Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry

Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry
order now for delivery by Sept. 2015

Friday, October 9, 2009

Farm Fence & Quonset Barn

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL:
"The Road from Sedgewick Hollow," Part I

The road back from Sedgewick Hollow leads through another century. When I point my GPS toward home it plots a course from the Hollow, not always the same course, through a warren of old country roads. Some are crumbling pavement, some have never been paved. The way is always sparsely settled and with more than its share of 18th century buildings and a few ruins. Without the soothing voice of Gidget, my GPS, I'd quickly be lost in time. After leaving Sedgewick Hollow she doesn't reach a road with a route number until I'm a few minutes from home.

I've been photographing in Sedgewick Hollow frequently over the past three weeks. Along one of the common routes, half way to the hollow the road forks. Both roads lead to Sedgewick Hollow, but I hadn't noticed that along this route Gidget took the left fork through the valley on the way out, but she brought me home over Great Hill and through the right fork. As a result, when I returned home from Sedgewick Hollow two weeks ago, I didn't know quite where I was when I stopped. I stopped in the futile hope of photographing a scene which had ended moments earlier. I'd have to find my way back here, wherever here is, at the next sunset when the sky was clear, and it would have to be soon.

At the top of Great Hill is a level area which may have been pasture once but which had become swamp. Leaves turn earlier around swamps, and here they had recently burst into color. As I reached the top of the hill, and came out of the woodland into the open swamp, the last few minutes of sunlight were being filtered by low haze. There was just enough light to make me realize the spectacle the sun's clear backlighting had made moments earlier.

It wasn't until I returned a day or two later and began photographing that I realized the cleared area was part of a farm or what's left of a farm. Warped boards and rotting roofs, rusted machinery, and across from this structure a farmhouse and a ragged collection of wooden out buildings. Nobody was around, but the house was inhabited, and I didn't want to trespass. I learned later that there had originally been many more buildings, but the farm was badly damaged in the tornado that blew through a decade ago.

As I was shooting beside the road, a guy in a pickup stopped to chat, and I asked him if he knew who might give me permission to shoot the farmstead here. He had the whole family story. Uncle Frank and Uncle Martin had died recently. Frank kept "the mother farm" going to the end, and Stephen ran this place and Martin had another place.... His explanations included names of roads I didn't know and, when I pressed him, directions I couldn't follow. I learned of marriages and divorces and who had done what and how they had or hadn't cared for each other as ends neared. He spoke to me as if everyone knew these people and where they lived. Clearly, this was an intimate community where everyone knew everyone. Still, I wanted permission to photograph here. Before he drove off I learned that the only one left was Aunt Josephine, and she was living on the "mother farm," to which I made sure I had good directions. She would certainly give me permission.

I would find Josephine before returning home.