•COMING IN SEPTEMBER, 2015•

Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry

by Emery Roth

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Unplugged


PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL:  "Ruin porn"? That my pictures lack social purpose, I freely admit. I admit also that if staging is dishonest, I am guilty. I have waited for people to move off camera so I could, maybe, catch the desolation that lay between a shadow and a crumbling wall, though people were bustling all around; and I've turned away from a thriving new supermarket on one side of the street in order to photograph on the other side the eyeless eyes of a ruined factory where broken mullions still clung to shards of glass.  Once, I even copped a sky. My aim is not to provide documentation.

As to the charge of gawking, I recognize there may be others who feel the pain of the ruin more immediately and materially than I do, and I sympathize with them. However, the accident belongs to all of us; it is ongoing, and we are all gawkers and eventual victims, though most among us, myself included, haven't quite acknowledged how personally and totally we are involved.  We gawk to satisfy a yearning for answers to questions that lie beyond understanding.  If such a thing as art exists, surely it has something to do with this kind of inquest. 

Of course such meditations may be spun, not only from building ruins, but from old, rotting corn husks, from lilies rising from the mud of a pond bottom, or even from ice melting at the end of winter. I've seen the questions appear within a small universe defined by a window and a storm window on an old barn. Is the essential mystery the fluid impermanence of all things, the stealthy way today has of suddenly being tomorrow or the day after, with half shadows of many yesterdays, as if all creation were nothing but a never-ending palimpsest swirling by us, calling to us to pay attention and see where we fit?

Of all the ruined, old, factory sheds I have photographed, this is the most boundless, dark, and mysterious. Several large sheds huddle side-by-side, bay after bay, up the hill from the Naugatuck River. Between, up, around and over the sheds, masonry walls melt to a tangle of stairs, passageways workshops and offices clustered in crevices. In some places stairs ascend to balconies, high up doorways and catwalks; and in other places concrete steps descend beneath the slab and into darkness. Once a workforce of many thousands were busy here making large machinery for world-wide manufacturing. Machines too large to fit on a railroad car could be loaded on barges and sent downstream to the harbor in Bridgeport. Giant cranes lie rusting overhead. Now it is a salvage warehouse for what look like used, power components from other idle or demolished factories; it is a landscape of imported wreckage.