Sunday, June 30, 2013

Drive Shaft & Bobbins

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL:  I traveled to the old Klotz Throwing Company mill to meet four other photographers. From 1905 to 1957 "throwsters" "threw" silk and synthetics (they twisted or wound raw silk into thread) here. Silk, perhaps the ultimate luxury fabric, became a valuable commodity in the Gilded Age, and silk filatures, where silk cacoons were softened to make raw silk, became a growing U.S. industry. The factory and the process, which involves soaking and steaming as well as spinning, is described here. However, I knew nothing about silk processing last weekend when I had just four hours to take it all in and make something photographic of it.

I don't work well under the pressure of time; the photographic richness of the site and ticking clock could easily lead me to panicked image grabbing. After an initial walk-through of what I thought was the whole, three-floor mill, I had several "must-have," subjects for images. It was a plan to steady me, a way to manage the territory. One of these "must-haves," was the drive wheel and drive system that ran all the machines along the third floor aisle. Once all factory mills were powered this way. I've been in many old mills and never seen so complete a drive system.  Although the main belt was missing, everything else was intact down to the individual stations. The mill had for many years been water-powered, and it seems likely these linkages were once water-driven, though I saw no evident source of water power at the mill.  

My aim was not merely to take a picture of the drive wheel, but to make a photo image about the drive wheel in the same way that yesterday's photo was about footsteps of throwsters.  I spent, perhaps, 40 minutes of my four hours shifting up, down, backward and forward within a few feet of this general location. I wish my images showed more of the belts that connect each row of machines to the drive axle, and I'd love to suggest the agitation of all the machines bobbing together, but I spent my time working out how to arrange the planes and surfaces from this general angle under spring light, such as it was, between 9 AM and 10 AM on June 22nd. Somewhere there has to be an angle, a lens, a quality of light that can capture belts and agitation, but it remains for another visit.

I was pleased to catch the round-bottomed, sand buckets that served as primitive fire extinguishers, but at about 10 AM I moved on to another must-have shot.

Friday, June 28, 2013


PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL:  The words, "industrial age," naturally bring to mind images of tall, chimney stacks, grease, steam, and clanking steel, but I'm told when the machines were running here, hundreds of them on three floors of this silk mill sounded like a swarm of buzzing bees.  Now silence is filled by mere footsteps.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Bottle Glass and Bunting

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Derby's Sterling Opera House, though distinguished by the story surrounding its construction and the repute of its acoustics, is in many ways of the era.  City fathers sought a dignified building to fill multiple needs in a vision of harmoniously integrated civic life, corporate life, and government stability. 

In 1889 when the new Opera House opened its doors, the view from the third floor vestibule, behind the top balcony's hard pews, must have left the gents and ladies awed. At intermission there's just enough time to climb the stairs to the fourth story tower room, no higher spot in town and a full panorama. It was a place at the hub, above the original harbor where the Naugatuck found the Housatonic, where sailing ships took shelter and in times since, the source of Derby's industrial might. By 1889 there were lights at night in the city below, and people can be forgiven for thinking they saw the future.

Immediately below the window's bunting was the old town green, and it's still there, looking much as it did a hundred-and-fifty years ago. If this were a hill town, there would once have been sheep grazing there, the town's common livestock, but this was a "Valley" town planned for valley industry. The land had been a gift to the people by Sheldon Smith, the town's founder, the streets named for his daughters. Smith and Anson Phelps had also given land for building the Congregational, Methodist, and Episcopal churches there, around the Green, and the Green in the middle was deeded to the town as common land on the expressed condition that it be fenced to keep sheep and people off the grass.  Whatever it actually looked like, the idea was immaculate, Yankee Americana.

Smith and Phelps were gone when the town father's added vaudeville and politics to the Green and visits by Houdini and Amelia and eventually Bing, but nobody could have foreseen Bing.

The corner door at the base of the tower led to the opera house, but the doors to Democracy were on the central axis through a Classically columned, pedimented entry beneath a deeply shadowed, pedimented roof.  It's not clear if the town fathers paused to contemplate democracy before giving it form in brick and stone; the full exterior is a hash of contradictions in which observers have found Italian Renaissance, Venetian, German, and English details. How oddly the roof's pediment hugs the building's squat tower as if they were best friends who didn't really get along. The tower is topped by a Victorian, Federal, cupola confection behind a white picket fence. Such ecumenical heresies seemed unimportant. Maybe ethnic hash was the point, as old wooden democracy was rebuilt in stone to project new legacies into a new century that would stretch from crooning to hip hop. 

Whatever the meaning of the architecture, whenever Sousa came to town, thrilling, chilling, exhilarating marches shook the windows and filled the town green, and the mayor and his friends had front row seats as the band played before their new town hall. 

Imagine! It is entirely possible that a young Charles Ives, who would write music peppered with remembered marching bands in musical collisions, traveled south from Danbury or North from Yale to hear the March King play in Derby's fine new hallIves was finishing his teens and entering Yale in the 1890s, playing organ in church and experimenting with the sounds of a century nobody understood.  The spirit of a time is written in its art; here, perhaps, a curious intersection.

Saturday, June 15, 2013


Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. "Every now and then a man's mind is stretched by a new idea or sensation, and never shrinks back to its former dimensions."

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Still-life at the D.L.Edgerton Fresh and Frozen Seafood Warehouse

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL:   Holding the door, my friend said, "Step inside," and we entered the seafood warehouse. How slow the retreat! A broken window today and a door left open until the windows become mere formalities. A coil of wire hung on the wall cradles the leaves of an empty bird's nest. Baby mice squirm amid shavings in the pencil drawer, the rusty steel of the stapler safely contained two bins away.  Nuts, planted like grenades, dry and crack before they are ever eaten and the clawing grip of winter ice delves and rakes every crevice loosening mortar and all.

The warehouse had been plundered. Two altars of concrete stood at the head of a long row of insulated chambers. I'd seen altars like that before. At one time there was probably a compressor anchored on each altar to drive the refrigeration. Compressors and pipe were gone, the studs that held them, rusted and bent.  A corner of the roof had collapsed, and spring sunlight splashed on the stained slab floor beside the altars.

By inside, we usually refer to a hallowed place where nature is compelled to follow strict house rules. Here nature rioted. We like to think that there is "inside," and then there is everything else in nature. Inside rodents and vermin are banished, and even plants must remain properly potted.  

A workshop held an assortment of rubbish that seemed to have little relation to seafood, but suggested real work went on here once, but even old saw blades and chisels were becoming mulch, the old order collapsing entirely; the distinction between inside and outside was almost gone. As we shot I'd like to think the spirits of those who had worked here were finally letting go of the old rubbish.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The D.L.Edgerton Fresh and Frozen Seafood Warehouse

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL:  Imagine trucks backed up here, men unloading hampers of fresh eels and men with fork lift trucks taking them to coolers and freezers where they can be stored. Inside one can get the idea of what once went on here, but the roof is gone and the foundation is failing and D.L. Edgerton has moved on. 

We reached the D.L.Edgerton Fresh and Frozen Seafood warehouse late in the afternoon, and the sun couldn't have been worse for photography. That the wide range of tonalities could be reproduced from a single exposure testifies to the quality of current digital technology.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Crossing Delmarva



There are times when the wind in the wires 
makes the steamy air crackle and flash in the night, 
but now all is dry and still.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

For Sale, Delmarva Love Nest

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Oceanside. When I was there in late April it was just sprouting.  By now it must be blooming.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Blazing Springtime

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL:  I've always known how the sun blazes between hills here in the late afternoon, and I used to walk here often. How is it I never thought of it as a picture until yesterday? The air was crisp, clear and insect-free, and every weed was celebrating.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Light from Above


Bird Seed

We passed snug dwellings, 
furnished rooms, 
where lives conceived like mice 
were spent in huddled anonymity, 
and we met a few wise, old mice 
carving intricate birds.