•COMING IN SEPTEMBER, 2015•

Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry

by Emery Roth

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Blacksmith's Hand

JOHN ROSENTHAL: "As a fledgling street photographer strolling up and down the streets of cities, I quickly became aware of Time and its erosive power. My early photographs focused almost exclusively on the signs of an older culture that was holding on for dear life. I'd photograph seltzer bottles in old wooden crates piled high in a truck, or the dusty windows of Jewish bread shops, or old men building February fires on the beaches of Coney Island. My interest was more than documentary, for it seemed to me that what was about to vanish was important and irreplaceable, and frankly, I wanted my photographs to offer, in some manner, the power of resuscitation. Actually, I still do, though I no longer believe that photographs can prevent the homely past from being plowed under; rather, I believe that photographs - especially good photographs that compel our interest - help us to remember; and even more importantly, they help us to decide what is worth remembering."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: What makes a picture? Is it this old Buffalo Forge blower, No. 625. I found one like it in a 1908 Buffalo Forge catalogue on the internet. Before hand blowers like this became available in the 1880s the blacksmith would have needed a large bellows and an assistant to work the iron.

Or is it about where the blower was in the room, the arrangement of hearth, blower, anvil that let the blacksmith's work flow?

Or should the photo rather be about where it was in the rectangle of the picture - not really about the blower or the blacksmith at all but a pleasing and harmonious composition of forms, colors, textures, light?

 If the photo can transcend the place, can it conjure the absent hand that turned the crank to deliver the blast of air that made the coals glow and superheated the metal in the forge until the blacksmith saw it turn the right color, lifted it from the forge, and turned to the anvil to begin his hammering?

And can it capture at the same time that absent hand and the quiet that dwells in the shop now and haunts this old farm?