Thursday, July 31, 2014

Old Fashioned Steam (The Dressmaker's Daughters 7)

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: I though t to title this, "Ego," but I decided to let viewers title it.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Dressmaker's Daughters 6

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  Taking our cue from the Food Channel’s “Chopped,” in which contestants are each given four unlikely ingredients from which they must prepare a dish, adding things as needed "from the Chopped pantry and fridge"; today Lazlo and I returned to our secret Chopped kitchen, not in competition, but cooperatively to figure out what else we could do with our cameras, 21 beige manneqins, one charcoal mannequin, and an abandoned opera house. We brought with us an ever-growing collection of props to enrich the chopped pantry.

We may return. All suggestions are welcome, and we will try almost anything so long as it respects the ladies' virtue, such as it is.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Bench 23

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: This journal entry is meant to mark a significant moment in my photographic vigil of the demise of the Last Brass Mill. 

The machine in this picture is an expansion bench. Until last fall Rudy, Randy, and Ray ran this machine regularly. (Whew!) Extruded, seamless tube is repeatedly reworked cold on expansion benches and draw benches to bring it to the desired specification for the job. In the foreground Ray pushes buttons to work elevators that position the tube.  In the background Rudy controls a hydraulic valve that puts immense pressure behind the ram. Between them the ram is part way through the tube and is making it bulge. It traverses a tube in under five seconds, like a snake swallowing a mouse, increasing the diameter of the tube and evenly stretching the wall. In the far background are two, large electric motors. Once, one of them turned a hydraulic pump that applied the muscle to the hydraulic fluid behind the ram.

Hiram Hayden was famous for revolutionizing pot-making, and he was reputed to hold more patents than anyone else in Brass Valley. He was the embodiment of the inventive brass entrepreneur in a world that was just inventing engineering. In the early days, pots were hammered out in a “battery.” Battery workers usually were deaf long before they were dead. Hiram Hayden made better pots with machines that could spin them and shape them instead of battering them. It is not surprising, then, that he was also a pioneer in the making of seamless tube. He understood how cold metal flows and how to fit the wheels and gears and engines to do it.

The plans for this bench are in the factory offices nearby; they are dated 1905. Hiram Hayden died the year before.  The year before that the Wright brothers flew. This bench may have been here already at the start of World War I, when a new factory shed was built for an expanding tube mill to meet war’s rising production targets. Perhaps significantly, that the tube mill butts against an 1880s era, four-story factory that was built by Holmes, Booth, & Haydens to make burners for oil lamps. It was likely repurposed for tube-making as the world electrified and tube milling began below. It is not hard to imagine that Hayden and the men who pioneered the technology for making tube seamlessly, did so in the old lamp factory, and that the original equipment put in place here in the new tube mill was built and installed under the direct supervision of many of those innovators. It is a formative place for Brass Valley to finally expire. One might almost call it a holy land.

In the background, Rudy's controls are like no others. He adjusts the hydraulic pressure to the ram by turning a great wheel that sits horizontally, like the steering wheel on a city bus, but cast metal and heavy-looking. And the chair that Rudy sits on is made of welded metal and is fastened to the floor. It is an odd thing, inhuman in its engineered rigidity and with a high back out of all human proportion.

The homemade chair is a mystery. Perhaps the swing of the great wheel required such force that chairs made of wood were being turned to matchsticks. Or maybe the great wheel was at one time turned by a “big wheel,” who the engineers thought to honor with a throne. If so, it is a story that's lost. One of the men doing salvage work at the factory pointed out the back was made of expanded metal. Expanded metal was developed, patented and first marketed around 1889; it is an interesting use, a parody of wicker for a world of metal workers. 

Friday while I was shooting at the mill, the salvage men began removing the expansion bench. It will take awhile to cut it from the floor. They said it will be going to a factory in Mexico. If labor there remains cheap and the laws governing working conditions and pollution remain lax, the expansion bench may still be turning out seamless tube for another hundred years.

I’ve avoided discussion of the cold processing of tube on the blog as it will be treated in my book when it appears next spring. I’ve made an exception here as the occasion demanded recognition.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Bias (The Dressmaker's Daughters 3)

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Photos such as this in the Dressmaker’s Daughters series were finished in order to maximize fine detail. For me one of the pleasures of the image is in looking up close. These are dressmaker’s mannequins and are themselves, finely tailored.

Unfortunately, most of that fine detail is the first thing to be lost in downsizing and jpg compression for email. The coarse cloth not only catches light well, but the weave is clear. The seams along the shoulders that quickly pixelate here are in the hi-res original clear enough to see each stitch that binds front to back as far back as the second to last row of mannequins in the upper right corner. Such clarity is of little value for its own sake. Here it seems to me to be a part of the visceral impact of the image, a feeling a little bit raw and rough on the pin-cushion, tailored form. 

Click the image to view it larger.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Basting (The Dressmaker's Daughters 2)

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: I used to think my photographs should be expressive. I’ve come to believe the best photographs are not expressive but impressive; they draw us in, engage us with their forms and say as much by what is left out as by what is included so that as viewers we are forced to make our own connections and fill the gaps with our own sensibilities and experiences. In seeking to express, the photograph risks overwhelming the viewer’s creative energies.  The point is not, “Do you get it?” Rather it is, “What do you find there? What do you make of it?”

I was delighted at the variety of responses I received on the previous “Dressmaker’s Daughters.”  This reply from Mary Weissbrod especially caught the spirit of enjoying open-ended possibilities:

"I see sadness. Perhaps a lady who worked all the time to support her kids and dreamed of a life of excitement and power as a designer to the rich and famous. Instead she sews for a hard ass boss who doesn't care if her talents show as long as she makes him look good. She is lonely because she works day and night and has only her mannequins as friends. I see the garment district and the juxtaposition of the haves and have nots who work there. I see a story similar to Pinocchio. The mannequins are longingly looking out the window wishing they could be real. I see the emptiness of the loft the mannequins are in and the coldness of the streets outside. New York can be like that. There’s no doubt that it is anywhere else but New York. 
...Your photo speaks many things to me. I could make up lots of stories that it creates in my mind.” -Mary Weissbrod

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Jaws 2

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: I spent long enough with the pointer to enjoy its bold form and graphic look. It seems to turn everything around it into part of an Art Deco abstract. This is where the man plugs into the machine. The machine is essentially a 19th century battery. 

I watched George pull and shove and lift and turn each heavy tube repeatedly. I photographed the constantly shifting arc of his back when he leaned into the work, pushing the pipe forward and when he cradled his fingers under it and pulled while pushing as much with his feet as he pulled with his hands near the pointer jaws. Each time he found the position he wanted, his foot fired the hydraulic hammers that drove the wedges into the thick-walled tube, gradually hammering it into a nipple of the correct size for a draw bench to grab. Every length of tube must be pointed. Sometimes I saw George at it all day long, and he still had all his fingers and a smile.

The OSHA sign hanging behind George is for a code violation that was remedied, I was told, by installation of the plastic guard in front of the pointer’s jaws. While most of the jobs in the brass mill required more monitoring than doing, running the pointer required constant attention over long periods and the strength to move the heavy lengths of tube constantly backward and forward.

Friday, July 4, 2014


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  Attitude is everything. It is annoying to have again been blind sided by expectation, in this case: that the operation of a small piece of equipment used to prepare tube for a larger operation should be less interesting than the larger dinosaurs amid which I photographed for four years. Although I have been interested in the workings of industrial hydraulics, it was not until last night, looking at some of my photographs of the machines shut down, that I appreciated the simplicity of the Pointer’s design and followed the hydraulic lines to the place at which they deliver their punch. What photographs did I miss because I was on the other side photographing the operator and only got here after operation ceased? 

It is often my habit to explore various methods for developing an image, though I’ve been told that the permissible range in developing an image after shooting is limited, I would argue to the contrary, it is as limitless as I choose to make it. I welcome comments for or against either or both of these.