Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry

Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry
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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Through the Kitchen


ANDREW WYETH - "In the portraits of that house, the windows are eyes or pieces of the soul almost. To me each window is a different part of Christina's life."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY - Reflections While Shooting at Olson House, Part 2: 

What is the responsibility of anyone who strives to create art, to those who have gone before? Even if Tillman Crane hadn't specifically raised this issue, it necessarily imposes itself when one spends a week shooting photographs at the Olson House in Cushing, Maine, so completely is Wyeth's emotional life caught up with that house and landscape and with Christina and Alvaro Olson. One doesn't have to spend long in the house before one finds Wyeth's work begins to resonate there.

However, it is now not only Wyeth's work that distills the air. At the instigation of the Farnsworth museum, TIllman Crane has created a body of beautiful, large format, monochrome images of the house. Additionally, for some years participants in various workshops of the Maine Media College have grabbed images in 2 hour photo shoots there; it is hard to attend any workshop at the college without encountering some of this work. As Tillman pointed out at the start of our workshop, most of those photographers, given only two hours to shoot, find the time cramped, and such visits tend to produce or reproduce, "the obvious shots," what I have called "postcard shots."  However, whatever they are, the proliferation of these obvious shots gives them currency, adheres them to the tradition.  In the end, of course, it is Wyeth who looms largest.

Nine of us, including Tillman Crane, the instructor and Richard Barnett, the teaching assistant, had access to the exterior of the property at any time of day or night and unrestricted, exclusive access to the interior for several hours every morning and again every afternoon for a week.  At the end of the week, I find even this time is far too short to address the considerably greater challenge of this workshop: Engagement with the tradition. My urge to rise early and shoot late and to process sometimes 300 RAW images a day and then cull them to 50 for review at the next day's workshop left little time to think and plan for addressing the tradition.

On the other hand, perhaps such assimilation is too much to expect. Those ideas are percolating now, and hopefully I will get another chance to go further. More importantly, too conscious an engagement with the tradition might have led me to, "point making," the shooting of sterile idea photos that did not originate in the ability of the house and property to speak directly to me.  A good photograph hits us visually, and for me engagement with the house has to also be visual and emotional. I set out first to find my own relationship with the house. Of course, Wyeth's memories and their connection to things and places in the house are not mine. However, If the house spoke to Wyeth emotionally, perhaps some residue of that emotion was there in the light and the air, perhaps even bits of the spirits of Christina and Alvaro Olson were there to be detected and photographed.