Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry

Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry
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Friday, November 6, 2009

Oh Hayloft Where the Cobwebs Cling

ANDREW WYETH: "My aim is to escape from the medium with which I work. To leave no residue of technical mannerisms to stand between my expression and the observer. To seek freedom of so-called free and accidental brushwork . . . Not to exhibit craft but rather to submerge it; and make it rightfully the hand-maiden of beauty, power and emotional content."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Later in the afternoon I'm following the light beam from the gable window into a new quadrant of the barn where it is lighting some webs. Karl the host is working there. I watch. He is excavating bales from the back of a shaft that leads through the hay to near where my beam is falling. He has a small hand cart and is calmly loading bales and shuttling them to a new location in the shadows at the other side of the barn. He works slowly but steadily. There is no way for both of us to work in the shaftway at the same time. I watch some more. Can I get in as he leaves, make my three exposures, and get out before he's back for more bales?

I watch him leave - he has a half dozen bales precariously balanced - and then slip into the shaft where there is scant room for me and my tripod. To get my angle I'm squeezed against the hay bales, and I feel the dust and grit slipping into my shirt collar. The shaft has the feel of a catacomb, and I understand why Karl wears a face mask as he works. I set my tripod as I listen for Karl's approaching footsteps and the grumble of his cart. I must make three exposures without moving the camera. The composition is fussy and I struggle with the tripod to get the lens into position. I hurry. Haste makes waste. I do the longest exposure first, two long minutes. Two minutes of grit down my collar. Two minutes through which I keep listening and doing my best not to move. Then exposure two, thirty seconds. If I can get this one done, the last is only 8 seconds, and I'm at it, and it's done.

I'm already gathering my tripod and camera before I hear the grumbling wheels and the reply of the floor boards in the next room, and I hurry out of the shaft. In three more intervals, while Karl ferries hay, I complete two more sets, compositional variations.