Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry

by Emery Roth

Friday, May 1, 2009

Waller Under Spring Clouds, April 23rd, 2009

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: The barns of Waller are venerable. That's as simply as I can say it. Unless I'm preoccupied or totally insensitive I can't pass here without feeling their power. How long it took me to understand! They are so quiet now; they barely whisper, and twice a year the fields are hayed. Are the barns also in retirement? I like sharing in their quietness and their testimony, and it can't help but influence the kinds of photographs I make here.

The barns are great hollow shells. Inside, empty cow stalls remind us that this field once reeked of cow manure and urine, that it was often mostly mud. Or, more likely cows grazed on the uphill slopes, and this flat, rich land was planted with corn. One of the barns is a tobacco barn. At some point tobacco grown here supplied the prized wrappers for which Connecticut was known. What did farming look like when the American Revolution stirred within some of these walls? But even without their pedigree, the barns themselves are a venerable presence. It's in the wooden clapboards that hold their volume. They anchor the north end of The Great Hollow, one of the few places that a visitor from the late 18th century might almost recognize.

Others have noted that photography is 25% preparation and 75% luck. From two hills over, at the orchard on Baldwin Hill, I could see a patch of interesting cloud forms, and I calculated that the lake or Waller Farm might be, pardon the expression, ground zero. It's usually futile to chase clouds, but this felt right. I had to pass the lake to get to Waller. I rushed because the clouds were moving. Coming down the road from the left I saw my chance, parked, hoisted my pack, shouldered my tripod and took off across the field. Because I've shot here often, I knew where to stand to make the barns fan out across the field while putting the klieg light at the back. The first two exposures were a quick HDR set, just position, zoom, and shoot. I had time for five more shots and the clouds were gone. As it turns out, those last five shots were just wishful thinking. Fortunately, the first exposure was spot on, and I worked up two versions, one using the single shot and one with the HDR set.

A few other images made at Waller Farm:
The Hollow
Clarion Call
Peeking In
The Other Side
Colors of Winter
Waller Farm
Inner Space
Behind Inner Space
Composition in Triple Time
Barn Dance
Window Faces