Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry

Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry
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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Twin Elm Farm, October, 2009

THOMAS DE QUINCEY: "Cows are amongst the gentlest of breathing creatures; none show more passionate tenderness to their young when deprived of them; and, in short, I am not ashamed to profess a deep love for these quiet creatures."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: What is the patience of a cow? And what might a photographer do to try it? Yesterday I had a lesson in the nature of cow patience. When among the dairy ladies I move in bovine time. I want them to stay settled - maybe even forget I'm there. Too much movement, and they may come over to inspect. Move suddenly, and they spook. Yesterday one of them wanted her picture taken. She followed me down to the lower yard and stood and waited, and she'd actually found some rather nice light. The problem is, every time I started clicking the shutter, she'd turn away. When I put my lens down and looked at her, she'd turn back to where I wanted her, but as soon as I started clicking, the head would turn away. I couldn't quite get it framed as I wanted, and so we played this game over and over. She continued posing and turning and posing and turning until I exceeded her speed limit, exceeded her rpm's. All at once, she stepped back, turned around, and walked back to the first yard. Not only that, but a few moments later another cow who had been watching us followed her leaving me alone the yard. I was being snubbed by cows. I could almost feel disgust in their departing footsteps.

I followed them into the other yard, but they were by then in the far corner, and they clearly wanted nothing to do with me. For awhile I photographed other things. Three of them left the yard completely and moved into the muddy interior yard down between the buildings by the honey wagon. It was a place I was reluctant to go without my rubber boots, but finally I followed them there. I stood amid the muck just on the other side of deep puddles. The cows knew I could go no further. I watched as they began grooming each other and nuzzling. I was surprised at how affectionate the ladies were to each other. Much later in the afternoon I circled round the barns and photographed a bit from the other side of the puddles. I think at that point they forgave me, because they came over to the fence where I was standing. I wonder how they'll receive me when I go back today. It will be a test of cow memory.