Sunday, August 28, 2011

Idling Crane

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: It has been dubbed, "ruin porn," identified as a currently fashionable genre of photography, and criticized for the irresponsible damage it does. The controversy was triggered by two photo books on the architectural ruins of Detroit, and much of the criticism came initially from champions for Detroit renewal. Detroit arguably shares with Chernobyl title to being the most spectacular collapse of industrial civilization on the planet. Detroit is more accessible than Chernobyl and has, therefore, become a small tourist mecca for the, "thrill seekers." To many Detroiters they are unwelcome.

I can't deny enjoying the thrill of exploring an old, abandoned site, and so it's appropriate to consider the complaint against photographs like mine and the reasons behind it. The crux of the argument as I understand it is that such photography is bad press, that it only makes matters worse for the real people who live amid the blight, and that it only serves to satisfy the frivolous yearnings of gawkers; it is, therefore, exploitive.

What is it that draws me to photograph ruins of all sorts, urban rural, industrial, or ancient? Is it a "thrill," only, nothing more than the pleasure of scratching an itch, or is it something worth focusing on? Does it have any power to unlock feelings or deepen understanding?

Friday, August 26, 2011


NOTE: I'm pleased to announce that this photo was one of several photographs awarded "Honorable Mention" at the art show of the Jewish Community Center in Sherman this evening.  It was an excellent exhibition.  All the prizes were given to paintings, so it's especially gratifying to receive this recognition. 

Because of storm warnings in anticipation of hurricane Irene, the exhibition has been shortened and will not be open Sunday as originally planned. There's still time to get there tomorrow, Saturday from 10 to 5.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

NOTE: The Jewish Community Center in Sherman, Connecticut, will be holding their annual juried art show this weekend, August 26-28. The opening with reception and awards will be on Friday from 5-7. The show will be open on Saturday from 10 AM to 5 PM and on Sunday from 10 AM to 2 PM. For additional info go to or call 860 355-8050.

Machinist's Still Life


Still Life

still life 
the story 
of life 
not quite still, 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Founder

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Google Earth reveals dozens of factory sheds along the river at the foot of what was once called, "Brass Valley." The foundry takes up a portion of one shed. It is probably the last major piece of the old technology still running anywhere on the rusty campus.

On the day I took this picture the temperature outside was pushing toward 100 degrees, and it was considerably hotter inside the foundry. The normally waxy air was pudding. I can only imagine what it was like at the console beside the furnace where Mike works all day. Except when the billets are pulled from the form, he generally works alone. The console lets him monitor the all-important temperature of the brew, control the melt and tip the crucible to set the correct flow. The copper must be poured slowly, and the molds are large, so much of his time is spent waiting beside the furnace. Periodically he rakes out the channel through which the molten copper is flowing, and the rake showers him in sparks. However, most of the action comes at the end of the process, when the billets are hoisted by crane from the molds and the furnace is reset and charged for the next pour.

As Mike went on break between pours, I tried to catch a casual shot of him with the foundry behind, but when he saw the camera he stopped and posed proudly.

Friday, August 19, 2011

At the Cutting Edge No.2



Amid the foundry's hollow rumble:
the shapes of idle benches trace 
the path of spectral pipe
that circumnavigated the globe,
and a sign from OSHA rots and warns
where grease of absent fingers plays
on the buttons that hang from the overhead crane,
and here at a bench where power surges
where are the hard hats and safety glasses
for the queued shadows of the next shift?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Foundry

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: The foundry sits on the site where Anson Phelps founded the original Ansonia Brass & Battery Co.  At the center of the foundry the furnace rumbles. It's so large that its ducts and stacks disappear among the dark trusses of the foundry's roof, so large its hard to find a place to stand back and take it all in. It's a twisting, sculptural pile of ducts, pipes, wires, a tin dragon with the giant crucible at its center.

"Foundry"! I'd forgotten the origin of the word, from fundus, bottom or base. The founder was the one who gave the base metal its form and properties. He was the magic man who knew the spells and recipes and the Birmingham secrets, who summoned furious fires and tempered their burn, who charged the crucible, melted the charge and balanced the melt with alloys, and refined it to purge unwanted gases and who determined at last when the time was right for tapping. The founder was a magic man who toned and tuned the molecules and engineered machines and factories that turned base metal into wealth and power.

The great, Faustian beast still rumbles and roars, the fire in its belly kept hot by a few machinists and engineers with a supply of parts, grease and belts. The fire is reduced and the output of brass, a trickle. Looking closely around the rusting stacks and pipes, bins and tanks, someone with knowledge could read a furnace history in the alterations, adaptations and innovations, encrustations wrought by earlier generations to make founding foolproof. Abandoned machines sit idle and corroding, becoming fossils even as core operations churn slowly. It's the last of its kind, the end of a line. In it are the alchemists' secrets, though the alchemists themselves have moved on.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

At the Crucible

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: The casting shop is a place of Stygian magnificence. Although the end of the shed is open to fresh air and daylight, inside the air is viscous and sooty, and one sees as if through cataracts into a tarred and dusted world that sucks up light and then suddenly sparkles and flares. Yesterday's image was shot here shortly after a truckload of scrap had been delivered. Along the edges of darkness they stacked gleaming bricks of discarded copper wire pressed tight the way unwanted cars are pressed tight at the auto junkyard. Wherever light caught the edges of the bricks they lit up like treasure chests.

The shed is extensive and lofty, and daylight glares from points on the far perimeter. It is strewn with dinosaurs of the brass industry's past, conveyors and compressors, tanks, pipes, and ducts, strange engines the size of cabins, rusted relics. Most appear to be in ruins, but along the back wall, as if from a great cave, this giant crucible still roars and glows. As Mike pushes a button the crucible tips, and molten copper flows into two molds. The molds are hard to make out as they drop into a pit below floor level where they are bathed in luminous water. It takes a long time for the molds to fill, but once they are loaded and gently cooled, Mike will hoist out two pillars of copper, fatter than telephone poles and glowing red.

The casting shed is a nasty place for taking pictures, with both too little and too much light. I put on my fastest lens, stop it all the way open, turn the ISO up to 1600 and try to squeeze out acceptable exposures at 1/80th of a second while dodging lens flare. I can't see to focus, and at f/1.8 focus should be precise. Sometimes I have trouble seeing the compositions through the viewfinder, and as I work my hands and gear turn black and buttery. It is a nasty place for taking pictures, and I keep going back for more.

Monday, August 8, 2011


A Gordian Knot

wriggled free of earth, 
in fact, mind's alchemy conjures them 
to charge and channel the forms of mind,
but where did mind wriggle from, and 
what are its boundaries? 
Truly a can of worms!

Thursday, August 4, 2011



I read Brent's email message late one Sunday evening, and I understood it was sent with the same spirit and urgency one gives to notes sharing news of the looming death of a dear, old friend. This note concerned a barn. It stood in the very center of the Great Hollow in Kent, Connecticut, and I had been exploring and photographing it with permission of the owner for several years. The barn was not especially old, but it looked massive, and even though it was not authentic (not even a real gambrel but a 1940's, hoop-less, barrel-like concoction), it completed the farmstead of an authentic 18th century farmhouse and was iconic New England. Though there were much older barns in the Great Hollow, no postcard would better proclaim the farm heritage of the place than one showing this farmstead.

Many times while shooting here I had walked the short ramp to the spot in the side where the barrel roof had been framed out to make a large door through which tractors and wagons once entered the barn. I had never dared to step inside. The floor was rotten. The space was dark and vast, and it took several visits before I noted a wooden structure, like a small silo near the back wall. Only then did I also find the narrow stair where the neighboring barn abutted, a stair which wound down to a passage and to what I took to be a cramped milking room. It must have been the height of modernity in the '40's when the complex was built. It had a well that seemed too narrow for cows. I would have loved to have seen how it worked. Grain was gravity fed from the previously mentioned bin in the hayloft above to several dispensers around the perimeter and above the milk room well. Locals occasionally recalled when this farm had filled the center of the hollow with cows.

I had, in fact, visited a few days before Brent's email and had noticed and photographed strange bulges in the roof, like the hemorrhaging of some internal organ beneath the skin of an animal or like a huge blister ready to pop. I had no idea then that the disease was fatal. When I finally got back a few days after Brent's email, I was too late.

Barns fail from the roof down, but it's usually the structural members that support the roof that rot and give way. This barn was all roof; the great barrel rested on the masonry of the lower level, dug into the hill and below ground; when the western two-thirds gave way it came down level with the ground. The world unwinds slowly, but sometimes the signature event is over so quickly nobody hears it fall or knows what's gone.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Daily Passages



Old faces
Attendant at the stoop.
Familiar handshake,
Full fist of cool brass
And the twitter of the hinges. -

The mind embraces them decades later;

And decades later,
There at the threshold,
Does the music also still resound,
Footfalls' echoes pad the hall?

Monday, August 1, 2011

School's Out

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: As my photographic explorations among the hills of Connecticut, New York and Massachusetts carry me further from home I've often been surprised at the number of one room school houses that remain standing. Perhaps because I grew up in the city, I used to imagine these old structures to be relics of the 19th century, and I wondered how it could be that they remain standing.

Fortunately, some have historical markers from which I've learned that in rural areas within an hour or two of New York City one room schoolhouses were common into the 1940s, and it is in their nature that there were many; sometimes one every two or three miles, as the students who attended them lived within walking distance. They also survive because memories maintain them; those who were students there in the thirties and forties will sometimes do the bit of upkeep and lobby to restore them. On the Connecticut side of the border many have been accepted as cultural artifacts worthy of town funds and historic preservation. More often, on the New York side of the border they are lonely places that show their age and remind us how time slips insidiously by and how much we have changed.

NOTE: Special thanks to my friend Martin Kimmeldorf who has taken two of my photos and edited and combined them with images and words of his own. I recommend visiting his sites: