Monday, March 15, 2010

Swages in Sunlight

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Once again I'm reminded that, because I always photograph under available light, it always starts with light. The blacksmith's shop is a difficult place to shoot. In the previous entry I described it as, "little disturbed for sixty years." It might have been more appropriate to say, "unused." The place itself looks like it has been shaken by an earthquake. As a result, it's hard enough to find places to stand, let alone walk. Debris lies everywhere in and around the orderly work patterns left by the last blacksmith. How to bring aesthetic order to chaos when it is hard simply getting the tripod in place?

And it can be a crazy lightbox too, especially when the ground outside was covered with snow. Much of the shop's siding is cracked, and light enters in shards from a thousand points perforating almost every usable background. All that light blinds sight while offering little useful illumination. Eight, irregularly placed windows along the east, south, and west walls have lost glass and mullions and recently even some frames have fallen apart. On sunny days, especially in winter when the sun is low, sunlight enters through these windows in tight beams; it might be fun to spend a full day there as the earth turns.

On my previous visit I'd taken a good photograph of the smith's large grindstone spotlighted in one of these beams. Then the sky had become overcast. This time the sky was clear, and I was returning expressly to follow the late day beams through the west-facing windows. Where would they lead me before the sun passed behind the nearby house and some minutes later, below the horizon? It was not the first time I'd followed the sun.

There is a large, free-standing bench or table outfitted with slots for holding the smith's, largest, hammers and long-handled sledges. It can be seen in the first picture I posted of the blacksmith's shop ( Just as I was entering the shop, sunlight touched the corner of this table for the first time.

I've worked as a carpenter, electrician; I've laid tile, and developed and printed film. I've even tried unsuccessfully to throw a few pots. I worked for an architectural model maker and learned to turn plexiglass and brillo into a miniature, city landscape. I can find my way around most of the traditional tools of these trades, but the tools of the blacksmith are foreign to me. Does one need incantations to work them? I believe two of the tools in this photograph are swages that might be used to help pound a rod to roundness. They are the size of a man's fist, and the first implies a cylindrical shape of considerable heft. What is the third tool? Does it have a special name or is it simply a customized, flathead hammer (a flatter) perhaps used for smoothing iron after drawing it out?

I could almost see the sun moving across the tools, and by its trajectory, the afternoon's shoot looked promising.