Monday, April 25, 2011

Break Time

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: What do I think about as I walk hallways in these old mills? What is the flavor of their melancholy? They are wistful only in retrospect, and it's hard to reflect without remembering dark chapters in the struggles of labor in America. However, the political lens is shallow and one-dimensional, and many company towns tell different stories. Drive the streets and look at the number and quality of the houses. They suggest a measure of the lives lived there.

Whether one finds oppression or fair dealing, these brick, mill buildings were built to last, and the companies that built them were invested there. Decisions made there were rooted there; good will or ill will had nowhere else to go, and the bargains struck, ordered relationships and lives and stamped their imprint on every enterprise. Local laws and governments were structured by that imprint, schools were run by the patterns of the mill, and the day was regulated by the factory whistle and the punch clock. Wiki tells us that the first punch clock was invented in 1888, by William Bundy, a jeweler in Auburn, NY. Was it a milestone in our relationship with time?

Break time is over, and the hum is long gone. Though we live in a different world today, to what extent do we still live inside these old walls. Or are there new walls as invisible and ubiquitous as the World Wide Web rising up and shimmering faintly across newly formatted terabytes.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Silo Passage

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL - The milk bottle, almost as we used to know it, was invented in 1884. Before bottles, farmers dippered milk to customers from a can. First customers got pure cream, the last got skim milk and considerable road grit. Sanitation was unthought of. Even though Louis Pasteur had invented pasteurization 21 years earlier, commercial pasteurization didn't become common until 1895. The first bottles were plugged with glass stoppers wired in place, but the waxed paper seal that I recall soon became common. It was around the same time that railroads began supplying city dwellers with milk from farms hours away.

The bottles from my childhood came in two varieties. Old-fashioned milk came in a double-bubble bottle with a goiter-like swelling in the neck where the heavy cream could collect. Homogenized milk, invented in 1899, came with short, squat necks. Full bottles were delivered to the door by a milkman who took away the jingling empties.

Even in the early fifties a milkman still made the rounds delivering Sealtest homogenized to our apartment on the 16th floor of a building in New York City. I can still recall the sensation of lifting off the paper bonnet, like a shower cap, that wrapped over the mouth of the bottle and kept it clean, then lifting the tab in the center of the waxed, paper seal and popping the top.

The bottles are gone; the waxed cartons that succeeded them are gone; the milkmen are long gone; even the railroads that carried the milk to the city are gone, and milk in plastic jugs travels from large farms and "bottlers" in ever more distant places. The milk in my refrigerator in Connecticut bears codes that indicate it comes from Virginia. Nothing about the production of milk is the same as it was in the twentieth century.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Water Music #2


Invasion of the Skunk Cabbages, Part II

Sometimes there is a short stalk beside the spathe, leaves furled tight and waiting while the golden orb expends heat, is pollinated, turns brown. As each orb cools, the stalks unfurl into a canopy of broad, green, sun-soaking leaves, but growth is all downward. While most things grow up, these aliens send out pulsing roots that pry ever-deeper into the mud, become more tenaciously anchored and impossible to remove. Then the leaves vanish. They don't decay, they dissolve, but beneath the ground and inside each expanding and ever-deepening leaf stalk lies a succession of tiny orbs wrapped in tiny spathes, each one smaller than the one above, spiraling downward into the future.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Water Music #1


Invasion of the Skunk Cabbages, Part I

Alien things, deep in the frozen mud of March, they begin warming, surging, melting the icy earth above them, spathes twisting hotly up through ooze. One day, near where the pond is silted out are a hundred, little, wine-colored hoods poking aside dry, forest detritus; each spathe peeking at the windy world; they are tents encamped amid death in the frozen wetland. Hooded and hidden inside each spathe is a spadix, a golden orb. The air around the spathe is warm and heavy and smells of decay; the scent filters through undergrowth, waking beetles and spiders and flies, calling them to the orb. Inside each purple spathe the warm air is a vortex around the orb, and the whirling smell of cadaverine is intoxicating.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Patent Pending, Unadilla Silo Co.


"Silage: Process in Process"

WHEN: April 29 to May 15 (Fri thru Sun, 11-6)
OPENING RECEPTION: April 30 from 1 to 4 PM

Also exhibiting will be painter, Karen Pepper, with an exhibition entitled, "The Lei Collection"

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Perhaps "silage" is a rather unpromising name for an exhibition. Silage is stalks and greens which a farmer ferments in airtight conditions to preserve its nutritional value. Silage provides the necessary, high-energy, diet that will allow his cows to continue giving milk through the winter. It is not especially photogenic, but it reflects a fundamental concept that informs most of my photography and writing: Everything is always in process. Existence is incessant transformation. This is not meant to be especially profound, only that it's there every time I click the shutter, and it will provide an organizing point for the pictures exhibited at the White Silo Farm & Winery, at least one of which will be of a silo.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Hanover Hill Postcard

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: In this shot I've moved southeast of Hanover Hill Farm and can see all four silos. I said I had, "little interest in documenting the appearance of farmsteads." Yet I do it all the time. I have hard drives of images showing dozens of local sites through all seasons of the year and in every light, and most of them do little or nothing more than document what the place looked like at a particular moment.

The best of them do it gracefully like a good postcard that will make the folks back home wish they were there too, but the quest is not for postcards and, "wish you were here," but pictures that transport, evoke, move us to some other place, make us feel the earth curving, breezes cooling, the fog afloat in the hollow.

In any case, this photo makes no pretensions to doing that. What you see is what you get.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Spring Storm over Hanover Hill

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: How different Hanover Hill Farm looks from this spot at the edge of the fields by Route 22 instead of, as in the previous two photos, from the top of a hillside pasture a quarter mile north and just beyond Coleman Station! The compass points of all three shots are not too different. From the distant hillside the farmstead seemed in a valley. Here it is clear it is on the top of the hill. You can't tell what things will look like 'til you get there.

I took this photograph of Hanover Hill Farm on May 27, 2008. Until the barns in the photograph burned last month this image sat with the two previous images and other photos of Hanover Hill; all set aside and bypassed. Now that the barns have burned, and I know there will be no more images, I'm moved to post these. I claim to have little interest in documenting the appearance of farmsteads; a "memorial edition" seems out of character. In fact the real reason for selecting these now is that I believe they are finally done.

The caretaker was very clear, "No trespassing!" Without being able to see what happens 10 or 20 or 100 feet out in the field, how the roll of the landscape shifts, what happens as the distant mountains appear, what opportunities the corn rows may offer and a hundred other changes, I had a feeling of unfinished business, and I was reluctant to accept what the convenience of the public roadside offered. Of course, I had come here because it seemed the ideal place from which to catch the passing storm.

P.S. Anyone familiar with the wisdom of Derszu Uzala in the film of the same name may recall his comment that the birds always begin to sing just before the storm ends. Close examination of the above photo will show the birds are active.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Hanover Hill Farm in Decline

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Of course the barns that burned were ruins long before the fire - windows broken, roof tiles slipping, vultures roosting, tin flashing flapping in the wind and skeletal sheds gaping like death. In an area of so many large barns, the immensity and gloom of this farmstead has intrigued me since I first spotted it while driving along Route 22.

Then again, its not really about the barns so much as it's about shapes and forms and flickering rhythms and tones and the way amber rambles into blue as the seasons and the light change.

This image was taken on December 14, 2009 from almost the same location as the previous image.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Poised for Spring

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: This broad valley that lies between high ridges along the Connecticut border and a parallel line of New York Hills; and which runs from above Copake south for 20 or 25 miles past Amenia is, throughout its length, a nearly continuous corridor of rolling amber. It's rare in this part of the country to find so many broad, arable fields where a farmer can plow for long stretches without turning - hard to find such expanses of good grazing land. It's worlds away from Connecticut, back across the ridge.

By the middle of the 19th century the New York and Harlem Railroad connected these farmlands to markets in NYC, and different parts of the valley became home to Sheffield and Borden dairies. As one might expect, farmsteads here are unusually large, and their emptiness reverberates the energies that once charged the region with purpose. 

I took this picture on March 8th of 2009.  At the same time this year the valley was still buried under snow, and the crusty ice of the Smithfield ice storm, (2 photos back), just one valley over, was only 4 days old.

Two weeks later, March 26th of this year, the barns in this picture, probably the largest in the valley, burned to the ground, though it will have little effect on the arrival of spring.  I'm sure it's coming.  I heard the peepers.

Below are links to other images and posts from this valley:
Grand Cowshed (these barns close up)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Mute White



The slight of white dusting of snow
Eggshell pall above the still pond
Deadpan winter unaware
Of transmutations in the muds below.
How long before this image dissolves
Into the mirage of another day?