Thursday, September 25, 2014


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Once I knew what this photograph was about, the choice of B&W was easy. There was no reason for the glove to be bright blue, and bleached out, crisp processing would make the image more visceral. I decided to keep the spot of light at the top for the bit of definition it adds and the suggestion of space beyond.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  My brother raised the question this time when he asked in response to yesterday’s post, “Cogs,” if I had tried it in color. When I first went digital I shot only color, and I recall a photographer friend who campaigned for me to start shooting in monochrome, and there was a time before that when I had access to a dark room and shot only monochrome. Some photographers tell me it’s not art unless it’s black and white, and I know others who would convince me monochrome is an artsy affectation of another age; they call it “pretentious.”

For me, monochrome is just another way by which I can try to abstract the realities of the routine in an effort to make them reverberate in a wider cultural space. How an image is to be processed, whether it is to be presented in color or monochrome or is to be bleached out or burned in or manipulated in an infinite number of other ways comes from the image itself. Monochrome has a unique set of virtues and vices. Some feel it always evokes a bygone time. Sometimes misplaced color disrupts composition. Switching to monochrome can reveal the problem, and offers an approach to solving it. Monochrome can filter irrelevancy. There are photographs that only work in monochrome, just as there are photographs that only work in color. There are no aesthetic laws governing the use and abuse of the saturation sliders.

I wonder if other photographers have adopted this practice: I will often do both monochrome and color versions, and when I find myself preferring one, I challenge myself to make the other one better. However, it soon becomes clear to me why I prefer one or the other approach. In the case of yesterday’s image I chose monochrome because color seemed superfluous. It added nothing - became a distraction from the utter simplicity of the image. However, pulling back a bit to reveal more of the old hand cart and background, the subtle interplay of blue-grey and rose-gray tonalities makes something new of the same subject as it gives it scale. As B&W seemed essential to the former image, color feels to me necessary here; I can’t remove it without feeling the result is less. The image determines processing choices.

I’ve been lucky enough to be able to shoot in what may be the largest derelict mill in the Naugatuck Valley. It is filled with nooks and crannies and cathedral-like halls and catwalks and snaking, subterranean catacombs of darkness. However, for the past three visits I’ve been lured back to an office, hung between two giant cathedral-like sheds where every sunny afternoon the light streams through broken roof and rafter and through dusty windows into a loft-like attic space that was once the engineers’ office. I was here once in 2011 and photographed it then when it was filled with stuff. It has been emptied since. This cart and gears and the filtered beam of afternoon light that moves across the floor as I roll the hand-cart, they are among the few survivals along with a wall calendar dated 1989.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Monday, September 22, 2014

Proud Hartford

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: I’m sometimes asked about the surface texture of some of my images. Most often those asking describe it as like-a-painting or painterly. I can’t do better than to say that certain textures appeal to my eyes the way certain seasonings appeal to taste or the way certain timbres, harmonies and rhythms touch nerves and make me move. The treatment is not, I hope, a wash put over the picture, and it comes from several different sources. Various digital tools allow fine control over localized contrasts - contrasts within certain ranges. These, I find, must be tuned to the scale of detail within the image and set to achieve the emphasis my eye wants to see. In the image above Topaz Adjust allowed me to bring out shapes, especially in the middle-ground left and right, within specific size ranges until they held my eye as it wanted - needed. 

Sometimes I choose to bleach out colors or enhance them with a bit of extra saturation or more drastic conscious distortions of the image, and the measure is never how much the finished image duplicates the original. Often areas must be darkened or lightened to emphasize elements or lead the eye. Sometimes the texture is merely noise that results from pulling extra detail out of shadow or when shooting in very dark areas under natural or minimally enhanced light; for some images it makes excellent grunge. 

Thanks again to everyone at Colt Gateway for making it possible to photograph there.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Bethlehem Window

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: From the outside, windows tease and mystify, becoming dusty, dark and labyrinthine passages though imagination. From the inside only rarely do they live up to expectations. This one at the mill in Bethlehem, PA, held on to it’s secrets until I found the hidden second stair that led to the third floor. Although I never found my way into the “L,” at one end of the elusive stairwell I found this window. The photo is an experiment in grunge.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Cloisters on Mill Street

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Imagine a garden! I’ve photographed here before ( It has been more than two years since fire destroyed what was already a dangerous industrial ruin, and still brickwork embroidery speaks of bygone pride in craft and appearances that probably did not extend to care for the Mad River that flows behind or mother earth beneath. This ruin is well-placed beside a residential neighborhood that could benefit from a Riverside park with an elegant colonnade of Victorian brickwork and a couple of towers, perhaps for a lookout and a bell and a chimney for remembering who we were. It would be a park to reclaim the river.

Friday, September 19, 2014


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  I treasure the cold loneliness of Edward Hopper who has taught us all a way to see. Alas, to reference him here is only to call attention to how far short my photograph falls; I apologize for leaving it for viewers to imagine who Hopper might have painted into those windows or what he might have set on which stair treads and woven into a complex story.

Here is a previous “Not quite Hopper”:

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Hartford from Colt

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Yesterday’s round window was from Bethlehem Steel; today a photo through windows of the old Colt firearms factory in Hartford taken last May. My thoughts on it are below, but before reading mine, pause and consider your own. Windows have all sorts of stories to tell.


“Upheaval”! It’s a word to tremble on, suggesting violent movement of the earth beneath our feet. Technological upheaval uproots whole cities and the social fabric and human networks which define civilization. It uproots whole continents as we become more crowded together on the planet and more closely connected. 

“Upheaval.” It is also a word associated with renewal, as natural as the seasons and the seismic lurching of continental plates that test human spirit.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Oculus

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  When so little of the architecture is decorative, any gesture toward decoration becomes magnified, even when it is hidden behind a cobweb of steel. How many local government buildings and fine old homes include a similar window for symbolic echoes that barely sound, but here reverberations collide.

Thursday, September 11, 2014


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  I was impressed by the refined practicality of the Bethlehem mill architecture. There was nothing haphazard about the design; buildings of vastly different eras showed a consistent concern with details of construction, sensitivity to their appearance without ever extending such concerns to being decorative. The power of the buildings comes from the rigor of their honesty. Of course, over time most buildings are repurposed and the logic of their simplicity becomes a complex quilt. What lasts, however, is an efficiency of design that was sometimes matched by the brutal rigors of Bethlehem Steel’s labor practices. It was Bethlehem Steel President Eugene Grace who wrote, “Let it be your guiding, impelling aim to take your boss’s job away from him.” Upon learning of the outbreak of World War II he is said to have remarked to those present, “Gentlemen, we are going to make a lot of money."

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Room 12

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: For the record, this group of factory interiors was all photographed inside a single factory building of the Bethlehem Steel Company. The building is a long, seven-story structure, four bays wide. The two western bays form a single, three-story high space at grade and two, two-story spaces above. The spaces are well lit by windows north, south and west and are linked by open hatchways and cranes. This wall runs down the center of the building. The eastern bays are broken into smaller rooms, and an additional floor is inserted making the first level only two stories high. The building is L-shaped, but I never found a passage into the L.  The roof failed long ago, and there were areas of floor I avoided.

The pictures were processed as individual statements without any real attempt to connect them. However, viewers are invited to consider them as a passage through the building’s spaces or a journey through industrial decay. The building was designed for steel manufacturing, but nothing remains to hint at what actual work went on here or that it was once noisy with people and machines building a middle class.

Monday, September 8, 2014


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  Something is necessary, or there could not be emptiness.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Saturday, September 6, 2014

No Exit

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: “Art,” I think, is a presumptuous term. It is enough to say that I like photographs that have an attitude and places that tease and challenge me to find out what is inside, even when I find nothing more than peeling paint and abandoned hand carts and a bit of the sweat of honest work.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Piranesi's Garland

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Piranesi! Is he the father of all ruins photographers? Most people, if they know of him, know him by the images of Roman ruins that often adorn hotel rooms but are unfamiliar with his series of Prison images. To me he, his works, are kin not just of Goya's but of Escher's. Even his most sanctified Roman arches are teeming with raw nature beyond the few sprigs I can offer; in Piranesi there is no doubt, Nature conquers all. He would have had little patience with photographers’ qualms about compositing in a few extra sprigs when he could produce flights of imaginary arches springing through open air. What good is a camera if we can’t use it in heaven and hell!

It was a terrific shoot, the kind I like best: The western end of the row of stacks has acres of paved parking and nothing from blocking the sun’s light or to keep me from backing up. The lots were mostly empty, and there was a wide plane on which to move around, test ranges and angles interpose various elements of the mill architecture like props or toys that move when I move in relation to the stacks. Standing in some places there are pictures. I spent two hours with my tripod moving around within a six block square area while the sun was dropping, seeing what might be made at different angles trying to find the pictures before working my way to the arches and eventually getting close enough to discover the sprouting boscage. 

Because digital allows us to do anything, every print comes with the terror of the essentially blank canvas. Able to do anything, we must do something, and one explores and follows hunches or sometimes sees it all clearly. The previous two images offered one approach - a mood very much in sympathy with much Piranesi. Accordingly, I also tried to work in Piranesi’s style of the Roman ruins prints, with sepia toned paper and images of a certain inkiness fading suggestively at the edges. They were nothing more than terribly weak imitations of Piranesi. 

Meanwhile, I felt moved to  celebrate the fantasy and sandcastle-whimsy of these great steel sculptures and now offer them for the first time in living color. If you don’t know Piranesi, check him out on Wiki.

Thursday, September 4, 2014



Photographing Bethlehem

as best I can find out
for World War I
still soldier-like 
armored in rust and
industrial dusk 
tired husk of vanished empire
behind Roman arches 
that supplied legions 
back to the Civil War and 
the ra-ta-tat-tat of a
chain link fence and 
and two World Wars and
a lazy stream of visitors parked 
thinking about dinner 
before the sun sets
over Bethlehem.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Blast Furnace

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Normally my job is to take the ordinary and try to make it singular and representative. The five surviving blast furnaces of Bethlehem Steel are already singular and iconic. Their looming presence has its own messages and my job is to find unexpected angles, revealing light, telling juxtapositions, to find ways to improvise upon the tune and transform it.

Be sure to click the image to view it large.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Mills - Bethlehem Steel

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  Bethlehem, PA, is not at all what I expected it would be. The buildings have the solemn venerability of survivors. They seem to have escaped the worst desecrations of gangs, street people and metal thieves common at other derelict mill sites. That’s all good because unique and awe inspiring treasures of American industrial architecture survive here, and buildings like those in my image survive as important context.

Time, however, is a less forgiving vandal. It has been 20 years since the mills closed, the roofs are ragged and frayed, so I was pleased to learn that property here has been set aside to become the, “National Museum of Industrial History,” a project in cooperation with the Smithsonian Institute. 

I wonder, will help come fast enough to preserve the context of generic mill buildings that sets off the unique architectural miracles? It will not come soon enough for anyone to notice the brass mills at this moment being scrapped in Brass Valley.

While I was at the Bethlehem mill an exhibit they were setting up was demonstrated as as a "photo op." A moderate sized crucible was suspended in a manner not quite visible, and an arch of glowing plastic was lit as if it were a stream of molten steel. At one point the museum guide put on a silver coat and went over, pushed a button to emit fake smoke, and stood as if pouring the faux metal. Less than a year ago I photographed Mike doing that job with real brass for the last time in Brass Valley. Now that would be something worth putting in a museum! Until a month ago the brass mill was still a living museum, the subject of my forthcoming book.

I sent out a dozen or so images from my recent trip as previews to a few friends and two people picked this image alone to comment on. One thought it was too generic and ordinary to be of interest. The other picked it as the favorite of the group and thought it had enough atmosphere to illustrate a Dickens novel. I’ll try neither to exalt nor brood. I had chosen it as today’s post before either comment was received. The value of receiving such comments is not as a graph of opinion to chase after taste, but as a window into what/how different people see. To me the photograph is a straight-forward, business-like composition to reflect on these venerable, business-like structures fading in time.