Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry

Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry
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Saturday, February 7, 2009

Explorations of Form No.15, Perspective


PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: Thursday, Jan 29 - Photography is an art of the possible. I had more sluice to shoot, but I needed bright sunshine and the road toward Collinsville led into clouds. There would be good theater lights from an open hilltop, but shooting the sluice in the river valley left me waiting. I set up my tripod and tried to figure out how things worked.

The Farmington River bends sharply as it leaves Collinsville. The old mills are situated on the flat rocky land at the river bend, where the water level drops abruptly. I'm drawn to the Collins Factory site in part by the labyrinth of channels into which the Farmington River was divided in order to power the ancient machinery. The channels run between, around, and under the old mill buildings. They are a labyrinth of moats that move water independently of the way people move through the site. Is it my childhood love of old forts and castles at work again? I'm still trying to figure out how to photograph the mysteries of these moats.

I was shooting where the uppermost water is drawn off to supply the main canal. At the front of the oldest mill buildings a picturesque reflecting pool holds water from above the falls. This is the view most people see. When the wind is calm the pool mirrors the factory facade before the water tumbles over a grand cascade back to the river, but there is a secret channel that leads water beneath the buildings (Previous photos of pool and cascade: 1, 2, 3, 4). I was shooting at the back where the channel emerges.

The gears I was shooting serve sluice gates there. Six identical sets of gears and gates control the flow of water here. On the downstream side of the gates the channel divides. To the right two more gates control a stream that quickly plunges 15 feet to a deep moat. The moat bobs beneath various downstream shops. To the left the water flows freely to supply the main canal and its offshoots which turn the wheels of many more downstream shops. The gates I was shooting control the water that powered most of the old plant.

However other channels might have been rumbling further off beneath the mill. I've been in the basement and photographed where the last and greatest of the turbines catches the flow. Only a small leak hints that there is water that passes there, but I know which channel carries that water back to the river. As there is a maze of moats below, there is similarly a maze of bridges and access roads above. However, mapping canals and figuring out sluice mechanisms is not photography.

The sun emerged fully from behind the clouds just as the great stack that towers over all of the factory cast its shadow over my chosen subject, a colossal sundial. I waited another 15 minutes for the shadow to advance past my subject. Photography is an art of the possible; often I wait more than I shoot.