PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: All the leaves are yellow and orange and red and brown and the raven has perched in the top balcony of the Sterling Opera House to await the phantom.
Thursday, October 30, 2014
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Becoming and GoingThere are basilicasand passagesfirst and last.Betweenthere are stations in bays,properly equipped, that come,and the peoplethat comeand goand the powerto make it all moveand a river of raw materialbecoming and going.
Tuesday, October 28, 2014
PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: For a long time when I shot here in the rod mill, the existence of the long passageway with the monorail, that runs above the bay on the right, remained hidden. Switch back and forth between the previous image and this one, and you’ll understand how things are. The spot where the skylight is interrupted in the bay on the left is where the pedestrian bridge passes over the roof. The monorail crossed further down.
They say that cranes, the avian kind, are very expressive, and those that are left have a very large vocabulary of vocalizations; in certain seasons, I’ve been told, they even sing to each other. These cranes are silent. Some avian cranes also communicate by color changes and through a large vocabulary of non-vocalized communications. I think sometimes when I’m facing the other way these cranes turn slightly and lower their hooks a bit, and I turn in time to see a cat darting into a shadow. Though these cranes rarely whoop, they are endangered. That’s the way things are.
Sunday, October 26, 2014
PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Even after I found the long hall to the pedestrian bridge across the track (previous entry), I took no notice of this hulking piece of machinery parked in the only alcove. There are numerous lessons in that:
1. Sometimes I see only what I’m looking for. I didn’t visit this hall often, but I must have passed the alcove a half dozen times. It is one of the few features in a very long space, and yet it made little impression on me until Corky happened to tell me the factory once had a monorail system, and I began looking for its remains. Lazlo had missed it too, but when I pointed it out, he gave it his super panorama treatment, while I took out my wide-angle lens. There’s never a shortage of things to see or ways of seeing them.
2. I don’t usually photograph “things.” However, until I understood that the beam was a track and the car, a monorail vehicle, I was mindless and saw no picture here. The picture lies in the purpose - in the thought of that thing impelled along the track, perhaps with hampers of scrap metal hanging from it, perhaps a workmen walking next to it. Until I knew what it was, I saw no picture. However, the picture must speak without any explanation. It’s not a photograph of a thing; it’s an image.
3. If there is power in the image, visual should precede verbal, and the power will lie in realms unstated.
For the record:
The "long perpendicular hall” remains a bit of a mystery; why so long? It continues behind me and well past both bridges to where the building once ended and where other structures might once have stood. In any case, like the pedestrian passage, this alcove once went across the roof of the rod shop and then entered an enclosed bridge over the track to the flat wire mill. Of course, I’m not sure what the mills were doing when the monorail was in operation. The bridge is gone, this end walled over, and on the other end the buildings are much changed, though its easy to see how the bridge and monorail might have fit in.
The monorail began there, in the flat wire mill. Passing into the rod mill and turning here, it zigged down at the far end to the right, and then zagged left out of the building. It then crossed in front of the powerhouse to the foundry. Gables remain high on the roofs where it entered each building, and I think I can see it in the 1921 and 1934 aerials.
Inside the foundry it made another turn left and crossed back over the tracks through one of the bridges pictured earlier. That bridge must have been similar to the missing bridge of this picture. Inside the extrusion mill you can barely see where the bridge abuts, but it is at a spot where trains and trucks had access.
A bridge, two gables, and this stretch of track where the "monorail" vehicle came to rest are all that is left of a system that once was a major artery for materials and people and the flow of product. What, exactly, it did, I don’t know, but I never realized how much this campus was once like a single, big, humming machine, back before reality was digitized.
Friday, October 24, 2014
PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: What is it about such passages that draw me in, that tease the child inside many of us? I remember the day we discovered the other entrance to this bridge across the track. It was one of our first explorations of the American Brass flat-wire mill. I noted the condition of the bridge decking, and my better judgement decided that it was enough to look through the dirty glass of the locked door and not risk crossing the track, but the hunt had begun for the other side.
Had I crossed the bridge then I would have been totally lost, and it took more than a year of searching before I found my way to the end above the rod mill. It was not where I had expected it to be. The trick is that this is not the bridge but a passage across the rooftop to the edge of this building. The track and bridge are just beyond the door, and the existence of the long, perpendicular hall in which I stood to take this picture, that runs for hundreds of feet to my right and left, was unknown. The only access is a small stair leading from the second story men's locker room. Old plastic sheeting blocked the way and made it look especially uninviting, and it was a long walk from the bridge entrance I was trying to locate.
So what factory function warranted the expense of building a bridge over the track to a long room, one bay wide and only accessible by a narrow bridge or three flights of stairs at the far end?
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Back before reality became digital, before stuff that mattered had turned to LEDs on a FedEx map tweeted and twittered at the speed of light, before Amazon orders were beamed to us in a day, we used to value physical connection. What mattered was, literally, weighty. Strong backs and heavy machinery were needed to lift and move such weighty matter. This may be the rustiest corridor in Brass Valley. Lazlo and I have now photographed in all of the industrial buildings along this stretch of rail and nudged our lenses even into some of the corners that time has forgotten.
Of those bridges over rails that were once essential to the efficiency of industry, what child isn’t intrigued to know what passes through them and where they lead! Modern factories are thrown up in a moment; they are like beetles with huge tin shells enclosing lots of hollow space, but these companies grew slowly, adding workshops and basilicas as needed; they hugged the rail corridor, crowding and climbing over each other as if to get a better view of the locomotives' smoke and steam and soot. Every bridge implies some network of passages that wind like intestines within the tumble of factory sheds to network stations and functions and offices. Footsteps passing through real passages made product move as smoothly as the even hum of well-greased wheels and pistons and gears, and I’ve found both inside these bridges.
We’ve visited all that cross over the track here, as close as one may safely get, photographed some. The red one at the far back is broad and high and it connects two large machine shops where heavy industrial parts are still being finished for various industrial machines made elsewhere. There is space to drive a fork lift, and support for a heavy load over that bridge. The one in the center is the longest and most mysterious, passing across rooftops from interior sheds so as to to reach across the track to a tall derelict structure of corrugated metal. The nearest bridge was not for people. It was part of a “monorail system,” that linked a rod mill a wire mill and a tube extrusion mill to the central foundry.
Six bridges appear crossing the tracks in the 1921 view of this area. Continuing in order, the next was all electrical connections: tubes and wires; one carried the last leg of the monorail back over the tracks, and the last was a bridge to save pedestrian steps. Five of the six bridges still exist today, and one that was not there in 1921 has been added, so there are still six. However, their days may be numbered.
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: This is, to my knowledge, the end of the old Ansonia Canal that once ran from the Kinneytown Dam through the center of Ansonia. It was built in 1845 by Almon and Franklin Farrel for Anson Phelps and the new industrial village he was building. At one time the canal ran openly through town. Much of the canal is intact, though it’s mostly invisible to the public now, and few people know it’s there.
The small building ahead and the buildings to the right are part of the old American Brass Company Ansonia site. It was once the site of Anson Phelps’ brass battery. Farther ahead, the two more modern looking buildings were part of Farrel Foundry & Machine Company. The small building directly ahead contains large pipes, valves, and other equipment that until very recently provided water for cooling freshly-poured metal in the Anaconda-American Brass casting house.
Farther north, water is drawn off to generate electricity and then returned to the Naugatuck River. It’s about another mile further north along the canal to the Kinneytown Dam, and for all that length the canal flows invisibly beneath a vaulting of tree tracery in a land known joyfully to possums and voles, herons and robins, chipmunks and squirrels.
Composed for my brother by request.
Sunday, October 19, 2014
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
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
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
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
How deeplyin our DNAis time embedded?How closelyis the steady pulse of day to night to daysynchronized with the pumping of our blood?Some saythe cycles of the moonthread our dreams like the tide,but for 150 yearsit is the face of a clockthat time has worn.Railroads and factoriestuned us to standard timeand everything else fell into step.It is not clear to mewhat happened at this station,but it is clear it happened punctually.Sometimes a clockis 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Saturday, September 20, 2014
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
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.
Thursday, September 18, 2014
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
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
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
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
Sunday, September 7, 2014
Saturday, September 6, 2014
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
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
PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:Photographing BethlehemBuiltas best I can find outfor World War Istill soldier-likearmored in rust andindustrial dusktired husk of vanished empirebehind Roman archesthat supplied legionsback to the Civil War andthe ra-ta-tat-tat of achain link fence andand two World Wars anda lazy stream of visitors parkedthinking about dinnerbefore the sun setsover Bethlehem.
Wednesday, September 3, 2014
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
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.
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.
Thursday, August 28, 2014
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
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.
Friday, August 22, 2014
Sunday, August 17, 2014
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
No ElectricityHeadbanger pumpsand enough gasolineto empty hydraulic wellsand fluid basinsof a century of progresshalf a century gone.Silence and spacewhen they pause.No heavy sounds,sole-felt sounds,
moving mass,Immovable abutment.No iron clank,No clunk-and-rumblingof unbundled tube.No forlorn, whiningextrusion solo, soul-felt and whole.Only headbanger’s return.
Thursday, August 14, 2014
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
You can see some as they sat in the working mill in these photos: