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. 

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