•COMING IN SEPTEMBER, 2015•

Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry

by Emery Roth

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Classic III

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: I visited Olana again this weekend, this time with several photographer friends. Again I found myself with little interest in shooting, and the experience leaves me again thinking about my goals as a photographer. My companions had no trouble, and when I asked one of them about my problem, I understood him to say he looks to play up the natural drama of the building, its towering height, its setting, its exotic style.

Of course, he's right. If I were creating a postcard or a flier that's what I'd do. Olana is far less beautiful and less well known than the Taj Mahal, but I'd face a similar problem there. Each of these buildings is such a distinct presence, a thing in itself, a finished work that it is hard to make something entirely new from it or find a universal in it or extend the thought beyond the thing itself. Is that my problem?

  • What is it that characterizes such sites?
  • Why didn't I face similar problems at the Wyeth sites? Could it be because Wyeth's painting of those sites initiates a dialogue and one can try to join in?
  • Is the situation the same in the middle of Times Square, or the Grand Canal in Venice? Perhaps if I stand where Turner stood and watch what passes today?
  • Would it help if there were a famous painting of Olana?

I guess the best course to follow at such sites as in Times Square is to photograph the visitors (Alas, few visitors usually at Olana.) In any case, the more exciting approach for me is to find angles as Steve McCurry did when he captured the Taj Mahal from behind a steam locomotive.

I've looked for an angle at Olana. In spite of having the Hudson River and Catskill Mountains as props, I haven't yet found it. I'll probably try in the spring to find a nearby hill and some favorable light. Or will I have to arrive at the crack of dawn when fog rising from the river makes Olana into a cloud-wrapped, Kubla Khan dream? Or do I have to cross the river to find my angle from the other side as the sun behind my shoulder kisses Olana's roofs at dusk. Or is it best to just move on?