Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Just in Case of Owls

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL:  It was our friend who spotted it there on the branch of the hemlock just outside our bedroom window and called us.  Living in the woods we hear them sometimes at night, and occasionally they swoop across the road as we drive up the valley, and it's hard to be sure who is more startled. Even then, daytime sightings are a sign of turmoil and are brief. I've never seen one stopped, waiting. An owl here? ...perched on a branch three feet from where we slept? We were spellbound, whispering. It was more than impossible; it was portentous, worthy of Poe. Then I remembered the pair of cardinals that had been pestering the glass at our bathroom window and nesting there a dozen feet away, easy prey. 

Regardless of any deeper meaning, this was a two-gallon owl and a clear photo op, but to catch the image I had to shoot obliquely through a thermal window.  Light was low and exposure settings were extreme.  The owl seemed to feel safe even from photography on the other side of the murky glass, though once or twice it looked our way.  After shooting as best I could through the window, I decided to go outside and walk around the house to where the owl was perched, but before I could get within fifty feet, I saw the great pointy wings turn slantwise and launch between branches into the deeper woods and then vanish like smoke as if the bird had been a sorcerer all along.

Shot, as it was, through thermopane, I didn't expect much from the image, nor is it a technique I'll look to repeat, but I wouldn't mind having a thermo-optic filter in the kit just in case of owls.

Sunday, December 23, 2012



Saturday, December 22, 2012

Blacksmith's Shop in Winter

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: The solstice brought snow reminding us that the holiday season is suddenly here whether we feel ready for it or not. My day began when Jane nudged me to consciousness and said, "Look, how pretty!" as she looked out our window at the snow-trimmed hemlock and our felled oak, coated in snow. 

I shot this image of the old blacksmith shop in January of 2010, after another light snowfall.  I wonder what marks three more winters have left. Photographs track me like footprints along a path that has so far led from cow tracks to train tracks in a search to photograph secrets and beauties where I live.

Brass billets have been piling up in Waterbury while the extruder has been out of commission, but the outlook in the factory is good for the new year. That's good for those who work there and good for making photographs.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Viridescence 2


The Sea Turtle

Color, light and melody glide
beside oblique arpeggiation.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Preparing the Charge, No.2

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL:  Photographing fire has always seemed to me a tricky thing to do and rarely fully satisfactory. Photographing it here, where soot-coated walls suck up all ambient light, gave me special difficulty. I'm at ISO 1600, f/1.8 and a shutter speed of 1/60. Without further processing in Photoshop the fire is blown out, and everywhere else details are buried in shadow. Willy was mostly in motion, so I set my focus point to the scrap, copper tubes. This is another of the images taken the first time I witnessed the charging of the furnace. Here he is heating the initial charge to a precise temperature. The second time I saw the charge, I arrived too late to catch this part.

Today I went back, hoping to catch the ritual blaze again, but the best guess now is that the initial charge of the furnace will be tomorrow or Saturday when I can't be there. No matter.  I spent  three hours in the powerhouse. 

I believe I have now done serious shoots in every important interior space of photographic interest that I've been able to find at both the Waterbury and Ansonia campuses. How many buildings is that? Most of these spaces are unused. Some are abandoned, but I've posted few photos from them.  I'm not sure why I reached the powerhouse last. It is rich with potential still. Shooting there makes me think that I have arrived at a milestone where I can begin to assess the scope of what I'm about and plan a bit on how to continue and what the end production might be.  Each of the abandoned spaces will be a photographic adventure in light.  

Today, just as I was leaving the powerhouse, the low, winter sun came around to the front of the building and shines through the tall front windows, and how it shines across a wall of gauges and knobs and across large engines that cast monster shadows in one of the two three-story spaces in the building.  I know I also need a dark, overcast day to shoot the adjacent, three-story machine room beside where steam boilers used to hiss and roar.  I need to think about each space in relation to seasons and sunlight.  I need to focus on exteriors. I need to talk to Wally who knows some of the history and how everything works. It's time to plan.

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Charge

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL:  This week they are again rebuilding the furnace inside the foundry. I hope to be back then to catch a repeat of the ritual shown here.

The first time the furnace is restarted after any repair is a photo event.  The first time I saw it, I didn't know what to expect.  When the big shower of sparks began I was too close, the wave of sparks flew by too quickly, and the exposures I had guessed at were overwhelmed. I shot with the bucket in profile, but the light of the pour was huge, and the dark bucket form was uninteresting.  I readjusted as best I could, but there was no time to move to a new angle.

In a blog entry of that event on March 18, 2012 (http://rothphotos.blogspot.com/2012_03_18_archive.html) I described the charging process, but I had missed my "money shot." I shot good images of Willy and Lucio preparing the metal for the charge, but none of this dramatic moment.

This image is from October 4th when I got my second chance.  With my camera set to ISO 500, f/1.8, and a shutter speed of 1/125th, I chose to shoot from behind the crucible as it poured. It had been the least likely choice. From this angle the crucible blocked the pour but also blocked the glaring shower of sparks that erupts, and reveals the striking silhouette.  What I had not counted on was added light from windows behind me that helped illuminate foreground forms and which let me relax exposure settings beyond what is possible further inside the gloom.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Ansonia Waterfront

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL:  There is no more iconic sight in Ansonia than these filters, ducts and chimneys - high order industrial sculpture. If these buildings were gone, what would we know of the years when the river ran in colors, and downwind was bad wind? Inside this shed is the soot-caked cathedral where I've photographed Mike and Willy pouring hot copper into giant billets for the extruder upstream. Once 41 furnaces rumbled there. Now there is one.

The flood waters of 1955 washed over the sewage of a dead river, a balm for its agonies and everywhere else devastation. The days of Brass Valley were waning.  Today, the river has been brought back to life, but here it is a dead zone out of reach.  There is hardly a place anywhere around where one can reach the banks. Safely protected behind the flood-walls, filters and ducts, pipes and tanks, stacks and chimneys cling to the old foundry like barnicles. They are a rare surviving vestige of our smokestack past and a monument to its genius.

There is a constant tension in a photo project such as this between photographing to document, which is not this blog's aim, and photographing to express. Of course documentary photography must often be very expressive, but on this blog the expression precedes the subject. The difference is between trying to portray the "decaying factory," or alternately, trying to portray "factory decay," or even to make the viewer feel in the factory decay, his own cold mortality

Put this entry under the heading, "Document," while I consider how to scale the chimneys.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Command Post

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: In 1844 when Anson Phelps was looking for water power for the new mill he wanted to build in Birmingham, and he found all the best land taken, he crossed the Naugatuck River and stood somewhere here. The Naugatuck flows through that cleft between the hills at a point very close to where it joins the Housatonic. That was as far inland as ships could sail. 

Phelps purchased this land and called it Phelpsville, but by the time the water channels were engineered and built, and Ansonia Brass and Battery was battering out kettles for Phelps-Dodge, Anson Phelp's new town was known as Ansonia. Soon a wire mill was added, and in 1869 Phelp's company was incorporated under the name Ansonia Brass and Copper.

We are looking through the window of an abandoned office from the mostly abandoned headquarters of Ansonia Brass and Copper.  Whoever had this office had an important command post.  The main east-west axis through the campus is just behind the newly sprouted willow, and anyone driving through the gate would pass in front of him. The sawtooth roof by the back chimney covers what's left of the foundry that once had more than 30 furnaces cooking, and where a single furnace still turns out giant, copper billets. The front chimney belongs to the powerhouse. Those chimney's mark the most volatile areas of the factory and if there was an explosion or fire there, the person sitting here wouldn't need to be told about it later.  

Even today Ansonia Brass and Copper is an extensive conglomeration of buildings with three main north-south streets and sheds reaching far to the right. The railroad that went into operation in 1849, just as production must have been getting underway, still runs north-south between the two, far rows of buildings, and the Naugatuck River still flows just behind the back row. However, like this administration building, most of the sheds lie silently accumulating the patina of disuse while roofs crumble and flake.

(You can read an earlier entry on the founding of Ansonia here: http://rothphotos.blogspot.com/2011/05/back-room-shelton-ct.html)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL:  Art Deco - was it a style or a fashion? There are always fashions; they change as quickly as the clothes that embody them.  Style is, as one friend recently put it, the outward form of spirit. 

What led so many artists from the 1920s to 40s to draw their imagery from the utilitarian forms of commerce and of industry? Art Deco often proclaims mass production as the key to utopia. Radio City, the Chrysler Building, the Empire State are not only triumphs of technology but radiant, Deco cathedrals of optimism. At the Bauhaus the materials and forms of industry were elevated to principles of Beauty that also prompt the darkly foreboding paintings of Feininger.

What does all this have to do with radios designed to look aerodynamic, and places that appear at the mention of white tie, top hat and tails and whirl on to Gershwin's taxi horns and saxophones still strong when Gene Kelly dances to them at MGM? How does that sleek, heroic imagery resonate in the satire of Chaplin and how is it transformed by Hopper and  in numerous dystopian visions whether Lang's Metropolis, Kafka's Amerika, Huxley's bottling plants and decanting rooms, ...but we will all quickly begin adding our own examples to the list.  It is an art style that didn't even have a name until the 1960's, and we can still put it on like a fashion.  

Can style be sought or must it be left unwatched to germinate and grow?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Hydraulic Pump

HENRY DAVID THOREAU: "Men have become the tools of their tools."

Friday, November 23, 2012


PATRICK SUMMERFIELD: "Art starts where consciousness ends. This is why we must invent untruths for those who require explanations."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Whether this has started being art or not, I'll leave to my analyst when I have one after I am committed.  However, the photography that most engages me is always about seeking to get beyond the mechanical, rational mind until something clicks. If it's any good, later, in processing, things keep clicking.  For me, the clicks are much the same whether in Waterbury or Galapagos.  After that, I only hope the images click somewhere else.  Other photographers tell me that they also have felt a certainty that goes beyond mechanics when capturing some of their best shots. Is there any value in knowing this?  I still don't know how many clicks it needs until its art.  I guess a lot. Perhaps my analyst will know.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Joyous Noise

May you have good fortune to celebrate and those you love to toast with on our national day of harmony and throughout the year. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Heron's Eye

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: One might almost think that the lava heron was rock's way of getting about and seeing a bit of the world.

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Nut-Brown Composition

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL:  They are known collectively as Darwin's finches, twelve or thirteen species of finch unique to the Galapagos Archipelago. When Darwin got to Galapagos, his eyes were on rock, and he quickly understood the archipeligo was geologically recent.  The essential truth that Darwin perceived through his examination of species in Galapagos was that the "new" species of Galapagos were not new and distinct like the archipelago nor related to species of similar climates, but mostly, "cousin" species of others on the South American Continent. What surprised him most was to find diversification distinguishing individual islands of the chain. In the finches he found especially fertile diversification; one species of finch had adapted through vigorous genetic changes in the shapes of its beaks in order to fill multiple, open, environmental niches in an empty land.  

When I was in Galapagos these friendly little birds hardly seemed worth photographing next to the boobies, frigate birds, pelicans, cormorants and penguins. Like Darwin, I mostly ignored them when I was there. Now that I'm back I find I am drawn less to my photos of the swoopings of frigate birds than by several images of small birds in their micro environments, studies in the mixing of colors and textures of earth and shadow.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Unbroken Ocean Was here Opened Out

CHARLES DARWIN: "The natural history of these islands is eminently curious, and well deserves attention. Most of the organic productions are aboriginal creations found nowhere else; there is even a difference between the inhabitants of the different islands; yet all show a marked relationship with those of America, though separated from the continent by an open space of ocean between 500 and 600 miles in width. The archipelago is a little world within itself, or rather a satellite attached to America, whence it has derived a few stray colonists and received the general character of its indigenous productions. Considering the small size of the islands, we feel the more astonished at the number of their aboriginal beings, and at their confined range. Seeing every height crowned with its crater, and the boundaries of most of the lava streams still distinct, we are led to believe that within a period geologically recent the unbroken ocean was here opened out. Hence, both in space and time, we seem to be be brought somewhat near to that fact – that mystery of mysteries – the first appearance of new beings on this earth."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Through threaded mists of sea and sky the clouds scrape the parched, highland lava crust.  Mists and dews are precious now, and life is resourceful about collecting them and passing them on.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Booby Gyre

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL:  (Be sure to click on the image.) 

What is old is new, and what is new is very old. That's the lesson of Galapagos. What is the meaning of a day of life when compared with the ceaseless, spasmodic magma oozing from ulcerous cavities deep within the earth?  What is the meaning of this rock of ages without life and a day in which to be awed?

This is a high resolution image produced with magic. I assure viewers that the flock of boobies is quite real. A moment earlier we had all been facing the other way, gaping as four orange flamingos suddenly flew by in formation against the blue sky. Still earlier in the morning we had stood hushed, awed as the same birds posed, poked, stepped like high priests with backward knees and heads deep in water - four flamingos performing holy sacraments for their breakfast in a still lagoon. Now they streaked by in disciplined file.   

I had just time to snap those pictures and turn to see this gyre of boobies whirling around the tiny island, circling down in preparation for landing. The sound was effervescent.

The high resolution of the original image file reveals even the eye of one of a pair of birds perched in the tree, and if this image were printed large, the viewer's eyes could follow the boat out into the middle of the bay and to the far-off islands that show clearly on the horizon.  It is an odd landscape to photograph.

What is old is new, and what is new is very old. That's the lesson of Galapagos. What is the meaning of a day of life when compared with the ceaseless, spasmodic magma oozing from ulcerous cavities deep within the earth?  What is the meaning of this rock of ages without life and a day in which to be awed?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Galapagos Magma

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: In my imagination, I suppose, Galapagos was always a pristine place and primordial, yet a place one could snuggle up to, a land out of H.G. Welles, foreign yet familiar, sinfully lush yet innocent and chaste. In fact, when among the animals that is the reality, but there's another reality also true.  As a photographer,  I found that other place hard to get close to. First, what's new is often rough and raw. The islands are the scabs of raw wounds still oozing and simmering in cracks and crevices. Knife-edged lava shards slice through all but lizard skin.  Approach with caution or watch from offshore. And viewed from offshore, the cratered mountains never loom. Rather, they linger, obtuse cones often shrouded in haze or crossed by clouds with patterns as wide as the circumference of sky. Amid such breadth the mountains are dimples, their truths lie hidden. And when we do get ashore from small pongas, the land recedes gradually into lagoons and up bluffs of scrub and low trees and cactus and when we find a view it is spread wide as before; the shapes shift; that other truth evades my lens

The early Spanish explorers, Darwin, Melville all found it a bare place of drab colors. None cared to go back. It is an odd landscape to photograph, and I loved it.

What is old is new and what is new is very old; that's the lesson of Galapagos.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Church Facade

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Sometimes a photograph gets so tied up with its subject that I'm not sure where one stops and the other starts. I am awed at the elegant simplicity of the details and refined proportions of this crumbling church. They speak to me clearly though I'm powerless to explain in words what I feel. I've sought to photograph the church so as to highlight those virtues in the hope that the photograph can convey my feelings as powerfully as the building itself.  

The big Church across the street was just seven years old in 1832 when this church was built. The two churches and the general store give form to the town's triangular green. What issues prompted the need for two meeting halls in what was at the time a small, frontier river town? What issues divided the congregants or brought them together?  Their buildings were so different, this one  modest, unassuming, forthright; the other, an exuberant white "wedding cake" of a spire. Who can engage them in dialogue or retell their stories?

I'm not religious nor am I quick to march.  The image calls neither to my sense of god nor country, but only to my sense of beauty. If the integrity and humility of the design is a reflection of its builders, then, in a sense something of the fiber of the men still holds services there, though pews are rotting, the lectern, mute, and the truth of the men's lives, unknown.

Monday, November 12, 2012


PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL:  When I was a small child I used to think it was possible to remember everything, and that somehow that continuous flow of memory was me. I couldn't have been much more than five when I conceived this universe. "Conscience," was still a notion too abstract; the memories flowed with no effect on guilt or pride, though I seem to recall worrying about space. 

I especially enjoyed remembering dreams, whether glowing or haunted, but it couldn't have been too long before I discovered troubling gaps in the memory stream, and sometimes I experienced déjà vu moments welling up from oblivion. Clearly, I had been fractured.  How much of me was missing? Where had it gone? If it continued, what would be left?

I think that by age seven I'd forgotten to worry about the stuff gone missing, and was more concerned about the things I couldn't seem to lose. Friends tell me I'm reaching an age when I will be grateful to remember anything at all. It's funny how memory is.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Watercolors No.5, Resounding

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL:   To feel the expressive capacity of texture, pattern, form and color alone, unallied to the concrete subject that stood before the actual lens; it is an effort natural to painting and antithetical to photography.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Watercolors No.4, Prelude

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL:  The woods famously, lovely, dark and deep, have many trails to enter in. I've followed men's blazes, deer's tracks, and I've rolled logs and rocks to deeper recesses, but the way of water leads darkest and deepest.  A pond catching autumn color at my feet seemed a likely portal for photography, and through my lens I stood inside. While I stood alone, it was a grotto magnificently still, and when behind me the dogs finished clowning and went to the edge to sip, we were collaborators in the first trembling before the woods, like a bell, began to peal.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Chameleon Chemise

PARIS HILTON:  "The only rule is don't be boring and dress cute wherever you go. Life is too short to blend in."


Upstairs: A Decomposition

the blue chemise,
if you please,
the glittering eye,
not asking why,
the folly,
the promise,
the end.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Watercolors No.3


In the copper pools of autumn, thought 
accumulates and falling leaves, while 
the stream itself still surges and cascades
across old stones and windblasted hills.
What is there in us that is not of that crush?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Dressed for Success


Forgotten Poem

Things forgotten:
umbrellas and underwear,
those shoes in Skye,
unwritten letters
of loathing and love,
the leftovers that were to be
a midnight snack,
ice skates and hats,
lots of hats.
What does it mean
to be a thing forgotten?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Watercolors No.2


On Dreaming

Mute leaves 
slip, slide, wink 
on shafts 
of orange light, 
bending seasons 
from a cool, blue destiny, 
before landing, 
commadored by insects, 
ships of passage 
through winter's mutinies 
ice, ooze
and the forgotten dreams
of pond-bottom. 

Here in the autumn pond
is the mirror of spring.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Composition in Oak and Chestnut

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL:  Sometimes images that most invite a journal narrative are best served by leaving the  motive to the viewers imagination.

Friday, November 2, 2012


PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL:  Walking along the towpath of the old Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, it was hard to feel any of the energy that once surged along this artery. It was as still as a fossil, a byway of 19th century commerce, bushels of tobacco and cotton, barges of iron and coal preserved in a water-filled imprint, and it seemed to make clear how a society is a living organism and how barges on a canal can flow in packets over computer networks that catapult at light-speed through satellites in orbit around the earth. The web of communities and services that grew around the canal had all either fallen away or morphed into something new with an address in cyberspace, and the canal was left, a fit place to meditate on the stillness through which the sun was reflecting a clear, autumn afternoon.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Virginia Reel

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL:  What is it about these Virginia foothills that makes them feel so different from similar topography in New England? Perhaps it is the character of autumn in Virginia that made me feel it so distinctly this time, the way it connects landscape and architecture. Rusty roofs and rustic, gray wood are the dominant barn type. Many seem survivals from an era of subsistence farming now vanishing like the season.  These provide a different garnish to Virginia's fall display, a display that favors rust over brilliant red and yellow.  No matter how I try to name attributes, the distinction eludes me, but I don't think I would ever mistake this farm for one in New England.  In any case, hurricane Sandy has now wiped away the season in both places.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Autumn Staccato

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL:  An invitation from my friend Gary in Rappahannock, Virginia, to come shoot on his turf provided a welcome opportunity to start turning from processing and writing about my spring travel shoot and to put full focus again on shooting new and old subjects. Most of all it was an invitation to have a good time shooting new images. There are more Galapagos photos to come, but from now on they will be interspersed with more recent images. 

This nearly complete, abandoned farmstead, overgrown with weeds, came with a soundtrack of crows and a stinktrack from a skunk we never saw but whose presence we inhaled. This is the farmhouse. Inside the floors were frail.  We gingerly climbed to the second floor but then backed down. I took no shots inside.  Subsistence farms like this have almost disappeared from this area of Virginia, but many linger as phantom farms.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Lava Heron

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL:  Down in cool, shadowy hideouts where mangrove roots reach the sea, small fish and crabs will never see the lava heron, perfectly still, waiting above them. Along with flightless cormorants and marine iguanas, he is one of the animals shaped by the fresh, dark lava of the archipelago, and he has become invisible. Contrary to what I read in the guidebooks, it doesn't appear that any of them are hiding from predators. Mammals are scarce on these new islands.

This lava heron is hunting beside a small bridge connecting our trail with a landing area where we will meet our ponga. Twenty of us are passing within half a dozen feet of the lava heron, and he hasn't moved a muscle since he found his spot. He is indifferent to our commotion. Perhaps he knows our vibrations may chase fish his way, or, much as this may not occur to us, he ignores us knowing we are irrelevant.  This is a cool, tenebrous part of paradise, good for him to hunt in.

Friday, October 19, 2012




Tidal stirrings,
treading transience,
always looking for the fix
to an unbroken horizon
girdling round,
no docks in paradise,
treading transience.