Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Loose Change

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  Perhaps it’s a natural part of getting older to think more often about change. Recently, while reviewing old photo shoots I came upon this image I shot in August of 2007 with my friend Bob Lejeune, when my “Today’s Photo” habit was only 8 months old. Posting the finished gantry image here concludes my eighth year of trying to produce constantly better images and refining the relation between words and image. Though shot in 2007, I processed it last week. I can’t look at it without thinking about the ways I have changed and what remains constant.

Of course, as the title indicates, to me the picture itself is about change. The building under construction is now finished and fully occupied. The row of buildings stand where the last of Manhattan’s freight yards stood not long ago. I remember when those rail yards and their infrastructure approached where Lincoln Center now stands, and when the demolition of the neighborhood provided a key location for the 1960 filming of much of West Side Story. Personal memories lead me back to the fifties and trips and my father when he got in a mood to go driving on Sunday, riding beneath the highway and exploring the piers a bit further south where the giant ocean liners docked and finishing our explorations at the Fulton Fish Market. There’s no doubt neighborhoods have changed.

Of course, change is often part of a trajectory. The new year is the traditional time to consider altering trajectories. To do so requires thoughtful consideration of how things have changed.  

Have a very happy new year and remember it’s not too late to order: Brass Valley: Fall of an American Industry (http://www.schifferbooks.com/brass-valley-the-fall-of-an-american-industry-5747.html)

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Casting Shop

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Dates on images indicate I’ve been coming here to shoot since 2011. Even then the Hendey casting shop was nothing but a pile of brick, rubble and a concrete base on which much of the plan of the building and the floor tiles of some of the rooms are still visible today. I walk from room to room though the walls are gone.

Though I’ve seen the pictures, it’s hard to imagine it whole again while standing here in the open yard between the wood pattern shop (yesterdays image) where the wooden molds for casting were made, and the buildings in the picture, where castings were finished and tested and assembled. By 1910 it would have been a tightly packed hub of intense industry with a tall stack and a staff of skilled toolmakers, machinists and engineers and apprentices and grunts and accountants and draughtsmen and bookkeepers and stenographers and secretaries and managers, and every day they all walked to work from houses nearby. Imagine.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Hendey Sunset (Wooden Pattern Shop)

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: For some time I have tried to give my answer to the question first formally posed by Edward R. Murrow and again later on National Public Radio. I call myself an atheist, but a classification by negation does not follow the phrase, “This I believe.” Being and the will to be, fill me with awe. Everywhere I look I see nature striving, not only to survive and reproduce, but to perfect itself; its not always pretty. Creation appears to contain will. The will to be is there in stone and the sun’s burning and precedes what we call life which forever experiments, striving until it finds better ways to be. The processes of selection have given humankind a brain unique to our sphere. It has given us two unique powers: dominion over nature and the knowledge that we are part of nature, part of a complex, balanced organism we call earth that exists in time. If anything is holy, it is the fertility of that organism, our common self. Together we must learn to pilot our biosphere. To do so we must learn to settle our differences justly and fulfill the Needs of all. To say the least, the challenge is daunting. Is this the challenge all life is pointed toward throughout Being?

The human brain is a child of Being. So far as I can tell, being is eternal. How could it be otherwise? The meaning of humanity, which we sometimes call the meaning of life, depends on our ability to continue being. More than that we will never know. Eternity is now. Anything else is, at best, beside the point.

NOTE: For more Hendey photos, find TODAY'S PAGES in the right hand column, and click "Hendey Page.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Industrial Quoins, Corbels, and Coping

NEW BLOG FEATURE: Because there are often photographs that may have interest as a set or as a documentary supplement, but have little to say standing alone, I will from time to time accompany TODAY’S posting with a “Page” of supplementary images. Because the fate of Hendey is currently being considered, the first page I've created  gathers previously posted Hendey photographs and supplementary photographs never before posted. 

To view the new and future photo pages:  Look in the right-hand column, below the Google Plus share button. You will find an area titled “TODAY’S PAGES.” The only page listed now is the “Hendey Page.” Click to see it.  When you’re done, click “home."

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  Ah!  "Serious Art!” Art is a prickly word that can be wielded like a mace to rule the world of taste creating rigid hierarchies of delight.

To some the lowly mason is a craftsman, no matter what tapestry s/he creates or how visceral the effect. Call a painter, “artist,” and it means only “s/he paints.” Call a photographer, “artist,” and s/he is in rarified company and has photographs that must sell for thousands of dollars.  One who photographs abandoned factories may be called an artist, but when the factories are still manufacturing, one will be judged a photo journalist. Where is that line between art and documentation that can be so crisply drawn, and from where does one stand to make pictures, if one disavows all interest in the things themselves and looks only for their forms, glow, and resonances? 

“Art,” it is a prickly word that hedges and climbs fences and walls. It keeps me from seeing. I try to avoid it, though, like a good chef, I always endeavor to transform the raw ingredients and hope the finished meal delights the palette and maybe stirs the soul.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

At the Top of Hendey Towers

ARCHIMEDES: “Give me a stick long enough and a pivot, and I shall move the world."

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  Essentially, Archimedes was saying that if we can overlook certain disadvantages, two times two can equal eight through “mechanical advantage." In fact, the world has moved far since the time of Archimedes, leveraged by ideas. Pascal saw that leveraging ideas was the power of God. 

Here, at the top of one of the Hendey towers is the old electric lift elevator. Archimedes was also reputed to have made the first. However, the need to lift things beyond our capacity is at least as old as Stone Henge. Oxen, elephants and slaves were replaced by screw type elevators, hydraulics, pneumatics, and steam, but it was Frank Sprague’s electrical motor that finally gave elevators a lift. Frank Sprague was born in Milford, Connecticut.

There was an aha moment for me in eleventh grade physics class when the teacher demonstrated that an electric motor, linkages and gears aside, was still a leveraging system. Fill it with electric power and you leverage spin; spin it and you leverage electrical power. Frank Sprague not only figured out how to harness the magnetic properties of electrical fields by making the first practical electric motors and dynamos, but he pioneered two chief applications for his idea. Sprague Electric Railway and Motor Company built the first practical street car system in Richmond, Virginia, and many subsequent systems everywhere. The company was eventually purchased by Thomas Edison. Afterward, Sprague Electric Elevator Company pioneered elevator systems. When the company had proven the system’s efficiencies over old style hydraulic lifts, it was purchased by Otis Elevator.

The invention of the electric motor leveraged space and labor in countless ways we barely think about. From plumbing to subways to freezers it has changed our houses, our cities, our world. Electrical motors are one of many levers we’ve used to gain dominion over space and time while accumulating unobserved disadvantages.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Hendey Towers Torrington

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  The photographer’s mantra must be, “check all setting.” This photo, which calls out to be printed on a wall, will never fill more than a small frame because of a grainy surface that all but spoils it. “Check all settings.” The defect occurred because I had earlier turned the sensitivity of the sensor (ISO) up high in order to shoot in a dark room. That was before I came outside in the daylight and found planets in alignment and Hendey posing. Check all settings. I'll never be There again.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Hendey Hall of Mirrors

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: From the outside, Hendey is a cluster of three and four-story factory sheds and five-story towers. Inside, Hendey is a multi-story maze. I wandered from building to building, through similar looking rooms, gridded with columns and with windows covered, some by translucent plastic that let in lights but concealed the surrounding landscape with its points of reference. Where the buildings joined I could sometimes enter the towers which linked similar floors via stairs that wound like corkscrews and lifts that were no longer running.

Each floor looked much the same except here. At this unique spot a short bridge connected the factory buildings to the 1880 executive building. Offices there had apparently sprouted an annex here, and partitions had been added to isolate offices from the work floor. Loading bays were a short way off.

Although I quickly became disoriented and lost track of where I was, I got to know the differences between the towers, and I used them to identify my position in the complex, and I always knew when I lost my way, that I could get here, and from here I could find my way to the only available exit door and out through the only active building where, it seemed, the last humans worked. 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Hendey, Summer Street

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: This is Summer Street; the sentry is at the top of the hill but not visible. The city of Torrington plans to put a new bus terminal here. The old Hendey buildings are mostly empty and falling into disrepair. Windows are broken and some are boarded, and to those who live on the well-kept streets that surround the Hendey complex it must feel like blight. It’s not clear to me how a bus terminal will feel any better, but I don’t live there. It’s not for me to decide. 

There is an interesting article about the Hendey Company here: (http://vintagemachinery.org/mfgindex/detail.aspx?id=430). The article includes artists’ renderings of what the factory ideally looked like in 1897 and 1907. Both renderings show the 1880 office building with the squared onion, Victorian tower. The 1907 rendering was probably done in connection with the construction of the triple-height factory shed also shown in my photograph. Both renderings show a face Hendey management wanted to project to the world, but they take on new meaning once one has seen what the buildings really look like and the actual scale of their world.

These buildings and the comfortable, “walking" community around them grew slowly together with apparent sensitivity to relationships of scale and to the needs of each. The people who worked here, lived “up the street.” Even the nearby shopping district has life. The physical fabric of that world is largely intact with stories to tell to generations who are beginning to find this quaint. Soon, when it is Ancient and venerable they may regret its loss and the failure to imagine now what Hendey might become. It’s not hard to put a value on the buildings as real estate. How does one put value on connections to our roots? Henry James reminds us - I’ve quoted him before, “It takes an awful lot of history to make even a little tradition."

Other Hendey images previously posted on TODAY’S:

Friday, December 19, 2014

Tobor in Torrington

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL - This bit of civic sculpture comes slowly into view along Summer Street as one climbs the sidewalk up to High Street. I don’t know what it did with so many arms reaching in all directions nor where they reached nor what its funnel shaped abdomen digested, but it doesn’t take much for me to imagine it coming alive and reaching across the barbed wire of its pen to snatch women’s hats off their heads and the pipes from men’s mouths.

Putting aside questions of gender, it has the look of a perpetual cynic. I’m sure it has its story to tell, but I’ve never heard it. It sits eying passers-by from the roof of one of the buildings where the Hendey Company used to make precision tools in Torrington, near the top of Brass Valley. I’m sure others who pass it, see it only as old junk, and others don’t see it at all. To me, it is a landmark, the Sentry of Summer Street.

Thursday, December 18, 2014


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  Brass Valley, The Fall of an American Industry, would not have been photographed and written if it were not for the workers and management who allowed me to photograph anything, anywhere, at the only two campuses (formerly Anaconda/American Brass) where large scale manufacturing continued in Brass Valley. However, at this time last year the mills finally closed; the remaining workers were out of work; four years of photographing the active production line of the two mills came to an end; the story I was telling was told. 

Now the book is done and in the hands of the publisher, but I’m still shooting. Everywhere along the river the last relics of Brass Valley heavy industry are about to be swept away. It seems right for me to follow this track to the end. As production slowed at the mill it was too painful to go back and photograph. I didn’t return until spring. By then most of the men I’d known were long gone, scrapping and salvaging were about to begin, and I gained access to a third large site last active in 1989.

Up and down Brass Valley, in Torrington, Thomaston, Waterbury, and Ansonia city planners, politicians, humanitarians, developers and visionaries are all warming bulldozers to remove the last relics of Brass Valley, heavy industry. This is one of the places where heavy industry was invented at a time when there was no such thing as a school of engineering. What took place here created the modern middle class, and I hear little talk as to whether any of Brass Valley is worth saving.

What's left to photograph is the dismemberment and dissolution of forces that made us who we are. I’m not sure where this track will lead me, but I’m still following it. However, the book isn’t about that; it's about Brass Valley as it was when the furnaces were cooking. 

Shop early - Shop often
Brass Valley: Fall of an American Industry
order now for fall, 2015 delivery

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Book Announcement

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: It’s official now. Schiffer Publishing has added Brass Valley: Fall of an American Industry to its list of titles for release next year. The details are here: (http://www.schifferbooks.com/brass-valley-the-fall-of-an-american-industry-5747.html), and there is even a button where, I believe, pre-orders may be placed now. The release is scheduled for September 15, so they can be in your hands to give as gifts a year from now. Do your shopping early.

Brass Valley! For thirty years I lived in the Northwest Hills hearing talk of “the Valley,” and I never knew the valley from the hills. I didn’t even know that's where Route 8 ran. What began five years ago as a trip along the old tracks, a photo exploration of the Naugatuck River Valley and its industrial legacy, has turned into a journey of discovery into how things came to be. I invite readers: Follow the tracks. Follow the river. Follow the last metal off the last full-scale production line on equipment that made arms for WWI. Follow the stories and pictures of how it all came to pass in Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry. 

In the belief that context is important, and that a few others may be unsure where Brass Valley is, here is a map.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Asbury Park Sunrise

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: We photographed our only sunrise on Wednesday in Asbury Park, a place I’d been curious about since I was 13. That summer I camped out cross country and exchanged letters with a girl who summered there. The hotel where my letters were read is still there, part of a once elegant bit of beachside planning by the architects of Grand Central Station, Warren & Wetmore. Their Beaux Arts buildings once overlayed the remnants of Victorian Asbury Park. What a place it must have been, with oceanfront amusements and boardwalk that stretched a mile-and-a-half north from Ocean Grove, until it all faded after WWII and was washed away by storms! 

We stayed at a lovely, oceanfront B&B, the Laingdon Hotel, just over the border in Ocean Grove, and discovered a community with a deep and unique history and street after street of beautifully kept Victorian houses beside the city where much had been swept away and the rest left to urban decay. We arrived too late and left too early to photograph much of either, so we look forward to returning in the spring. Our Ocean Grove B&B, also worthy of photographing, was just a block along the ocean from the beginning of the Asbury Park boardwalk, what there is of it. 

We crossed onto the Asbury Park boardwalk through the ruins of something called, “The Casino,” - nothing much now but some mullions, a sign, and part of the floor beneath the stabilized roof. The buildings nearby (a powerhouse and the Carousel House) were partially restored and all were designated as landmarks. From there we continued about two or three blocks to the Convention Center and Paramount Theater buildings, also landmarks. Along the boardwalk between the landmarks, shabby arcade stands and shops are like a smile with many missing teeth. The landmarks were all Warren and Wetmore. It is a substantial architectural legacy that no longer comes together to be a place, and the individual buildings are genteel and bland. 

All but the Carousel House. It is something precious - an oversized Tiffany lamp of a building. A circular arcade of green copper arches surmounted by a copper crown with flaring rays that forms a canopy. The arches are inset with whirling mullions like tracery holding glass rays surrounding cast copper suns with furious faces. Imagine this giant Tiffany lamp, with the music of the carousel and the whirling horses and lights and happy faces inside. But the inside is empty, and nothing moved between the layers of glass as we photographed to no purpose.

I learned later that the carousel, installed in the Carousel House in 1932, had been sold in 1980. I could go to Myrtle Beach in South Carolina, and ride it. However, it occurs to me that if the carousel house had been located a block away, in Ocean Grove, there might still be music and children riding horses there - though, on second thought, its unlikely the Ocean Grove leaders would have permitted a carnival ride in Ocean Grove; until 1981 it was illegal to have a motor vehicles on the streets there on Sunday, and even the beach was closed until noon.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Downward Climb

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Here is the trip down into the Taj Casino. We could even hear the bling, though nobody was gambling then. I was going to omit the image from the series until this morning when a subscriber wrote to say she wanted to go to Atlantic City one day, "to gaze at the chandeliers." I immediately did a google search and turned up dozens of images of “Atlantic City Chandeliers.” Perhaps we failed to look up. 

Another reader put casino culture in a perspective I find intriguing: "It's like being in the midst of some kind of capitalist porn - a theme park for an economy based on the lust for money.”

To that I add a thought I came on this morning at breakfast while reading from the Journal’s of Henry David Thoreau.

"In my experience nothing is opposed to poetry–not crime–as business. It is a negation of life."

I suppose it all hinges on what Thoreau meant by, "business."

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Loop de Loop


The Garden of Amusements

Loop de loop the dance of death no more 
The merry voices shivered and were gone
A full moon in a vacant, starless sky
No one to knock the bottles down or shoot
The rabbits as they ride along the track.

Friday, December 12, 2014


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  Out on the boardwalk we learned that Donald Trump’s first casino hotel had closed in September. The sign at the top had lost it’s T-R-U, and both Gary and I gave a few bucks to a guy who told us he was out of work as a result. He said he was hungry, and we hoped he used our pittance for food. He told us Trump’s Taj is also set to close, but we didn't find it until early Wednesday morning at the far north end of the boardwalk; the photos I took all failed.

Everywhere its scale is intended to overwhelm but winds up looking merely cheap. It is a hyperbolic, gaudy, monstrosity, as it is supposed to be, I guess. Oversized, grand, empty stairways lead to terraces where nobody was drinking cocktails around tables with folded red umbrellas. Above were plastic spires, sprouts and minarets in vague imitation of Eastern architectural forms. I thought it’s grotesque excesses might make for good images, but looking at them later, I was back at a mall. Perhaps its sad folly will make good pictures after it closes this month, and it is left to become another shabby, dark relic beside neighborhoods swept away to give casinos room. 

The jobs gambling promised are gone, and the men eking out a living pushing chairs along the boardwalk in December’s rains are dressed like the homeless; they huddle in casino lobbies, waiting for fairs along the boardwalk that made Miss America the queen of beauty pageants.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Bally's from Claridge, Claridge from Bally's

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: We stayed at the Claridge Hotel, a 1930, twenty-six story, grande dame of a hotel, a survivor, set back from the boardwalk by what once must have been a gracious plaza. The lobby was clean, well-furnished, vast and empty. There was never more than one person at the front desk. The only other person attending to the front of the hotel was the car valet who spent most of the day napping in a two-foot by six-foot enclosure that seemed set into the hotel’s granite base.

Rooms were $69 and $79 per night, but for a small premium we were given rooms on the 21st floor, in the front of the hotel, overlooking the ocean. Our rooms were identical except mine was only half-furnished. I realized this after dark when I found myself huddling beside the bed lamp to use my computer, and realized Gary’s room had two lamps, a desk and two tables my identical room lacked. In our entire time at the Claridge I don’t think we saw another guest, though we repeatedly passed through the halls and lobbies of the hotel. 

The hotel connects directly by a second-floor street overpass to Bally’s Casino & Hotel. The path leads from the Claridge elevators through a maze of empty passages and lobbies that may once have been ballrooms, and through a small, sour-smelling food court and on to a slightly grand central space linking the Claridge and another hotel to the glitter and lights of Bally’s casino. We often chose that way to reach the boardwalk, down several terraces of gaming and across the gaming floor. Everywhere the lights of slots and machines flashed and chattered. All seemed alive though looking closely, there were only a few gamers, people sitting alone, more women than men. In early evening we saw a few people at a roulette wheel and a lively group of five around a Blackjack table, at other times just lone gamers. Gamers or no, there were always extra guards and hostesses watching to see we took no pictures.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: It drizzled and rained through much of our time in Atlantic City, and I had anticipated that would make wonderful photographs along the boardwalk. However, looking at the images now, most have the same sterility as photos in shopping malls, and it was difficult to catch the sadness of this empty place all dressed up for a ball and nowhere to go.

Only here, at the old convention center, now known as Boardwalk Hall, was I happy with my shots. Wiki says designed in 1926 but notes it didn’t open until 1940. A cornerstone on the building says 1930. This is the holy place where countless Miss America’s were crowned and went off into oblivion. The pageant platform stands, just around the corner, puddled and ready before a Classical curved arcade, and beside a bronze, 8-foot tall Miss America extending a coronet over any tourist willing to leave their umbrella for a photo being crowned by the dripping giant.

Wiki reminds this is where the Democrats chose Lyndon Johnson to run for President in 1964, and where the Beatles and the Stones played. They say it boasts the largest organ in the world with, according to Wiki, 33,000 pipes including a pipe which they claim is the world’s loudest. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Boardwalk, Wildwood, December, 2014

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  We spent three days driving north along the Jersey Shore from Wildwood to Asbury Park. It was an exploratory trip for me, to see what was worth coming back for and to explore ways to photograph it. 

Boardwalks, taken as landscape, present unique problems and possibilities. How different they are from the docks and piers of rustic, Maine fishing villages! Fishing villages are usually set in coves or around good harbors; one may shoot from a dock toward boats and find landscape behind to fill in, or one may go to the end of a dock and shoot back toward land and the activity of the dock. 

In contrast, here the leading line of a good boardwalk disappearing at the horizon is a useful recurring theme that can be varied again and again to good effect, but in doing so, one turns away from the ocean view and from the signs and stalls that line the boardwalk. Often they are the most interesting features, the things I went south to photograph. 

Striving to include seaside and land-side, produces images that tend toward awkwardly long panoramas, and neither oceanside features nor boardwalk shops are shown to their best; few features along a boardwalk are meant to be viewed from the side. Here, the blackened, metal structures of vanished signs and the row of street lights solve the problem.

In other shots, to gain height in the panorama I found myself moving in close to foreground features on one side or the other, and then looking for activity to fill the triangle of sky on the opposite corner. All parts of a good composition must actively engage the eye. 

Too many of my compositions could be improved by crops, but only at a steep loss in resolution. Reflecting on this I am resolved next time to make more use of a tripod-mounted telephoto lens to reach down the boardwalk and compress the receding scape - a plan for the next trip.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Thrill Ride

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Of the sacred trilogy of amusement park rides, it was always the roller coaster that separated the fearless men from the whimpering boys, and I didn’t dare to ride one until I was shamed onto it by a girl. We had just finished 9th grade, had been dating for a month, and I was looking forward to the summer ahead. Rye's Dragon Coaster was famous, built in 1929 at the height of the Golden Age of roller coasters, but we were there with another couple and cared little for history. 

Without anyone suggesting it, we were online to ride the Dragon, as if riding the Dragon was a thing assumed. Though nothing was said, she forced me onto the ride as surely as if I had been at knifepoint. As we inched toward the wooden turnstile and the man taking tickets, I saw a catastrophe waiting to happen. My friends were already talking about going back a second and third time and checking how many rides we had tickets for. How could I admit to being a roller-coaster virgin!  I had long ago outgrown the height line, and there was no manly way to retreat from my dread. A moment before the man took my tickets I imagined the worst, and I realized that the option of not following my girlfriend through the turnstile was worse than getting on the coaster and puking all over her. 

After that, I remember the clenching: Me clenching the restraining bar in front of us, and her clenching my forearm and then sliding over the top and into the first speeding dip where she pressed her cheek hard against the muscle in my arm, and I tried to hold the mass of our bodies down in the seat that was spinning us around the first turn. I won’t say what happened when we entered the dragon, nor could I explain the sensation of the slow final bend and rolling to a stop, except to say that I continued moving many minutes after.

I know the Dragon Coaster is nothing compared to thrill rides today. Still, at the end of the ride I stepped off shakily and managed not to pass out, and though I’ve been back again since, even again that evening, and I’ve bravely led my family onto a roller coaster at Disney World so they would never have to risk my humiliation, I’m happy to have reached an age when I need no longer ride the Dragon Coaster. It is a thrill accomplished.

NOTE: The photo shows the roller coaster at Wildwood, NJ.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Longest

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Boardwalks! They so naturally lend themselves to metaphor. Were these along the Jersey Shore the first? Patched together relics, paths to democracy that sprouted along the Atlantic shores as new wealth and railroads opened a new frontier of leisure? Places still where battles are occasionally waged. This one in Wildwood, though I have never seen it before, seems a place forever changing its face and ever the same. Railroads made the Jersey shore the place to be, and everybody knew the right place to meet the right sort of people.

How to photograph it remains a work in progress.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Photographing Wildwood

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: We checked the weather forecast carefully before embarking: Monday, cloudy chance of rain; Tuesday, rain likely; Wednesday, partly cloudy chance of rain. Temperatures, 40s to 50s. The trip was on. A perfect December stretch to photograph old boardwalks on the Jersey Shore! Would anything be left after the repeated wooing and betrayal of generations of tourists and the savaging of storms? Our mission was to capture what came our way.

We came from opposite directions and met in Wildwood where land struggles to stay above water. Wildwood is a grid; street after identical street of bland white houses, empty motels and fenced off parking lots. It is a ghost town in December, but The Candlelight Inn was an oasis of Victorian fine frumpery, and we, it’s only guests, were welcomed warmly. Even without steady guests, everything was dusted immaculately, glassware glistened, paneling darkly glowed. 

I meant to photograph the dining room. But for electrification of beautiful glass fixtures it was as it might have been in 1890. We managed to make time for an excellent breakfast in that room. The owners told us they had bought the house intact, and my understanding was that it had been that way through several long tenures. We might well have spent time photographing inside the B&B, but we didn’t.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Boxcar Barn

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: This barn along a road behind the train station in Wingdale, NY, seems “home-made,” but tile silos were expensive things. Once set in place, they were never moved. I’ve never seen any so short or so dashingly coiff’d. There must be a story to explain this.

Saturday, November 29, 2014


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Among things to notice while dallying in the past is the care taken to utilize height. Bank barns, railroad loading structures, steamship docks all are built to use the economics of height. Earlier I posted photographs of Coal Pier 18, a multi-acre structure at a key coal transfer point to turn train-loads to barges-full. The recently photographed American Brass monorail is another example.

Physics defines Work as the amount of the force applied to move a mass across a distance. A falling mass was work saved or conserved; it was money banked. How did gasoline engines and powerful electric motors, which made energy always the click of a switch away, change the economics of structures like this? 

Designed by someone and carefully built by hand, who was he? Was this a unique construction or were these plans used widely?

We passed this along the road after leaving Pennhurst. I’m not even certain what it held. I recall we walked around it, figured out how it worked, saw where the rail line ran, but at seven months’ remove, I can’t recall what the shadowed side looked like.  I wish I had a photo!

It's hard for communities along the endless corridors of strip malls and super highways to reclaim a distinct identity. How much is it worth to have structures like this stabilized and preserved for future generations to wonder at as they try to understand a world that was, to which they are the heirs? Would it help if we called this sculpture?

Friday, November 28, 2014

Pennhurst Past


A central corridor lined with rooms, 
each room a yesterday, beds lining 
walls the color of watery pea soup, 
the smell of amnesia in the still air, 
and pillows full of memory, forgotten.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  Most people are interested in what’s beyond the horizon; photographers are more interested in exploring how it lies and what’s above it  and under it and how all the tones balance and clash. 

May everyone find friendship and appreciation at the Thanksgiving table. This photo by request but sans snow. My apologies for the omission.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Pillow Space, Pennhurst

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Looking at this image shot at Pennhurst made me think about times when I was five or six in my new bedroom - nap times, maybe, when I would lie awake in that space between the pillow and the wall and entertain myself. It was, perhaps the most private place I had. There were already cars and trains and boats and planes on the wallpaper there, and nobody minded if I added suns and moons and rode Crayon palominos through the milky way.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Exterior Pennhurst

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:   The thriving tree supports all branches down to the most fragile twig with vital nutrients. 

Saturday, November 22, 2014


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Back in April I visited Pennhurst State School and Hospital, commonly known as Pennhurst Assylum. I posted 6 photos then (click & scroll to mid-page). I had more photos to post at the time, but I chose to move on because the images became too dark to post, or at least too dark to post day after day after day. It’s a fair question to ask, “Why post at all?”

I have good friends, supportive of my photography who cheer me on when images are sunny but try to pass dark subjects by, and occasionally someone who knows me less well will ask in kindness, “Is everything OK?" One only has to look at the state of the world to know everything is not OK, but I’m fine, and thank you. We follow the news in order to understand and to remain compassionate, and we continue to function normally, even when we are helpless to know how to fix the world. My natural buoyancy lets me use my camera to explore the past that lies around me, a time traveler lingering in another age to try and understand where we came from and to grasp hold of the metamorphosis that is existence. I like things lost or abandoned and anything with a coating of dust or rust, peeling paint or the patina of age. I’ve been attracted to dried up beetles and festering water lilies, things we have been or are made from or might become. It’s sometimes a graveyard shift and well suited to my dullness or my sanguinity.

I went to Pennhurst largely ignorant of its special history but interested to find out what it had to teach me about a very different kind of human condition. When I came into this space what struck me immediately were the walls, flat metal panels rusted to the color of puke, the blankness of them and the lack of horizon. Even where there were windows, they were small breaks in the flatness of the walls. There were some wheelchairs and beds on wheels with rails to keep people from rolling out, and some walkers. I placed one of the walkers where the panels made an intersection and began composing images.

There are many things one may think at such a crossroad, the worst must be to think you are alone, forgotten by the living and the dead.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Rhinecliff Tower

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Today we went in search of John Bird and his church and found neither.  At the four corners of Mulberry and Livingston there were four beautiful old wood frame houses with plenty of Victorian trimming, but there never was a church. We found a church by John Bird, but it had no brick.  And so, here’s one more photo of Rhinecliff while I try to track down John Bird and his brickwork.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Rhinecliff Autumn

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Stone steps that tumble like a woodland stream to greet dream visitors ushered through Miss Jones’ magical doorway to the castle within. Even in its current state, these brick decorations are trumpet flourishes. Since posting yesterday I’ve learned that a master mason, John Bird, was responsible for the brickwork of Rhinecliff as well as for the church at the corner of Livingston and Mulberry ten years later. 

The old town history records the building of a church, “under the direction of Father Scully, in 1864, with George Veitch as architect, and John Bird as master mason.” It goes on to list the names of large contributors to the church parish: "Mrs. Mary R. Miller, Mrs. Franklin Delano, Miss Elizabeth Jones, Mr. Horatio Miller, Mr. Edward Jones, Mr. William Astor, and Mr. Lewis Livingston.” - a church for Miss Elizabeth and the people who kept up with her and probably passed through this door regularly. I look forward to finding out how John Bird's imagination met the commission for a church.

In the meantime, it’s worth noting that the decorations appear to be mostly composed of standard shape bricks, but with a precise technique for cutting brick to meet immediate conditions. Each point on the sunburst arches is uniquely shaped, no two points are alike. This is a building ahead of its time, designed and executed before there was a demand for brick shaped into a variety of curves and a complement of precast decorative details. 

There is an excellent collection of documents on Rhinecliff and including a plan, here: http://loc.gov/pictures/item/ny0191/ at the Library of Congress.

The best collection of early photos I’ve found is here: (http://www.historic-structures.com/ny/rhinebeck/wyndcliffe.php). Be sure to click through the different sets of pictures. Much of the porch (All of it on the left side) is gone now, and we see directly to the second layer of brickwork. Among the interiors is a shot looking into the central hall that is a similar view to mine where the floor was gone (http://rothphotos.blogspot.com/2014/11/rhinecliff-open-house.html). 

When you’re done looking elsewhere, come back to this picture; open it up to full screen if you can, and turn down any light around the screen or reflecting from it. Look until you’ve convinced yourself there’s nobody lurking behind the window or about to come through the opening door. Can you find Miss Elizabeth in a mansion's folly, or John Bird?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Toccata in Brick

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Although the architect of Rhinecliff remains uncertain, whoever it was could call on the services of virtuoso masons to execute a needlepoint sampler of masonry forms, patterns, and decorations to bedazzle visitors. Nobody piled brick like the Joneses. Expand the image to the width of your screen, and slowly scroll from bottom to top as if you had stopped and slowly let your eyes climb the walls in front of you and then walked by.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Rhinecliff Open House

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  I’d like to invite you across the floor to the room where everyone’s socializing, but as you see, there is no floor and the food’s probably overstored. Resist the urge to look around through that door to see how the table is set or the entertainment is arrayed in the back of the room. Imagine dancing here at the housewarming in 1853. Imagine the music playing, echoing across the Hudson.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Rhinecliff on Hudson

To learn more about Edith Wharton’s Rhinecliff, click here

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: “Wyndclyffe,” its actual name, was built in 1853 high on a bluff to command the view, and green lawns and gardens stretched to the river. It set a mark, and everyone tried to keep up with the Joneses.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Twin Stoops

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: On traveling in time

My friend took me here where paths no longer lead, and the stoops grow slippery with moss.
Inside, a stringless piano, gospel hymns forgotten, where once there was song.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Watercolors No.7

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Here is an October moment that composed a pond beside a friend’s cabin in Virginia. It has waited since 2012 for its moment on the blog. 

To see more of the “Watercolors” series, type, "watercolors" into the box in the upper left.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Autumn Colors


Cider time
Leaves will crumble 
Galaxies dissolve 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Factory Flag

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Yesterday's flagpole image was composed on a melancholy walk around the empty campus of American Brass / Anaconda. The empty flagpole begs numerous questions at what they say was once the largest, busiest brass manufacturing plant in the world, a place where the American Dream was designed, assembled, and tested.  

Until I walked up Liberty Street, I never realized the company had a flagpole, though I’ve long been aware of the immense part this factory and the Valley played during both world wars. In the four years I photographed here I don’t think I ever saw a flag flying; the administration had already moved out, so the flagpole was positioned facing a locked gate. 

Of course the men carrying out the final shut-down of the brass mill remember when the flag was raised and lowered daily, and they can name the men who did it, but even they have no knowledge of this mysterious memorial in the long-closed rod mill. Who placed the flag and when? - here in a west-facing window of one of the great basilicas of Brass Valley. What special resonances does it gather here? What is the music playing?

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Friday, November 7, 2014


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: I bring to every photograph I take, the experience of the taking of it. That experience must either find expression in the composition, exposure, and processing of the image, or be lost to others. Does it matter? Would this image be any different with studio lights and a few dusty props? Yet for me this set of images remains tied to shadows in the rugged engineer’s office, a quarter century abandoned, sacked and quiet while the afternoon sun slants through broken skylights high in the work shed roof and through the window, from which the engineer sometimes looked down on production below, or sat at his desk where the sunbeam falls on the old cart where the gears were left after everything else had been looted. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Ritual of Sunshine

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  It’s hard to know what went on here, and without presses or paint hoods or ovens to distinguish one space from another, it was often difficult to know where I was. Of course every building, floor, and column, though nearly identical to its neighbors, is carefully numbered. Passing from room to room, floor to floor I kept track of my place on a mental grid in a space that might as well have been endless in all directions until I hit the cellar below the sub-basement or the roof or the last hall.  

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Station Unknown

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: I’ve asked all the old-timers. Nobody can tell me anything about the flag and the board beneath it, with twelve similar calendar photos of antique automobiles. It is just beside the loading bay where a tractor-trailor truck has been parked and left since 2008, when the rod mill closed. Exploding pinholes of light bore through window cracks and burn out grimy surfaces, but a sharp military crease remains in the flag, and I imagine a bugle’s call. Whatever the occasion and the dear memories that prompted such tribute, it reverberates in many dimensions here in the brass mill.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Annealer's Station

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Eight years closed - still not tea time…