Saturday, September 29, 2007

Above the Bog before the Storm

You've seen this building in fog (Scroll down to "In Fog at Sunrise"). This shot, captured as a thunder storm rolled in, was taken the night before, but I published another photo from the storm set instead (just below "In Fog at Sunrise"). This one had to be set aside incomplete as much work was required to get it the way I wanted it, and I worried then as now that it was too dark. The resulting photoshop file completed tonight has 10 layers. Not all atmospherics are made for the camera.

I have a folder of such partially complete shots that I think are worth returning to. This one has repeatedly snagged my attention. I haven't seen it printed yet, but there is plenty of detail in the dark forest areas so I don't expect it will clot up.

At one point I also worried that two shots of this building from the same side might be redundant. I suppose they would be if what I cared about was the building.

I've begun calling this apparently nameless farm, "Above the Bog Farm" since it stands high at the New York end of Bog Hollow Road, a country highway that threads the narrow, bog-filled valley cross the mountain chain that edges these two states. However, the photo may have more to do with the vulnerability I felt as lightening began to crack nearby just behind that dark forest. Whoever propped that stick in the barn door must have known I was coming with a camera.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


Sunset Ridge Farm is a working dairy farm. The quantity of milk a cow can produce is astounding. One really good Holstein milked twice daily can produce 50,000 to over 60,000 lbs of milk in a year. Of course milk is not all these great animals produce, and farms have many cows. As you can imagine, the farmyard around a dairy barn has, to say the least, a "lived-in" look and smell and feel, and it must be "managed" daily. It is quaint, only at a distance. Up close amid the muck, the beauty of these dairy barns tells of the joyful engagement in long, hard labor. Please don't snicker.

For the past weeks the owner of Sunset Ridge Farm and his laborer have been harvesting the corn crop. From what I've seen it's just the two of them. They are cutting, hauling, and processing for the silos the many, many fields of corn surrounding the farmstead. They have a lot of cows to feed. Unlike so many silos in the area, these silos are used. I watched a few days ago as the ground-up greens from the corn harvest were fed from the harvesting wagon into a large funnel attached to a motor that sucked them in and blew them up the tube or duct that hangs by the side of the silo and into the belly of the beast where the silage will ferment.

Out in the field the owner loads the corn greens into wagons which grind them into fine salad. At the other end is the silo swallowing everything fed to it. Throughout the morning and afternoon the laborer goes between, picking up wagons and setting them to empty into the silos, and the owner cuts corn and loads wagons. I've been there to shoot at both dawn and dusk; they're up with the rooster, and they're still processing silage until the sun sets. Meanwhile cows must be moved between pastures and milked and the muck must be mucked. Sometimes the owner and his hand switch to other tasks and our paths cross. The owner always stops to talk. He'll offer shooting suggestions or stories about the farm's history or expound on the beauty of the day and the land.

I've only taken a few photos that give any real sense of the size of some of the silos. This photo isn't one. The largest silos quickly dwarf any farmer's house should he have built it nearby. Of course, as suggested in yesterday's TODAY'S, for me this picture isn't really about silos.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sunset Ridge Farm in Fog at Sunrise

Is it a matter of shifting the emphasis or is narrative photography a totally different beast? At the moment they feel quite distinct to me. The narrative in "The Story of M," was admittedly beyond thin; thinner even than some of the slide shows I've worked on. That's, perhaps, why I'm becoming more convinced that narrative and non-narrative images are almost unrelated forms of expression. In keeping the narrative so thin, as much emphasis as possible is on the power of the visual elements to take control of the experience.

The photo above was not what I was looking for when I went to Sunset Ridge to shoot in the light of Thursday's sunrise. I'd shot Wednesday's sunet there, and I had a hunch (and still do) that there are some good images to be made there on the right morning. Unfortunately, I was tricked by the weather, and the closer I got to the ridge, the less hope there was that any of that early light would reach me through thickneing fog, and the view from the ridge, normally extending for miles, stopped half way down the corn row. There was no ridge shot to catch.

However, when I reviewed the images I did catch, this one grabbed me. By the time I shot it I had turned away from the ridge. Although the long lens usually flattons scenes, here the round forms almost balloon against each other and against the chosen edges of the frame. The graying effect of the fog adds to the sense of our distance from silos and the crowded space between. I liked the way the rhythm of doors on the barns give them a mediating effect between corn crib and silos. I liked the way the forms in the two lower corners drew the eye to them and added interest to the whole. However, I suspect the true subject of this photo is textures - most noticeably the transparent textures of the corn crib, but if one can view at sufficient scale, there is plenty to let ones senses explore on all of the surfaces.

This photo distinguishes itself to my eye on exclusively visual merits that, in fact, have nothing to do with farming or old barns. Although all the things pictured are recognizable, the thingness of them is unimportant to me, and it might almost be enjoyed as abstract, much as one enjoys the way sounds clothe images in a good line of poetry and, if truly integral, make feelings palpable.

But at my back I always hear,
Time's Wing├ęd chariot hurrying near.

Of course, poetry often (usually) has narrative. Even if there is no story, one is usually helped by knowing who is speaking and who that speaker addresses. Without narrative, a photo makes its point in a single instant. If it is to have narrative, it gains strength by having that narrative evident in the same flash, but that's a whole different kind of narrative.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

M - The Final Chapter

But nobody heard the pleas and recriminations of L and the gang. They were gone and most people didn't notice that the message had been altered or cared that letters were missing or thought that other letters would also be retired.

Yeah, Another Etude

C couldn't resist saying it was all M's fault
at which M called C, "nothing more than a broken G
and afraid to admit it."
L caughed and reminded M of the, "Don't ask, don't tell," rule,
at which Assistant L, who was broken and looked more like an I than an assistant L, reminded everyone, "It's the foundation of good service."
At this L sniffed and seemed to turn away as if to detach himself from Assistant L. L had heard he might be promoted and given a new team.
M was sad and angry and humiliated all at once.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Main Street Etude #3

Main Street looked as Main Street always looks.
Nobody knew who gave the order, and L and the gang never even saw the crew drive up,
but suddenly they were there,
enforcers looking properly official.
They chose a moment when Main Street was empty
to get out their ladders.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Main Street Etude #2

It's not as if much changes on Main Street. This chair sits in front of the Main Office, back under the overhang and just behind and to the right of the post. One could walk down Main Street at the right time each morning and, if the sun was bright, catch this dance frozen in nearly this position as it was on September 7th at 9:17:41 AM. In fact a similar shot catching the dance each day at just this moment would swing with the seasonal pitch of the earth's axis and dip twice before anyone moved the chair.

Thus, it was a great surprise when the order came. Nobody knows who issued the command.

(from "The Continuing Story of M")

Monday, September 17, 2007

Looking Down Main Street

It's the grain warehouse that gives the south end of Main Street clarity, just where it turns to rejoin the old highway. The general store is on my left, the tavern is behind me. This, such as it is, is the retail center. Once there was a train depot by the track that runs along the back of the long grain warehouse. They've moved the post office and the factory has closed. Even the highway left town, though the clarity remains.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Horse in the Cowbarn, Skip to My Lou

After leaving the Beatific Barn I drove and explored as the fog slowly lifted. I'm beginning to know my way around in bits and pieces, but one different turn took me into new territory. Suddenly barns such as this appeared at each turn, many much larger, some still nestled in fog. How many were there? Could there have been as many as hundreds around Amenia alone - and unusual houses too - a land nearly free of subdivisions. Imagine!

Today only a few are active cow farms, many are falling into ruins, a few lucky ones get "repurposed." And so, today sometimes gentle horses graze before industrial basilicas, each once a family farm.

Eventually the fog lifted, and my car needed gas.

The Camera's Eye web site has now been updated to reflect our upcoming exhibit:

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

In Fog at Sunrise

In fact, the Beatific Barn has had my attention since I first wrote about it "grabbing me," under the heading, "Etude in Diagonals." It is there suddenly when rounding a corner shortly before reaching Wassaic with wonderful fences that lead the eye, an old silo and an assortment of buildings that create a farmscape rich in spaces, shapes ,and shooting angles.

I had been watching the property on each trip to Wassaic in hope of finding a living person who might grant me permission to shoot. On my visit the previous evening I drove up the driveway and concluded all was vacant. But the visual treats and surprises discovered on that evening convinced me to get up at 5:40 the next morning, and my effort was rewarded with a fog so thick I could taste it, This is the way I had wanted to shoot the Beatific Barn from the start.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Cartwheeling Rumble

Eventually the rumble thundered, and there were even some pretty impressive lightening cracks across the sky. That's when I knew it was time to get ungrounded and head for home. But before the storm, almost as I arrived at this farmstead, three magnificent, floating islands of vapor sailed by. I'd seen them at a distance and followed them to this farm. I rushed from the car and set up in time to catch the barns in strangely beatific attitude. If this is the blessing of the harvest, someone has chosen the wrong operation - If not abandoned, this farm is at least dormant. Nor did this beatification have an effect on the state of bliss up the road in Wassaic.

In truth, I haven't the least notion what this picture is about, but when I see clouds like this I look for anything handy to shoot against them.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Beware Shrub

After the Steep Rock picnic Jane was marching in Southbury. She was worried that thunder showers might dampen her piping mood, and I was hoping an El Greco sky would make my photos moody. She headed south to her parade; I headed west toward whatever the much anticipated front was to bring. As I reached Wassaic the sky showed change was imminent, but not what change it would be. Wassaic was quiet. It was a stillness worthy of the old west, and I half expected tumbleweed to come rolling down the street in front of the grain elevator. Things still simmered in Wassaic over M's rightful place on the grain warehouse wall, but like L, most remained diplomatically silent. I chose to drive on without a shot.

Wassaic is interesting for lots of reasons. It is a tiny pocket surrounded by steep hills; the name of the town comes from a Native American word meaning "hard to access." It was the home of the first Borden's Milk plant, the place where the first condensed milk was perfected and made for delivery to troops in the Civil War (You can learn more at Wikopedia or The survival of the train line, if only as commuter service, helps make the past palpable here. The factory still exists just across the track from the grain warehouse and near the grain elevator. In fact there's still much that exists in the surrounding hills to suggest the old network of dairy farming that lingers now at only a few isolated farms.

Around Wassaic the land in Amenia and beyond stretches out in broad valleys that frequently open grand panoramas. Just 8 miles east, in CT, as one approaches the Housatonic, the ridges get steep everywhere and the valleys are more confined. The further north one goes, the more pronounced the difference, and then you reach the Berkshires. Around Wassaic these broad valleys provided room for many farms to support large herds. To house such large herds the farmers here built huge barns with Dutch roofs to permit massive hay storage. Beneath these gothic hay lofts cows lined up, side-by-side, to feed. Often barns were wide enough to hold 4 or 6 such rows and long enough so one could never see the other end.

Once in easy reach of New York City by rail, today Amenia lies beyond all of the highways. The exception is the Taconic Parkway, but it is a hilly ride west, closer to the Hudson River. From the end of I-684 one must follow rickety old route 22 to reach Amenia. As a result, things have changed much more slowly in Amenia than any place to the south, east or west.

So these dinosaur barns linger on, a few as working farms, some as colossal wrecks, and many as lonely silos, tomb stones to mark the foundations where once a dairy industry thrived. The barn in the photo (You are seeing about a quarter of its total length, and it is supplemented by other, large out-buildings already caving in.) has been idle for years and may be torn down this fall. When it goes vast fields now burgeoning with corn and surrounding it for many miles will be seeded with rows of identical houses, each with its mail box and street light. What a panorama that will be!

They tore out the rail line above Wassaic many years back. It's now a lovely bicycle and hiking path, but train service will never return. In 2000 they restored commuter service to the end of the old track and built a new station on route 22 in Wassaic. That makes Amenia a sort of last frontier in the onward march of suburbia. In the meantime, it is fertile ground for photography, so my time is limited for shooting gothic barns beneath flashes of lightening and Toledo clouds.

As I walked around this barn a thunder shower dumped enough water to send me back to my car. The moody, lowering clouds I sought would have dictated a very different shot than the one I took. However, it is the colors here that make me like this picture of a bush. The real rumblings were to come a bit later and I was elsewhere.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007


Compared with M, L was a straight arrow. L had risen to a position of responsibility, next to the second floor, office-like-station window which was next to the door to the grain chute. That was where grain had to be carefully selected, measured and dispatched to wagons on the street below. L was the right letter to keep things running right. In truth, L had harbored suspicions about M for some years, but L was nothing if not a team player. L said little, a letter of few words when it came to M's dirty little secret.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The Continuing Story of "M"

The rumor is that several of you, you know who you are, said that "M" was really a W - some nonsense about a duty to roll upright for Wassaic or move to Millerton. "M" had always believed that M-ness was inborn. "M" could no more flip over and become a W than turn sideways and become a clumsy E. As to the notion of moving to Millerton, "M" had always lived on this facade in Wassaic. Wassaic was "M's" home.

I was in Wassaic all of Sunday morning from before 8 AM until after 1 PM and "M" was terribly depressed. However, as you see below, "M's" mood was worse on Monday when I returned.

I'm sometimes asked if that was how a paticular image looked or, "Have you Photoshopped it?" The implication is often that I've been cheating; ...that the camera is an objective tool that records exactly what existed, and the photographer's sacred duty is to convey truth unmolested, yea, unblemished to the viewer. If you use a camera with any attention to the results you know that, for all kinds of reasons, cameras see very differently than we do, and that the photographer relinquishes her objectivity the instant he choses a spot to stand and shoot from. As to lenses, Alice got lost in such a looking glass. Photographic objectivity? Hooey! Your not a photographer unless you make choices.

I stayed in Wassaic all day on Monday. There was great concern about "M's" safety.

Monday, September 3, 2007

The Story of "M" - part 1

What "M" did to get itself so precariously perched is a mystery. Clearly, "M" is bummed about it. It is similarly a mystery when this strange building in the center of Wassaic was built or for what purpose. It is as unique to this town as the grain elevator. I'm told it served as a grain trading depot for local farmers before the grain elevator was built in the early 1950s.

If shapes and texture are what make me love old barns, it is good clear light that paints and etches their surfaces for me. It carves the space behind the chicken wire, scores the clapboards deeply, and brings painterly blushes and overtones from M.

It's not clear any of this will make "M" brighten up.

Sunday, September 2, 2007


I'm not sure its a healthy relationship for a photographer to have with his subject, but today I'm in mourning for a barn. Yesterday I went back to Bunnell Farm after an absence of a month or two, and the main barn had been demolished. Rick said, "I told you I was going to do it. The old barn was too low for anything."

It's not outright mourning; it certainly isn't a willed act, but a feeling has been with me since yesterday morning of something important lost. I'd like to think I had shot the barn thoroughly, but I know there's always something new to find. Yet it really isn't about shots not taken. It's true that the ceiling was low. That's how the sun could clear the top and light the courtyard on the western side - a view best appreciated through the barn's west windows Without the barn to hold the middle, there isn't any courtyard. It was built low because built for cows, and also for that reason painted white as required by law. That's why the sun pouring through the great row of eastern windows lit the space so brightly. This photo taken several months ago may be the best elegy.

The two silos and the tall barn in the back still stand. So does the back shed and the little garage on the right. Everything in the middle is gone, and a new slab portends whatever is to come.