•COMING IN SEPTEMBER, 2015•

Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry

by Emery Roth

Monday, October 12, 2009

Quonset Barn & Swamp Foliage

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: "The Road from Sedgewick Hollow," Part 2

I knew I was heading toward a dead end. Not finding an outlet ahead and forbidden to make a u-turn, Gidget was near to having a nervous breakdown. She kept plotting the course over and over again, continually repeating, "Recalculating!" Moments later the road ended in a farmyard and I found my car surrounded by howling hounds. This was not the way I had hoped to introduce myself to Aunt Josephine. As they often do, the public road had turned private without warning, and I struggled to turn my car without squashing any of the pooch pack. Then Aunt Josephine appeared, running from the house and waving her arms. No. running is the wrong word. She moved as if her hips were frozen across, and the waving arms might have been unsteadiness, but she was moving fast, and I was surprised at how quickly she was beside the car. She was shouting something, and as I was backing to leave I simultaneously did my best to lower the window and the radio so I could hear what she was saying.

"Stop, he'll run right under the wheels." She was already bent over and snatching a long and low brown dust mop of a dog from the ground and restraining him forcibly in her arms as he tried to sniff at me. The barking continued through my introduction and apology. The commotion had not kept me from noticing that, "the mother farm," was even more photogenic than the buildings across from the quonset barn.

She was a trim octogenarian. Her hair was long and straight, her cheeks hollow and pale. Her eyes were straight slits. If there were any curves on her they had long ago been lost in the baggy overalls she wore, but she finally smiled and seemed happy to chat. My repeated apologies eventually put her at ease, and half the dogs had stopped barking so I could almost hear what Aunt Josephine was saying. I got a bit of farm history before I put my question to her, "May I photograph these barns?"

There was a long pause and a breath, and she looked right at me and the pupils of her eyes narrowed. It was as if she was trying to look inside me and a century suddenly had flown between us. "No." It was a strange "no," - full of forced determination. Then she added, "but if you talk to my niece she can give you permission. She's away now but she'll be back tomorrow.

She seemed quite unaware that I might not know who her niece was or where to find her. I had to ask repeatedly until she finally said, "Well, she's just over the hill," and she pointed vaguely somewhere behind the barns. There was no road that way, nothing but woods. I think she quite expected me to set off into the woods on foot, but I finally made clear to her that I needed directions my car could follow. As it turns out, the niece lived back where I started, at the house across from quonset farm.

I puzzled over the meaning of her, "No," and the subsequent half retraction. I took a few days before I went to see the niece. I wanted to be sure aunt and niece had time to deliberate. When I drove into the niece's yard, there were no dogs, but immediately the niece came running from the barns in overalls looking like a slightly younger version of Aunt Josephine. Before I could fully get my question out she interrupted me, "No." Clearly the two had met and the issue had been decided. "No photographs," she repeated. I tried to make conversation and barely got out that I'd photographed the swamp, but she was already heading into the house. Her voice trailed as she went inside, "You can photograph the swamp all you want."

All the photos I've made of Great Hill Farm have been from the public road.