Friday, January 30, 2015

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Standoff on Rabbit Hill



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: The television weather man had us buried in snow, but the satellite maps on the iPad convinced me it would be only six inches. Though the snow plows had the road clear, travel risked fines, so here’s a storm from February 2011, developed today on my computer while it snowed. 

It takes standing in snow to recall when there were no fence posts, and this land was Waramaug’s realm, his tribe’s summer encampment just over the hill. It’s only when my lips burn, fingers are numb, and the deep woods are silent, that I’ve had the sense of walking in steps still warm from Waramaug or just missing his hunting party with a catch of turkeys. I’ve been climbing Rabbit Hill for the view and the exercise for at least fifteen year, and I’ve never seen a rabbit, though there must have been rabbits once.



Monday, January 26, 2015

Back to the River: Dead Center



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  Climbing to the top of the Union Station Tower is the same as climbing a twenty-story building. The shaft of the column is hollow, dimly lighted, and all masonry with metal steps climbing clockwise around the perimeter wall. It’s divided by a full landing every 5 or 6 flights, so it’s hard to know just how far you’ve climbed. After winding through the hollow of the shaft I had to find myself on the dizzying terrace around which Waterbury whirls.

From the terrace I looked out on “the flats,” that the natives called “Mattatuck," the treeless place where mosquitos thrived and Pequots hunted, and the settlers found abundant streams descending from the hills to set mill wheels spinning, turning spring melt, summer storms, and the surge from autumn hurricanes into things people needed: buttons, pots and pins. And in the middle they set their Green and built a fence around their city. One of the gates was still there when Henry Bronson wrote his history in 1858. The Civil War would change Waterbury. A half century later important people were doing big business on Grand Street, to the right, and wealthy people were living high on Willow Street, to the left.

At the top of Union Station Tower perspective comes at the cost of detail. At the far left of this 180° panorama it’s clear where the valley narrows heading north, and I know the river is rushing at the bottom. At the far right the gray double strip of the expressway follows the valley south, and I see the river beside it flowing toward the narrows where I know the river also rushes.

In 1955 the great rains came. Where the Valley was narrow the waters rushed furiously, where the Valley spread out, the waters backed up, puddled deep and wide. One thing everyone agrees on: Nothing was ever the same. Immediately below, behind, and clustered on the river and the rail, lie the the empty yards and factories of American Brass. In the bottom center foreground the headquarters of American Brass disappears off the picture’s edge. Union Station Tower stands at the center of the universe that was once Brass Valley. 



The stories remembered in words and photos in


from Schiffer Books
or wherever fine books are sold.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Back to the River: Crossroads



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  Whether or not we know the meaning of a place, meanings may accumulate over time. The tower, of course, belonged to Waterbury's Union Station, the architects: McKim, Mead, & White who set the tastes of Yankee elites. 

When it opened for business in 1909, as the Railroad Consolidated, Union Station gave new form and focus to the head of Grand Street, commanding a grand, broad boulevard soon to pass harmoniously between brass and government dedicated to a City Beautiful, a place for parades and ceremony in an age before the Model “T".

Union Station Tower stands at the crossroad where the Naugatuck Line, following the valley, once crossed lines heading east to the Connecticut River and New England, and lines heading west to the Harlem Valley, Hudson Valley, New York City and the World. I’ve read of sixty trains a day stopping here, exchanging goods, transacting business. Salesman with sample cases and young mothers with babies in bunting passing between rowed platforms as steam rose around waiting trains, and further back the freight yard sprouted branches from branches to the river. I’ve crossed over sixteen branches of rusting track and found rails, ties and broken abutments along the river all the way to Freight Street. Of course Union Station was always a sham; never really a "union station,” the lines it united were all NYNH&H-owned.

Today Union Station is no longer a station. The building is owned, preserved, and used by the Republican American Newspaper, regional successor to Waterbury's last newspapers which many of us read on our smart phones. Trains still arrive at a nearby platform, northern terminus of the Naugatuck Line and Union Station’s Tuscan Tower still ceremoniously points the way.


For more memories of Union Station order:
BRASS VALLEY: The Fall of an American Industry

from Schiffer Books
http://www.schifferbooks.com/brass-valley-the-fall-of-an-american-industry-5747.html
or wherever fine books are sold.




Friday, January 23, 2015

Interlude at Union Station



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: 

Grandfather Clock

There are places where nobody thinks to look for places, and there are places that announce our arrival, while we’ve mostly forgotten quite why. Passing north, passing south, passing east or west Waterbury’s omnipresent monument is seen by an omnipresent stream of vehicles that look down on the city from omnitangled, limited access expressways. Some know the Tower is Sienese deja vu, and others just know, “It’s Waterbury,” as they drive on.

For people in town the Tower’s a marker to find the train or the Home Depot - near a park, nice for lunch after the robins appear. What’s in the tower? One man told me, “Pure Yankee, built by the railroads, once stocked with weapons, now its newspaper.” Another said the Chairman’s bones were buried there with those of his wife and favorite chef. 

Few can say what it is or means though it’s a reassuring presence, like the resonant tick and hourly chime of a grandfather clock or the clock high in the tower where Seth Thomas still spins time. 

How venerable it seems now! How progressive it looked in 1908 as Waterbury watched it rise, the city’s first skyscraper, taller than anything around.




Thursday, January 22, 2015

Back to the River: Intersection



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: 

The Post-Twentieth Century

There are places where nobody thinks to look for places. This one hides behind a meadow of rotting rail ties and rowed & rusted rail spurs sprouting with small trees; it is behind a lazy municipal yard where machines with treads and man-sized wheels have piled a small sierra, a jagged wall of brick and broken tiles, patio stones and paving blocks that have lost the shape of neighborhoods. Here, amid the boscage that grows where people rarely go, and surrounded by the ceaseless grim clatter of iron, concrete and rubber reverberating another national anthem, is the busiest intersection in the Naugatuck Valley. For good reason they've called it "the Mixmaster."

I’ve come to stand beneath the legs of a colossus to the Twentieth Century. This is where the homeless sometimes set tents in summer beside our Ganges where fish again are swimming. 


Be sure to click and view this one full screen.


Monday, January 19, 2015

Back to the River: Beside the Dam, Thomaston



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: 

Beside Seth Thomas Dam

Built, they say, for clocks to pass the time of day, though the day kept passing anyway, differently in every city and town. They say, if you stood on a hilltop you could hear time changing from steeple to steeple as the sun went down and the earth spun round.

Time was money and there was money to be made in time. Seth Thomas sold time pieces, others sold time; standardized it, regulated it, packaged it in pulses on wires following rails to every train station and jewelry store, with train-catching accuracy, and the Pullman’s smile. And the steeples chimed together, though after the roads were paved people stopped hearing them.

Of course time today is heaven-made, they call it Terrestrial Time and they calculate it from astronomical observations, computed with precision and corrected to be free of bumps, lumps or wobbles in the earth’s rotation. The duration of the second is set in cesium with nuclear accuracy; its measured decay transmitted to our technology in packets from satellites that spin with the moon and earth to keep us harmonious.


Sunday, January 18, 2015

Shipping



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Viewed from across the river it was beautiful, viewed along the rails it was iconic, but what drew me back repeatedly to Seth Thomas / Plume & Atwood was the yard and the long narrow passage that twisted beyond it, threaded by traces of track through an alley of broken brick sheds like bruised faces, whose variety of styles and frequent modifications spoke of the passage of time and the hands of many masons and builders. The passage led to an undefined paved area. There were usually a few cars by a blank-looking door that never opened. I seldom saw people.

The yard itself probably wasn’t a yard at all but rather the space left by the collapse of an earlier building. A steel column holding up an overhang displayed warning signs intended for people inside a building that had almost vanished.  I heard it was a foundry - always meant to find out. 

Plume & Atwood was different from other ruins. Most old factories go with grand gestures, gut-wrenching chords from the organ, defaced by breaking windows, collapsing chimneys, graffiti, metal thieves, and demonic presences. One feels it when they are silent as much as when they creak and groan. Plume & Atwood wasn’t like that. It seemed to be wearing away the way a river bed wears, rounding out the corners and rough edges, eroding the surfaces, breaking apart shard by shard. What had been grease and soot had been sandblasted by time. That’s why it surprised me when it fell.

I had visited often, drawn on by my thirst for noir, but I developed little of what I shot, never sure they were up to my other images. Eventually I moved on, never quite opening its secrets. I’ve looked at those Plume & Atwood images once again and developed several. You will find them on a Blog Page.


To see the other images,  look down the right column for TODAY’S PAGES and choose PLUME & ATWOOD YARD. 



Thursday, January 15, 2015

Like Clockwork



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Our nineteenth century legacy: Where there’s a river, there’s usually a rail, and once they were lined with factories. Several days ago the view was the river; hop over the Seth Thomas / Plume & Atwood Yard, and there’s the rail. It all says nineteenth century, and it feels filled with purpose and momentum. Time is a railroad train carrying us down the track to unknown adventures never dreamed by humankind. 

This was the place that pioneered time, and here is the rail that quickened it, and integral to every rail line was the telegraph that synchronized time and made information instantaneous just in time for the Civil War. The North had the network and proved the superiority of technology over slavery. We have yet to prove the superiority of humanity over technology.

Whenever these buildings were built, it was well after the Civil War. Thanks to Mark at the Torrington Historical Society for maps that show the site at several dates. The 1874 tax map shows an arrangement of buildings very much like what’s left of the yard - also a mill and a coal yard here, along the rail. 

I used to visit often. It was a melancholy, quiet place for photographing noir that felt timeless before the buildings fell. 



Monday, January 12, 2015

Bolland Farm Interlude



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: This Sharon farmstead lies well with the land, and when I was shooting lots of farms I’d often pass here to see what the light was doing or how the fog was drifting. It seemed to me it must have been built by someone who loved the operations of earth and wind. 

It was many years before I finally met the man who owned the farm; it had belonged to his father, some time deceased. He gave me permission to explore and photograph. There were sheds of rusting machine parts and parts with no shed, old motors and workshops left to the squirrels. Somewhere I have the pictures. And there were hills to explore. 

I followed a farm road that led down to a ravine and across a stream. I wanted to look back at the farm, see how it met the wind on the other side. Along the path, mounted on a wall where the bank fell away to the stream, were poles supporting ingenious whirligigs: people and animals and windmills made from welded junk and holding pinwheels that turned in the wind spinning gears and fantasies. Like the decaying workshops, the whirligigs were not all working and far from complete. But some still spun as I followed the linkages, there in the curve of the hill where the wind was gently blowing.

*********

I was sure I had posted several images of this farm to my blog, but I only turned up one previous post in 2009: http://rothphotos.blogspot.com/2009/09/bolland-farm-and-hills.html



Sunday, January 11, 2015

Back to the River: Plume & Atwood Dam, Thomaston



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL - “On Forgetting”: While it existed, few spots on the Naugatuck River could so easily transport me to the 19th century. Not the most elegant, but these may be among the most venerable buildings on the Naugatuck River.

Seth Thomas clocks built Thomaston. When it left town in 1979 it was unquestionably the oldest clock company in America. In fact it was one of the oldest U.S. companies of any kind. Seth Thomas had been a partner in 1806 when Eli Terry invented interchangeable machine parts and made knowing time affordable, and Thomas bought the company. The clocks were still made of wood, but it was a seminal moment in the birth of modern mind. The whole story and others are retold in Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry. [shameless advertising: click & order now, or order it on Amazon.]

What I know about these buildings isn’t much, but the documents I’ve seen make clear, Seth Thomas rolled metal for clocks on this site before the Civil War. Later he sold the operation to Plume and Atwood. Joseph Wassong’s excellent book, Images of America, Thomaston, contains wonderful, old photos and discussion of the buildings. It can be viewed at Google Books or also purchased on Amazon. 

Which among these buildings is a pre-Civil War, original building? I don’t know. People tell me there’s good fishing behind the dam, but I don’t know that for sure either. What I know is that this ancient mill complex provided context for the Railroad Museum of New England next door. You could look along the period platform past the beautiful old station, now the museum’s home, and see the track disappearing, and along side it was a genuine period rolling mill, possibly a Seth Thomas original. It did what a museum of its sort should do: Take us back in time, remind us of where we come from, who we’ve been. 

A short while after that mill building fell, men bulldozed the rubble and knocked down the building on the right in this picture as well. Yard’s gone!  So’s the view. That’s the way the river flows, I guess. They call this the Plume & Atwood Dam. One day I hope to know when it was built and what it powered. Online it is merely described as, “obsolete industrial.”



Saturday, January 10, 2015

Back to the River: Meander South



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: There’s barely a valley to be discerned here in the flatlands south and east of Torrington’s Five Points intersection. The two branches of the Naugatuck meander and find each other here. After the rail finds the river, the valley narrows, deepens and grows wild between Harwinton and Litchfield. 

Detailed plans for the Naugatuck River Greenway, through here and in area in the previous photos, were completed in 2004. Detailed discussion and pictures of the proposal can be found here: 




Friday, January 9, 2015

Back to the River: West Branch Behind Water Street, Torrington



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: I learned from Thoreau that rivers are the bloodstream of the planet. That was just an idea until I’d walked many miles beside one. The West Branch of the Naugatuck is all but invisible behind Water Street. I’ve come as close as I can to walking its banks from Main Street and the Five Points intersection, through the back lots of Water Street, up Church Street and beyond. If Torrington had grown into a big city, much of this would long ago have disappeared underground as the best way to contain its stench. It’s a long way upstream before one can spend a moment near the water without an intervening chain link fence, but there’s beauty to be peeped at along the way. The only stench now is from occasional dumpsters, in the service lots behind Water Street.

If these cataracts ran through a hill town, there would already be a greenway here, but Valley towns have turned their backs to the river for so many decades, they remain that way in inevitable arthritic paralysis. After the flood of 1955 the barriers to the riverfront got higher, deeper, and the containment past valuable factories and infrastructure put sections of the river out of reach to all except shiftless grocery carts with the knack for getting past fences. The river is clean, the factories are gone. Can the riverfront be reimagined to save it from the grocery carts and to help us cherish its rushing waters?



Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Back to the River: East Branch at East Main, Torrington



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: I’ve read that the first, non-native settlers of Torrington lived in the Hills in the northwest, where the Naugatuck originates, and on Torringford Hill, in the east, from which come tributaries. Like other settlers in the towns of the Northwest Hills, the settlers lived like hill people, by farming. The central business district was only established later by Frederick Wolcott when he opened his woolen mill in 1813. It was an industrial village between the two branches of the Naugatuck River. They called it Wolcottville and it developed like a Valley town, a mill town. It was a perfect spot for a world that ran on water.

There is an 1875 rendering of Wolcottville from the air here: (http://www.loc.gov/resource/g3784w.pm001041/). You can zoom down and almost walk the streets. Follow the two branches of the Naugatuck through the rendering, and note the many dams, canals, and impoundments. You can find this intersection in the rendering where the river winds south from Route 4 along the back of Main Street through the gully around the old cemetery and comes out at East Main Street here, in the picture. Even the cemetery turns its back to the river.

Torrington was built for a world that is gone. How can it be re-imagined for a world not fully here yet? (http://www.naugatuckriver.net/greenways/).





Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Back to the River: West Branch at Main



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: The East and West branches of the Naugatuck River bracket downtown Torrington. The East Branch crosses Main Street here, near the intersection with Route 4. The West Branch crosses Main Street below the Warner Theater, at the Five Points intersection.



Sunday, January 4, 2015

Back to the River: Headwaters



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  The waters that once primed the industrial revolution in Brass Valley begin today in ponds and impoundments in the quiet hills north and west of Torrington. The West Branch of the Naugatuck River begins here, behind the dam, in Stillwater Pond and in two more ponds upstream. The Naugatuck River Watershed Association says it falls 540 feet, or approximately thirteen feet per mile before spilling into the Housatonic River downstream in Derby. Some say it is the steepest major river in the state; it was once also one of the most toxic in the nation. 

Today in the fog at the headweaters it was noiseless.




Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Loose Change



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  Perhaps it’s a natural part of getting older to think more often about change. Recently, while reviewing old photo shoots I came upon this image I shot in August of 2007 with my friend Bob Lejeune, when my “Today’s Photo” habit was only 8 months old. Posting the finished gantry image here concludes my eighth year of trying to produce constantly better images and refining the relation between words and image. Though shot in 2007, I processed it last week. I can’t look at it without thinking about the ways I have changed and what remains constant.

Of course, as the title indicates, to me the picture itself is about change. The building under construction is now finished and fully occupied. The row of buildings stand where the last of Manhattan’s freight yards stood not long ago. I remember when those rail yards and their infrastructure approached where Lincoln Center now stands, and when the demolition of the neighborhood provided a key location for the 1960 filming of much of West Side Story. Personal memories lead me back to the fifties and trips and my father when he got in a mood to go driving on Sunday, riding beneath the highway and exploring the piers a bit further south where the giant ocean liners docked and finishing our explorations at the Fulton Fish Market. There’s no doubt neighborhoods have changed.

Of course, change is often part of a trajectory. The new year is the traditional time to consider altering trajectories. To do so requires thoughtful consideration of how things have changed.  


Have a very happy new year and remember it’s not too late to order: Brass Valley: Fall of an American Industry (http://www.schifferbooks.com/brass-valley-the-fall-of-an-american-industry-5747.html)

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Casting Shop



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Dates on images indicate I’ve been coming here to shoot since 2011. Even then the Hendey casting shop was nothing but a pile of brick, rubble and a concrete base on which much of the plan of the building and the floor tiles of some of the rooms are still visible today. I walk from room to room though the walls are gone.

Though I’ve seen the pictures, it’s hard to imagine it whole again while standing here in the open yard between the wood pattern shop (yesterdays image) where the wooden molds for casting were made, and the buildings in the picture, where castings were finished and tested and assembled. By 1910 it would have been a tightly packed hub of intense industry with a tall stack and a staff of skilled toolmakers, machinists and engineers and apprentices and grunts and accountants and draughtsmen and bookkeepers and stenographers and secretaries and managers, and every day they all walked to work from houses nearby. Imagine.



Sunday, December 28, 2014

Hendey Sunset (Wooden Pattern Shop)



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: For some time I have tried to give my answer to the question first formally posed by Edward R. Murrow and again later on National Public Radio. I call myself an atheist, but a classification by negation does not follow the phrase, “This I believe.” Being and the will to be, fill me with awe. Everywhere I look I see nature striving, not only to survive and reproduce, but to perfect itself; its not always pretty. Creation appears to contain will. The will to be is there in stone and the sun’s burning and precedes what we call life which forever experiments, striving until it finds better ways to be. The processes of selection have given humankind a brain unique to our sphere. It has given us two unique powers: dominion over nature and the knowledge that we are part of nature, part of a complex, balanced organism we call earth that exists in time. If anything is holy, it is the fertility of that organism, our common self. Together we must learn to pilot our biosphere. To do so we must learn to settle our differences justly and fulfill the Needs of all. To say the least, the challenge is daunting. Is this the challenge all life is pointed toward throughout Being?

The human brain is a child of Being. So far as I can tell, being is eternal. How could it be otherwise? The meaning of humanity, which we sometimes call the meaning of life, depends on our ability to continue being. More than that we will never know. Eternity is now. Anything else is, at best, beside the point.


NOTE: For more Hendey photos, find TODAY'S PAGES in the right hand column, and click "Hendey Page.
"



Friday, December 26, 2014

Industrial Quoins, Corbels, and Coping



NEW BLOG FEATURE: Because there are often photographs that may have interest as a set or as a documentary supplement, but have little to say standing alone, I will from time to time accompany TODAY’S posting with a “Page” of supplementary images. Because the fate of Hendey is currently being considered, the first page I've created  gathers previously posted Hendey photographs and supplementary photographs never before posted. 

To view the new and future photo pages:  Look in the right-hand column, below the Google Plus share button. You will find an area titled “TODAY’S PAGES.” The only page listed now is the “Hendey Page.” Click to see it.  When you’re done, click “home."



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  Ah!  "Serious Art!” Art is a prickly word that can be wielded like a mace to rule the world of taste creating rigid hierarchies of delight.

To some the lowly mason is a craftsman, no matter what tapestry s/he creates or how visceral the effect. Call a painter, “artist,” and it means only “s/he paints.” Call a photographer, “artist,” and s/he is in rarified company and has photographs that must sell for thousands of dollars.  One who photographs abandoned factories may be called an artist, but when the factories are still manufacturing, one will be judged a photo journalist. Where is that line between art and documentation that can be so crisply drawn, and from where does one stand to make pictures, if one disavows all interest in the things themselves and looks only for their forms, glow, and resonances? 

“Art,” it is a prickly word that hedges and climbs fences and walls. It keeps me from seeing. I try to avoid it, though, like a good chef, I always endeavor to transform the raw ingredients and hope the finished meal delights the palette and maybe stirs the soul.



Tuesday, December 23, 2014

At the Top of Hendey Towers



ARCHIMEDES: “Give me a stick long enough and a pivot, and I shall move the world."

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  Essentially, Archimedes was saying that if we can overlook certain disadvantages, two times two can equal eight through “mechanical advantage." In fact, the world has moved far since the time of Archimedes, leveraged by ideas. Pascal saw that leveraging ideas was the power of God. 

Here, at the top of one of the Hendey towers is the old electric lift elevator. Archimedes was also reputed to have made the first. However, the need to lift things beyond our capacity is at least as old as Stone Henge. Oxen, elephants and slaves were replaced by screw type elevators, hydraulics, pneumatics, and steam, but it was Frank Sprague’s electrical motor that finally gave elevators a lift. Frank Sprague was born in Milford, Connecticut.

There was an aha moment for me in eleventh grade physics class when the teacher demonstrated that an electric motor, linkages and gears aside, was still a leveraging system. Fill it with electric power and you leverage spin; spin it and you leverage electrical power. Frank Sprague not only figured out how to harness the magnetic properties of electrical fields by making the first practical electric motors and dynamos, but he pioneered two chief applications for his idea. Sprague Electric Railway and Motor Company built the first practical street car system in Richmond, Virginia, and many subsequent systems everywhere. The company was eventually purchased by Thomas Edison. Afterward, Sprague Electric Elevator Company pioneered elevator systems. When the company had proven the system’s efficiencies over old style hydraulic lifts, it was purchased by Otis Elevator.

The invention of the electric motor leveraged space and labor in countless ways we barely think about. From plumbing to subways to freezers it has changed our houses, our cities, our world. Electrical motors are one of many levers we’ve used to gain dominion over space and time while accumulating unobserved disadvantages.




Monday, December 22, 2014

Hendey Towers Torrington



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  The photographer’s mantra must be, “check all setting.” This photo, which calls out to be printed on a wall, will never fill more than a small frame because of a grainy surface that all but spoils it. “Check all settings.” The defect occurred because I had earlier turned the sensitivity of the sensor (ISO) up high in order to shoot in a dark room. That was before I came outside in the daylight and found planets in alignment and Hendey posing. Check all settings. I'll never be There again.




Sunday, December 21, 2014

Hendey Hall of Mirrors



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: From the outside, Hendey is a cluster of three and four-story factory sheds and five-story towers. Inside, Hendey is a multi-story maze. I wandered from building to building, through similar looking rooms, gridded with columns and with windows covered, some by translucent plastic that let in lights but concealed the surrounding landscape with its points of reference. Where the buildings joined I could sometimes enter the towers which linked similar floors via stairs that wound like corkscrews and lifts that were no longer running.

Each floor looked much the same except here. At this unique spot a short bridge connected the factory buildings to the 1880 executive building. Offices there had apparently sprouted an annex here, and partitions had been added to isolate offices from the work floor. Loading bays were a short way off.

Although I quickly became disoriented and lost track of where I was, I got to know the differences between the towers, and I used them to identify my position in the complex, and I always knew when I lost my way, that I could get here, and from here I could find my way to the only available exit door and out through the only active building where, it seemed, the last humans worked. 




Saturday, December 20, 2014

Hendey, Summer Street



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: This is Summer Street; the sentry is at the top of the hill but not visible. The city of Torrington plans to put a new bus terminal here. The old Hendey buildings are mostly empty and falling into disrepair. Windows are broken and some are boarded, and to those who live on the well-kept streets that surround the Hendey complex it must feel like blight. It’s not clear to me how a bus terminal will feel any better, but I don’t live there. It’s not for me to decide. 

There is an interesting article about the Hendey Company here: (http://vintagemachinery.org/mfgindex/detail.aspx?id=430). The article includes artists’ renderings of what the factory ideally looked like in 1897 and 1907. Both renderings show the 1880 office building with the squared onion, Victorian tower. The 1907 rendering was probably done in connection with the construction of the triple-height factory shed also shown in my photograph. Both renderings show a face Hendey management wanted to project to the world, but they take on new meaning once one has seen what the buildings really look like and the actual scale of their world.

These buildings and the comfortable, “walking" community around them grew slowly together with apparent sensitivity to relationships of scale and to the needs of each. The people who worked here, lived “up the street.” Even the nearby shopping district has life. The physical fabric of that world is largely intact with stories to tell to generations who are beginning to find this quaint. Soon, when it is Ancient and venerable they may regret its loss and the failure to imagine now what Hendey might become. It’s not hard to put a value on the buildings as real estate. How does one put value on connections to our roots? Henry James reminds us - I’ve quoted him before, “It takes an awful lot of history to make even a little tradition."


Other Hendey images previously posted on TODAY’S:




Friday, December 19, 2014

Tobor in Torrington



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL - This bit of civic sculpture comes slowly into view along Summer Street as one climbs the sidewalk up to High Street. I don’t know what it did with so many arms reaching in all directions nor where they reached nor what its funnel shaped abdomen digested, but it doesn’t take much for me to imagine it coming alive and reaching across the barbed wire of its pen to snatch women’s hats off their heads and the pipes from men’s mouths.

Putting aside questions of gender, it has the look of a perpetual cynic. I’m sure it has its story to tell, but I’ve never heard it. It sits eying passers-by from the roof of one of the buildings where the Hendey Company used to make precision tools in Torrington, near the top of Brass Valley. I’m sure others who pass it, see it only as old junk, and others don’t see it at all. To me, it is a landmark, the Sentry of Summer Street.



Thursday, December 18, 2014

Powerdown



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  Brass Valley, The Fall of an American Industry, would not have been photographed and written if it were not for the workers and management who allowed me to photograph anything, anywhere, at the only two campuses (formerly Anaconda/American Brass) where large scale manufacturing continued in Brass Valley. However, at this time last year the mills finally closed; the remaining workers were out of work; four years of photographing the active production line of the two mills came to an end; the story I was telling was told. 

Now the book is done and in the hands of the publisher, but I’m still shooting. Everywhere along the river the last relics of Brass Valley heavy industry are about to be swept away. It seems right for me to follow this track to the end. As production slowed at the mill it was too painful to go back and photograph. I didn’t return until spring. By then most of the men I’d known were long gone, scrapping and salvaging were about to begin, and I gained access to a third large site last active in 1989.

Up and down Brass Valley, in Torrington, Thomaston, Waterbury, and Ansonia city planners, politicians, humanitarians, developers and visionaries are all warming bulldozers to remove the last relics of Brass Valley, heavy industry. This is one of the places where heavy industry was invented at a time when there was no such thing as a school of engineering. What took place here created the modern middle class, and I hear little talk as to whether any of Brass Valley is worth saving.

What's left to photograph is the dismemberment and dissolution of forces that made us who we are. I’m not sure where this track will lead me, but I’m still following it. However, the book isn’t about that; it's about Brass Valley as it was when the furnaces were cooking. 

Shop early - Shop often
Brass Valley: Fall of an American Industry
order now for fall, 2015 delivery


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Book Announcement


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: It’s official now. Schiffer Publishing has added Brass Valley: Fall of an American Industry to its list of titles for release next year. The details are here: (http://www.schifferbooks.com/brass-valley-the-fall-of-an-american-industry-5747.html), and there is even a button where, I believe, pre-orders may be placed now. The release is scheduled for September 15, so they can be in your hands to give as gifts a year from now. Do your shopping early.




Brass Valley! For thirty years I lived in the Northwest Hills hearing talk of “the Valley,” and I never knew the valley from the hills. I didn’t even know that's where Route 8 ran. What began five years ago as a trip along the old tracks, a photo exploration of the Naugatuck River Valley and its industrial legacy, has turned into a journey of discovery into how things came to be. I invite readers: Follow the tracks. Follow the river. Follow the last metal off the last full-scale production line on equipment that made arms for WWI. Follow the stories and pictures of how it all came to pass in Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry. 

In the belief that context is important, and that a few others may be unsure where Brass Valley is, here is a map.



Monday, December 15, 2014

Asbury Park Sunrise



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: We photographed our only sunrise on Wednesday in Asbury Park, a place I’d been curious about since I was 13. That summer I camped out cross country and exchanged letters with a girl who summered there. The hotel where my letters were read is still there, part of a once elegant bit of beachside planning by the architects of Grand Central Station, Warren & Wetmore. Their Beaux Arts buildings once overlayed the remnants of Victorian Asbury Park. What a place it must have been, with oceanfront amusements and boardwalk that stretched a mile-and-a-half north from Ocean Grove, until it all faded after WWII and was washed away by storms! 

We stayed at a lovely, oceanfront B&B, the Laingdon Hotel, just over the border in Ocean Grove, and discovered a community with a deep and unique history and street after street of beautifully kept Victorian houses beside the city where much had been swept away and the rest left to urban decay. We arrived too late and left too early to photograph much of either, so we look forward to returning in the spring. Our Ocean Grove B&B, also worthy of photographing, was just a block along the ocean from the beginning of the Asbury Park boardwalk, what there is of it. 

We crossed onto the Asbury Park boardwalk through the ruins of something called, “The Casino,” - nothing much now but some mullions, a sign, and part of the floor beneath the stabilized roof. The buildings nearby (a powerhouse and the Carousel House) were partially restored and all were designated as landmarks. From there we continued about two or three blocks to the Convention Center and Paramount Theater buildings, also landmarks. Along the boardwalk between the landmarks, shabby arcade stands and shops are like a smile with many missing teeth. The landmarks were all Warren and Wetmore. It is a substantial architectural legacy that no longer comes together to be a place, and the individual buildings are genteel and bland. 

All but the Carousel House. It is something precious - an oversized Tiffany lamp of a building. A circular arcade of green copper arches surmounted by a copper crown with flaring rays that forms a canopy. The arches are inset with whirling mullions like tracery holding glass rays surrounding cast copper suns with furious faces. Imagine this giant Tiffany lamp, with the music of the carousel and the whirling horses and lights and happy faces inside. But the inside is empty, and nothing moved between the layers of glass as we photographed to no purpose.

I learned later that the carousel, installed in the Carousel House in 1932, had been sold in 1980. I could go to Myrtle Beach in South Carolina, and ride it. However, it occurs to me that if the carousel house had been located a block away, in Ocean Grove, there might still be music and children riding horses there - though, on second thought, its unlikely the Ocean Grove leaders would have permitted a carnival ride in Ocean Grove; until 1981 it was illegal to have a motor vehicles on the streets there on Sunday, and even the beach was closed until noon.



Sunday, December 14, 2014

Downward Climb



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Here is the trip down into the Taj Casino. We could even hear the bling, though nobody was gambling then. I was going to omit the image from the series until this morning when a subscriber wrote to say she wanted to go to Atlantic City one day, "to gaze at the chandeliers." I immediately did a google search and turned up dozens of images of “Atlantic City Chandeliers.” Perhaps we failed to look up. 

Another reader put casino culture in a perspective I find intriguing: "It's like being in the midst of some kind of capitalist porn - a theme park for an economy based on the lust for money.”

To that I add a thought I came on this morning at breakfast while reading from the Journal’s of Henry David Thoreau.

"In my experience nothing is opposed to poetry–not crime–as business. It is a negation of life."

I suppose it all hinges on what Thoreau meant by, "business."



Saturday, December 13, 2014

Loop de Loop



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: 

The Garden of Amusements

Loop de loop the dance of death no more 
The merry voices shivered and were gone
A full moon in a vacant, starless sky
No one to knock the bottles down or shoot
The rabbits as they ride along the track.


Friday, December 12, 2014

Upscale



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  Out on the boardwalk we learned that Donald Trump’s first casino hotel had closed in September. The sign at the top had lost it’s T-R-U, and both Gary and I gave a few bucks to a guy who told us he was out of work as a result. He said he was hungry, and we hoped he used our pittance for food. He told us Trump’s Taj is also set to close, but we didn't find it until early Wednesday morning at the far north end of the boardwalk; the photos I took all failed.

Everywhere its scale is intended to overwhelm but winds up looking merely cheap. It is a hyperbolic, gaudy, monstrosity, as it is supposed to be, I guess. Oversized, grand, empty stairways lead to terraces where nobody was drinking cocktails around tables with folded red umbrellas. Above were plastic spires, sprouts and minarets in vague imitation of Eastern architectural forms. I thought it’s grotesque excesses might make for good images, but looking at them later, I was back at a mall. Perhaps its sad folly will make good pictures after it closes this month, and it is left to become another shabby, dark relic beside neighborhoods swept away to give casinos room. 

The jobs gambling promised are gone, and the men eking out a living pushing chairs along the boardwalk in December’s rains are dressed like the homeless; they huddle in casino lobbies, waiting for fairs along the boardwalk that made Miss America the queen of beauty pageants.




Thursday, December 11, 2014

Bally's from Claridge, Claridge from Bally's



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: We stayed at the Claridge Hotel, a 1930, twenty-six story, grande dame of a hotel, a survivor, set back from the boardwalk by what once must have been a gracious plaza. The lobby was clean, well-furnished, vast and empty. There was never more than one person at the front desk. The only other person attending to the front of the hotel was the car valet who spent most of the day napping in a two-foot by six-foot enclosure that seemed set into the hotel’s granite base.

Rooms were $69 and $79 per night, but for a small premium we were given rooms on the 21st floor, in the front of the hotel, overlooking the ocean. Our rooms were identical except mine was only half-furnished. I realized this after dark when I found myself huddling beside the bed lamp to use my computer, and realized Gary’s room had two lamps, a desk and two tables my identical room lacked. In our entire time at the Claridge I don’t think we saw another guest, though we repeatedly passed through the halls and lobbies of the hotel. 

The hotel connects directly by a second-floor street overpass to Bally’s Casino & Hotel. The path leads from the Claridge elevators through a maze of empty passages and lobbies that may once have been ballrooms, and through a small, sour-smelling food court and on to a slightly grand central space linking the Claridge and another hotel to the glitter and lights of Bally’s casino. We often chose that way to reach the boardwalk, down several terraces of gaming and across the gaming floor. Everywhere the lights of slots and machines flashed and chattered. All seemed alive though looking closely, there were only a few gamers, people sitting alone, more women than men. In early evening we saw a few people at a roulette wheel and a lively group of five around a Blackjack table, at other times just lone gamers. Gamers or no, there were always extra guards and hostesses watching to see we took no pictures.






Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Herbalife



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: It drizzled and rained through much of our time in Atlantic City, and I had anticipated that would make wonderful photographs along the boardwalk. However, looking at the images now, most have the same sterility as photos in shopping malls, and it was difficult to catch the sadness of this empty place all dressed up for a ball and nowhere to go.

Only here, at the old convention center, now known as Boardwalk Hall, was I happy with my shots. Wiki says designed in 1926 but notes it didn’t open until 1940. A cornerstone on the building says 1930. This is the holy place where countless Miss America’s were crowned and went off into oblivion. The pageant platform stands, just around the corner, puddled and ready before a Classical curved arcade, and beside a bronze, 8-foot tall Miss America extending a coronet over any tourist willing to leave their umbrella for a photo being crowned by the dripping giant.

Wiki reminds this is where the Democrats chose Lyndon Johnson to run for President in 1964, and where the Beatles and the Stones played. They say it boasts the largest organ in the world with, according to Wiki, 33,000 pipes including a pipe which they claim is the world’s loudest. 



Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Boardwalk, Wildwood, December, 2014



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  We spent three days driving north along the Jersey Shore from Wildwood to Asbury Park. It was an exploratory trip for me, to see what was worth coming back for and to explore ways to photograph it. 

Boardwalks, taken as landscape, present unique problems and possibilities. How different they are from the docks and piers of rustic, Maine fishing villages! Fishing villages are usually set in coves or around good harbors; one may shoot from a dock toward boats and find landscape behind to fill in, or one may go to the end of a dock and shoot back toward land and the activity of the dock. 

In contrast, here the leading line of a good boardwalk disappearing at the horizon is a useful recurring theme that can be varied again and again to good effect, but in doing so, one turns away from the ocean view and from the signs and stalls that line the boardwalk. Often they are the most interesting features, the things I went south to photograph. 

Striving to include seaside and land-side, produces images that tend toward awkwardly long panoramas, and neither oceanside features nor boardwalk shops are shown to their best; few features along a boardwalk are meant to be viewed from the side. Here, the blackened, metal structures of vanished signs and the row of street lights solve the problem.

In other shots, to gain height in the panorama I found myself moving in close to foreground features on one side or the other, and then looking for activity to fill the triangle of sky on the opposite corner. All parts of a good composition must actively engage the eye. 

Too many of my compositions could be improved by crops, but only at a steep loss in resolution. Reflecting on this I am resolved next time to make more use of a tripod-mounted telephoto lens to reach down the boardwalk and compress the receding scape - a plan for the next trip.