.

By 1878, Turner & Seymour Mfg. would be making hooks and eyes where Frederick Wolcott had processed wool, but the town would still be called Wolcottville on the aerial panorama O.H. Bailey drew and published that year. To make his magical map Bailey imagined the town from the viewpoint of a hot-air balloon so that everyone else could imagine flight. It was a task he accomplished by laboriously walking the streets of Wolcottville and making numerous sketches. In 1889 George Norris made a new, broader aerial panorama showing new neighborhoods spreading well beyond Five Points. Norris calls the burgeoning town Torrington. On both maps we can see the old, wooden Episcopal Church and tower on Water Street. It would be replaced in 1897 on the same site by the current Gothic church and tower from which I took this picture. Did Bailey or Norris climb that original tower?

The buildings along Main Street and Water Street shown on both maps are all gone, replaced by the distinctive structures lined up in this photograph. These were built as the town prospered as a manufacturing center. The commercial center, shown here from “Conley’s Inn,” with it’s “Yankee Pedlar” sign and attic dormer at left, through the bold brickwork of “Lilley Block #3” stepping up Water St. at the right, shows Torrington putting on style during its manufacturing boom years from the end of the 19th century through WWII. 

Once there was a granite fountain for horses to drink at near the center of Five Points. It was designed by the sons of America’s greatest landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted. When horses were crowded out of the intersection by automobiles, the fountain was removed. Where is it now? What was its story? Visitors, both digital and pedestrian, can find it today, and learn much else, by following the excellent Walking Tour under the HISTORY tab on the web site of the Torrington Historical Society (http://www.torringtonhistoricalsociety.org). 

My thanks to Trinity Episcopal Church of Torrington for permission to climb the tower and make this photograph and to the staff of the Torrington Historical Society for much excellent information on their web site.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Belding Silk Mill from an Edgeworks Window, Winsted



Winsted Community Bookstore
414 Main Street, Winsted

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Yesterday I returned here, where the spillway from Highland Lake flows beneath the Edgeworks and on to the Belding Silk mill as it meets the Mad River on its way to the Farmington. The silkmill began operating in 1875, and they say they made silk thread for WWI parachutes here and synthetic thread used in space suits astronauts wore on the moon. The Edgeworks began as the American Hoe Company before the Civil War. By 1882 it was the Edgeworks specializing in chisels, gouges, drawing knives, 

The empty Edgeworks buildings make a quiet place to take pictures and meditate on the rush of the seasons which tomorrow hurls us forward into summer. Today, even as spring rains abate, the orderly march of seasons feels more like a reckless scramble, and I hold my breath at what may be next. I take comfort in the engine howl and dust swirling over the end building of the wrecked Edgeworks as it is being restored for new life as the Little Red Barn Brewery. 

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Look Up!


“Beyond Brass Valley"

June 23, 1 PM, Winsted Community Bookstore
414 Main Street, Winsted

NOTE: This talk is part of a larger weekend program. I will be sharing Saturday with my friend, author, Virginia Shultz-Charette. She will speak at 11 AM and I will speak at 1 PM. Both of us will be offering new programs looking beyond our published books. My talk was originally developed for photographic clubs. See weekend details below.

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: “When people visit Winsted I always tell them ‘Look up.’” Those were the words of my friend Virginia Schultz-Charette at seeing a photo taken through these windows. She’s right, turrets, towers, decorative cornices, cupolas and gables parade along Main Street and dance up the steep hillsides invisible to those who hurry.

The town’s architecture is even more magical from several stories up, and the same is true in other Valley towns. I’m seeking locations for a series tentatively titled “Windows Across the Valley.” The key is that each shot must contain an interior and exterior world, as in the photo above. If you have suggestions, please help. The subject need NOT be industrial or abandoned. All suggestions, leads or contacts are appreciated and will be explored.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

New England Pin C0, #7: "Dr. Howe's Pin-making, Whirligig Carousel"

Photographs of Emery Roth and Lazlo Gyorsok
will be among images used in an upcoming CPTV documentary on

The History of

Stanley Works in New Britain

the program will air Thursday evening

CPTV, 8 PM, May 17

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  "Dr. Howe's Pin-making, Whirligig Carousel"

WIlliam Cowper also described the process of making a pin, but he did it in verse:

One fuses metal o’er the fire,
A second draws it into wire,
The shears another plies;
Who clips in length the brazen thread
From him who, chafing every shred,
Gives all an equal size.
A fifth prepares, exact and round,
The knob with which it must be crown’d;
His follower makes it fast;
And with his mallet and his file
To shape the point, employs awhile
The seventh and the last.

The machine Dr. Howe began building in the abandoned rubber factory had to gear all of those functions except the making of the wire to a single "driving shaft.” The machine's actions had to be adjustable and accurate, not only on the first pin but on the millionth and through varying temperatures and as parts wore. It also needed to be as compact as possible and when the driving shaft turned it had to rhyme like a poem.

I can only imagine riffs and counter-riffs as Dr. Howe’s Rotary Pin Machine began to turn, a whirligig-clockwork-carousel with eight spinning chucks pointing radially outward from a hub, each chuck loaded with a length of wire waiting to be shaped, pointed and headed. All at once the carousel of chucks rotates 45° and stops. Opposite some chucks tiny grinding and filing “mills” are spinning, whirring and rasping as the “mills” begin shuttling in and out as they spin and spit against the wire shafts in the chucks which are spinning in the opposite direction. One mill is shaping, another further on is pointing, a third further yet is polishing, up to five mills can be added, all grinding the shafts to the desired point and finish as so many laborers had once done. Elsewhere around the carousel two "carriers" in circular reciprocating motion, withdraw a pointed shaft from a chuck, turn it and deliver it to gripping dies before retreating just prior to the “upsetting" and “heading" which follow with two metallic snaps (I imagine) as a finished, headed pin is clawed into a hopper while wire fed to an empty chuck is nipped to pin length with a tiny snap. And then the whole carousel-hub of loaded chucks rotates again, moving each future-pin to the next station to repeat the same whirring syncopations, snapping out 24,000 pin per day to the driving shaft’s steady beat.

Designing and building a model required skills, experience and equipment that Howe probably lacked, and he turned to Robert Hoe who had been designing, building and selling printing presses, and Howe moved his efforts to Robert Hoe’s shop. The working model he eventually produced won a silver ribbon at the American Institute Fair of 1832 and was the basis for further improvements and to the solid-headed machines with which he began producing pins in his Birmingham factory on Anson Phelps’s canal in 1841. 

Sunday, May 6, 2018

New England Pin Company No. 6, "The Wealth of Nations"

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: "The Wealth of Nations” 

Pins, petty things — lost at the bottom of drawers  — make-shift buttons fastening undergarments. Adam Smith, in The Wealth of Nations called them “trifling" when he famously used them to illustrate how Division of Labor allowed ten workers to make "upwards of forty-eight thousand pins in a day.” — Prickly and dizzying to me, no matter how trifling they are individually.

Smith described the laborers, as many as 18, employed in the making of a single pin. Among them:

"One man draws out the wire, another straights it, a third cuts it, a fourth points it, a fifth grinds it at the top for receiving the head; to make the head requires two or three distinct operations; to put it on, is a peculiar business.” (Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations)

In 1841 John Ireland Howe had just patented a single machine to carry out the labors of all of these men including "the peculiar business," and he brought his formidable machines to Birmingham, Connecticut, where he purchased a site from Anson Phelps and John Howe’s machines made pins “common." 

As previously mentioned, Howe brought his pin-making factory to Birmingham because Anson Phelps's mill village offered a reliable flow of water to turn his machinery, and a reliable flow of wire from which to produce his pins. Elsewhere on the canal Anson Phelps’s managers maintained a wire mill that was processing the English metal he received in exchange for Southern cotton, at the same time Phelps's ships ferried Yankee Peddlers to the mouth of the Mississippi where they would create more demand for his metal by selling Howe’s pins and other metalware in the wild, Wild West. 

Phelps was the middleman with fingers on every action, and he understood the Principle of Pins: Small things accumulate. By 1919, long after Phelps and Howe were gone, eighty-one percent of all common pins sold in the United States were made in Connecticut, and most were made in Brass Valley. From Star Pin in Shelton up the Naugatuck Valley to these buildings of the New England Pin Company in Winsted, pins were made in almost every Valley town, and it’s possible Phelps, who made kettles and clocks and buckles and spoons, also earned a profit somewhere from almost every pin made.

Monday, April 30, 2018

New England Pin Company, No. 5, "Yankee Ingenuity"

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: “Ingenuity,” an interesting word hovering between the ingenious, the ingenuous and the mad! Commonly ascribed to our Yankee ancestors of the late 18th and 19th centuries, Mark Twain gave it a distinctly Connecticut accent when he sent jack-of-all-trades Hank Morgan to King Arthur’s Court. 

Jack-of-all-trades hardly does justice to the wide-ranging endeavors of John Ireland Howe. Born in 1793 in Ridgefield, CT, he began studying medicine there; later graduated from the College of Physicians and Surgeons in NYC with honors; practiced medicine and was appointed resident physician at the New York Alms House. For fourteen years he held a respected place in New York’s medical community.

What wave of genius or demons carried Dr. Howe away from the practice of medicine to making pins in Birmingham, Connecticut? It was India rubber that first washed over him; experimenting with compounds he sought one that would make rubber stable. Then, at age 36, his passions surged, and he moved with his wife and children upstate, out of NYC, to the tiny village of Salem, NY, where he poured his family’s savings into a factory building of his own design to produce a rubber compound of his own formulation and patent. Later he mused on possibly being the first to try to make rubber and said, “I just didn’t happen to find the right substance.”

In the failed rubber factory in 1830 he remembered the inmates at the alms house and the tedious process by which many of them made a bit of a living making pins by hand; he also remembered a device he had seen in England designed to make pins.

Friday, April 27, 2018

New England Pin Company, No. 4 "Anatomy of a Pin Company"

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: The “magnificent plant of the New England Pin Company," built in Winsted between 1880 and 1905, consisted of five manufacturing blocks, of varying height, arranged as two arms around a long, narrow yard, the parallel arms traversed by two bridges and by the showcase, 1901, five-story, factory block (previously discussed) with the 100 foot frontage facing Bridge Street and the train station.

The New England Pin Company history has been well documented by the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation which reports that by the early 1890s the Winsted pin works had become the largest pin factory in the United States, employing 60 hands capable of producing 7,000,000 pins per day. The success allowed New England Pin to acquire smaller rivals, Diamond Pin, Empire Pin, Pyramid Pin and by 1905 more than double the work force and production in Winsted.

As the Trust dociuments explain: "The company’s product consisted of a wide variety of needlepointed pins. These ranged between one-half of an inch and four inches in length and included office, bank, shawl, book, blocking, and hair pins sold under such brands as ‘Crown,’ ‘Victoria,’ ‘No Plus Ultra,’ and many others.”

Before there were clips, pins held everything. Passing from room to room, block after block, winding the oddly contorted paths of shifting pipe-rail up and down winding stairways, floor after floor, avoiding the places where floors have gone soft, it’s impossible to find a pin or anything to do with pin making. And, in fact, in 1927 New England Pin merged with Star Pin and National Pin and moved operations downriver to Shelton, and it was woolen underwear, not pins, that began to be manufactured here until 1955 when all except the old pin buildings were carried off by the flood, and manufacturing ceased in these blocks and passages built for making pins.