Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry

Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry
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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Moving Hay


PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: They call it Twin Elm Farm. It's just down the road from what I will now call, "Barlow Farm," yesterday's TODAY'S. The land of Twin Elm and Barlow stretch well up the side of the mountain behind them and fill a good part of the Webatuck basin. Twin Elm was the largest farm in this part of the valley, and the farmstead is a tangle of barns, sheds and backhouses. They surround farmyards on multiple levels. Some of the farmyards are overgrown, and its clear few people go there anymore. After 40 years of farming, the pace is slowing a bit. This will be the first year they're not raising corn and filling the silos, but they've been busy. The first haying is mostly done, and they're gathering hay bales from the distant fields for use over the winter. They've given me an especially warm welcome, suggesting good spots to shoot from and sending me up the old farm road to spots high on the hill that overlook the whole valley.

The constantly shifting hay wagons, tractors, and hay bales provide a steady stream of compositional possibilities, and on every side details and textures invite photos. I would not be surprised to learn the house is from pre Revolutionary times, and the barns and cupolas have some delightfully restrained detailing that looks like it may be from the 19th century. However, Twin Elm presents shooting challenges. This is the west side and catches the setting sun beautifully, but it's hard to find other angles on the barn complex. I'm drawn to spaces, walls and windows on the east and south, but everything there is overgrown - hard to get to and hard to compose.

Today I systematically worked my way down the hills mostly following cow paths to find more angles on the barns. The further out in the field one goes, the weaker the cow paths, and far out the thistle and other inedibles begin to take over, and the field becomes a labyrinth of blind passages among prickly bushes. Often I wasn't sure the way back would be easy, and I found it reassuring to come around a corner and find a cow or steer observing me curiously. It seemed I was everywhere before I finally reached the field near the bottom which I thought would provide the desired angle. Of course the light was wrong. It was nearly 5 PM when I got there, but now I know where to go and how to get there, and I look forward to spending my next free morning there. It will take awhile for the sun to come above the mountain. If I'm there by 6:45 there's a chance I'll get a good show, and maybe some of the liabilities of this new angle will turn to assets.