Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry

Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry
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Monday, June 25, 2012

At the Knob of the Knot



PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL:  Some years ago, attending a photo workshop in Nova Scotia, the leader's challenge was to make an "original" photograph of a lighthouse. We all understood his assignment. Lighthouses are iconic, especially along the northern Atlantic Coast. They are washed with salt air, barnacles, yellow slickers and mythology, just as they are surrounded by rocks, breakers, a horizon and are often limited in the number of natural photographic perspectives. As photographs, lighthouses come almost ready-made. Many have been frequently and well-photographed, sometimes with rare winds passing and memorable water. Our assignment was to find something new, something to make the viewer look at the lighthouse in a new way or to rediscover the icon as if for the first time.

As it turns out, the lighthouse we were to shoot was the much photographed one at Peggy's Cove. If you have in your mind an image of an old, Yankee, fishing village, there's a good chance your image is Peggy's Cove. It's not only iconic but singular. Movies have been filmed there. Everyone who arrives with a camera takes the shot from the head of the cove with the fishing boats docked along the left side by piers and related fishing shacks; houses clustered on the rocks behind, and beside the mysterious gateway leading to the sea. People stand at the head of the harbor and try to shoot that view even at times of day when the sun makes it almost impossible. Everyone following the only road into Peggy's Cove reaches that spot that looks as if the whole village had been composed around it, singular, unique.  They take a picture, and most are happy to have it as a document to help remember when they stood there.

At Machu Picchu everyone stops to photograph at the Watchman's Tower. That was the first view an ancient Incan would have has as well. Should we be surprised such master builders made sure it was a picture? However, the classic shot should include the tower; one begins to climb and scramble for angles from farther up and west.  Ramiro led us around the terrace steps to an area he had found, and I thank him for this guidance.

Such places are a dilemma for the photographer who arrives when the weather is ordinary, doesn't want to take the same, old, tired shot but who may have an audience who will be disappointed if he fails to record the singular view. Once he has taken that shot, he is free to photograph anything. 

However, if he has arrived at a place that has filled his dreams, it will not let him alone. He craves to experience its singular presence, to hear, smell, taste its music. This was what drew him on his pilgrimage, and he will want to make an image that attempts to communicate some part of what he is feeling even if the effort is doomed to failure.