•COMING IN SEPTEMBER, 2015•

Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry

by Emery Roth

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Color Field


PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: The more I visited North Meadow, the more I saw and wanted to photograph. Along the path near North Meadow were grasses. With the setting sun behind them, the spiked seedheads became tiny lanterns. In some areas they glowed yellow. Nearby a patch might glow orange (as above) or pink or even purplish. In one spot the seedheads of different colors had integrated the same patch. I angled my shots toward the sun to maximize the iridescence even though all the rules of photography tell you not to shoot into the sun. When my first shots were spoiled by lens flare I went back and chose angles more carefully and waved my hat to shield the lens as best I could.

Along the perimeter where the path wrapped around the meadow the abundance of shapes and colors blossomed into a floral cornucopia, and I repeatedly tried to compose its textures and colors into images. Further off whole patches of similar plants made broad splashes of color as if luminous paint had been spilled there. But it was the dead corn stalks in the midst of all this that kept drawing me back.

They were expressionistic slashes that contrasted with this tapestry of nature's plenty. I thought of Edvard Munch scraping the paint from the portrait of his sick sister, his first important work, that he struggled with for over a year until the rude scrapings of his palette knife scarred it to the brutal roughness that conveyed his raw pain. The feeling I was after in the meadow was of death and life always coexisting, though I would not want to lean too heavily on that as interpretation.

In any case, I was only recently out of the woods and not used to shooting meadows. I tried shooting the corn stalks where they stood in serried rows like headstones in a cemetery. I shot them when dragon flies rested like tiny pennants at the top of each stalk. I shot at dawn when everything became eerie and at dusk when brilliant warm light cast outlining shadows and bathed everything in warm luxuriance. I tried juxtaposing the blackened, dead corn stalks against the green background of the new season's crop. I shot from high up and from low down.

Eventually, the shots I liked best flattened the meadow into something like a color field painting. Then in late fall they harvested the new corn. I was there when they plowed North Meadow under. The new plan called for growing grasses for hay, and they'd decided the soggy bottom of North Meadow was suitable for that purpose; it was integrated back into the agricultural field. When the new season arrived I found myself addicted to shooting meadow textures, but the corn stalks of North Meadow had vanished forever.