Thursday, October 30, 2014

Nevermore at the Opera House

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  All the leaves are yellow and orange and red and brown and the raven has perched in the top balcony of the Sterling Opera House to await the phantom.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Numbering Station No. 2


Becoming and Going

There are basilicas 
and passages 
first and last. 

there are stations in bays, 
properly equipped, that come, 

and the people 
that come 
and go 

and the power 
to make it all move 
and a river of raw material 

becoming and going.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Empty Stations

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: For a long time when I shot here in the rod mill, the existence of the long passageway with the monorail, that runs above the bay on the right, remained hidden. Switch back and forth between the previous image and this one, and you’ll understand how things are. The spot where the skylight is interrupted in the bay on the left is where the pedestrian bridge passes over the roof. The monorail crossed further down.

They say that cranes, the avian kind, are very expressive, and those that are left have a very large vocabulary of vocalizations; in certain seasons, I’ve been told, they even sing to each other. These cranes are silent. Some avian cranes also communicate by color changes and through a large vocabulary of non-vocalized communications. I think sometimes when I’m facing the other way these cranes turn slightly and lower their hooks a bit, and I turn in time to see a cat darting into a shadow. Though these cranes rarely whoop, they are endangered. That’s the way things are.

Sunday, October 26, 2014


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  Even after I found the long hall to the pedestrian bridge across the track (previous entry), I took no notice of this hulking piece of machinery parked in the only alcove. There are numerous lessons in that:

1.  Sometimes I see only what I’m looking for. I didn’t visit this hall often, but I must have passed the alcove a half dozen times. It is one of the few features in a very long space, and yet it made little impression on me until Corky happened to tell me the factory once had a monorail system, and I began looking for its remains. Lazlo had missed it too, but when I pointed it out, he gave it his super panorama treatment, while I took out my wide-angle lens. There’s never a shortage of things to see or ways of seeing them.

2.  I don’t usually photograph “things.” However, until I understood that the beam was a track and the car, a monorail vehicle, I was mindless and saw no picture here. The picture lies in the purpose - in the thought of that thing impelled along the track, perhaps with hampers of scrap metal hanging from it, perhaps a workmen walking next to it. Until I knew what it was, I saw no picture. However, the picture must speak without any explanation. It’s not a photograph of a thing; it’s an image.

3. If there is power in the image, visual should precede verbal, and the power will lie in realms unstated.

For the record:

The "long perpendicular hall” remains a bit of a mystery; why so long? It continues behind me and well past both bridges to where the building once ended and where other structures might once have stood. In any case, like the pedestrian passage, this alcove once went across the roof of the rod shop and then entered an enclosed bridge over the track to the flat wire mill. Of course, I’m not sure what the mills were doing when the monorail was in operation. The bridge is gone, this end walled over, and on the other end the buildings are much changed, though its easy to see how the bridge and monorail might have fit in. 

The monorail began there, in the flat wire mill.  Passing into the rod mill and turning here, it zigged down at the far end to the right, and then zagged left out of the building. It then crossed in front of the powerhouse to the foundry. Gables remain high on the roofs where it entered each building, and I think I can see it in the 1921 and 1934 aerials. 

Inside the foundry it made another turn left and crossed back over the tracks through one of the bridges pictured earlier.  That bridge must have been similar to the missing bridge of this picture. Inside the extrusion mill you can barely see where the bridge abuts, but it is at a spot where trains and trucks had access. 

A bridge, two gables, and this stretch of track where the "monorail" vehicle came to rest are all that is left of a system that once was a major artery for materials and people and the flow of product. What, exactly, it did, I don’t know, but I never realized how much this campus was once like a single, big, humming machine, back before reality was digitized.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Pedestrian Passages

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: What is it about such passages that draw me in, that tease the child inside many of us? I remember the day we discovered the other entrance to this bridge across the track. It was one of our first explorations of the American Brass flat-wire mill. I noted the condition of the bridge decking, and my better judgement decided that it was enough to look through the dirty glass of the locked door and not risk crossing the track, but the hunt had begun for the other side. 

Had I crossed the bridge then I would have been totally lost, and it took more than a year of searching before I found my way to the end above the rod mill. It was not where I had expected it to be. The trick is that this is not the bridge but a passage across the rooftop to the edge of this building. The track and bridge are just beyond the door, and the existence of the long, perpendicular hall in which I stood to take this picture, that runs for hundreds of feet to my right and left, was unknown. The only access is a small stair leading from the second story men's locker room. Old plastic sheeting blocked the way and made it look especially uninviting, and it was a long walk from the bridge entrance I was trying to locate.

So what factory function warranted the expense of building a bridge over the track to a long room, one bay wide and only accessible by a narrow bridge or three flights of stairs at the far end?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Back before reality became digital, before stuff that mattered had turned to LEDs on a FedEx map tweeted and twittered at the speed of light, before Amazon orders were beamed to us in a day, we used to value physical connection. What mattered was, literally, weighty. Strong backs and heavy machinery were needed to lift and move such weighty matter. This may be the rustiest corridor in Brass Valley. Lazlo and I have now photographed in all of the industrial buildings along this stretch of rail and nudged our lenses even into some of the corners that time has forgotten. 

Of those bridges over rails that were once essential to the efficiency of industry, what child isn’t intrigued to know what passes through them and where they lead! Modern factories are thrown up in a moment; they are like beetles with huge tin shells enclosing lots of hollow space, but these companies grew slowly, adding workshops and basilicas as needed; they hugged the rail corridor, crowding and climbing over each other as if to get a better view of the locomotives' smoke and steam and soot. Every bridge implies some network of passages that wind like intestines within the tumble of factory sheds to network stations and functions and offices. Footsteps passing through real passages made product move as smoothly as the even hum of well-greased wheels and pistons and gears, and I’ve found both inside these bridges.

We’ve visited all that cross over the track here, as close as one may safely get, photographed some. The red one at the far back is broad and high and it connects two large machine shops where heavy industrial parts are still being finished for various industrial machines made elsewhere. There is space to drive a fork lift, and support for a heavy load over that bridge. The one in the center is the longest and most mysterious, passing across rooftops from interior sheds so as to to reach across the track to a tall derelict structure of corrugated metal. The nearest bridge was not for people. It was part of a “monorail system,” that linked a rod mill a wire mill and a tube extrusion mill to the central foundry. 

Six bridges appear crossing the tracks in the 1921 view of this area. Continuing in order, the next was all electrical connections: tubes and wires; one carried the last leg of the monorail back over the tracks, and the last was a bridge to save pedestrian steps. Five of the six bridges still exist today, and one that was not there in 1921 has been added, so there are still six. However, their days may be numbered.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  This is, to my knowledge, the end of the old Ansonia Canal that once ran from the Kinneytown Dam through the center of Ansonia. It was built in 1845 by Almon and Franklin Farrel for Anson Phelps and the new industrial village he was building. At one time the canal ran openly through town. Much of the canal is intact, though it’s mostly invisible to the public now, and few people know it’s there. 

The small building ahead and the buildings to the right are part of the old American Brass Company Ansonia site. It was once the site of Anson Phelps’ brass battery. Farther ahead, the two more modern looking buildings were part of Farrel Foundry & Machine Company. The small building directly ahead contains large pipes, valves, and other equipment that until very recently provided water for cooling freshly-poured metal in the Anaconda-American Brass casting house. 

Farther north, water is drawn off to generate electricity and then returned to the Naugatuck River. It’s about another mile further north along the canal to the Kinneytown Dam, and for all that length the canal flows invisibly beneath a vaulting of tree tracery in a land known joyfully to possums and voles, herons and robins, chipmunks and squirrels.

Composed for my brother by request.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Autumn in Brass Valley

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Storm clouds and crisp, blue days and nights have produced a picture-perfect autumn. Whenever I leave my house the hillsides are dazzling, but I have not yet taken a picture of them. This morning I found myself in the abandoned yards beside the old Benedict & Burnham powerhouse. The Naugatuck River winds through the old, abandoned factory compound.The sagging roof across the river in the background on the right dates from before the Civil War, I’m told. Behind are the slopes and gables of Waterbury’s Brooklyn. Only Autumn and graffiti are thriving here, and I enjoyed both shows.

IMAGINE what this site might become once the toxic waste is gone.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Grand Basilica

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: “Basilica.” There is no better word for identifying these buildings, especially those with peaked roofs. “Factory,” does not necessarily mean a single building. Shed is reductive, suggesting an add-on with a shed roof. “Mill,” “plant,” “shop,” and “workshop” all offer various problems, and none brings to mind these long high spaces where large objects could be built and moved. Often there is a central aisle where the largest work is handled and side aisles for contributing processes. Also like the early churches to which the term is historically applied, additions are made as needed, and often I find several "naves" side-by-side. As I understand it, to the Romans, basilica referred to the hall of justice, and sometime later in history it referred to the hall of  the godly.

I’ve been in none as grand as this, which is an admission I’ve come too late and must have missed the grandest. Note that there are two cranes parked here. The front one is clearly marked for a 30-ton limit. The one in back is marked both on the crane and the hook for not more than 60 tons. The braced rails, of course, must support the weight of both cranes and the loads they carry.

Be sure to click and view this one full screen.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Basilicas of Power

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: They say at one time a single machine manufactured here could fill an entire steamship bound for the sugar plantations of Cuba and South America. I scramble through passages between salvaged parts to find the old work stations where those machines might have been made.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Welding Station

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Unlike gluing or soldering, welding joins two things and makes them one, as when people of different backgrounds speaking different languages bring skills, energy, strength, thought and time toward a common purpose. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Filing Station


Still Time

How deeply 
in our DNA 
is time embedded? 

How closely 
is the steady pulse of day to night to day 
synchronized with the pumping of our blood? 

Some say 
the cycles of the moon 
thread our dreams like the tide, 

but for 150 years 
it is the face of a clock 
that time has worn. 

Railroads and factories 
tuned us to standard time 
and everything else fell into step. 

It is not clear to me 
what happened at this station, 
but it is clear it happened punctually. 

Sometimes a clock 
is the only trace that marks a spot of floor by a column or a window,
once a work station where someone spent the better part of a lifetime... 


Monday, October 6, 2014

Safety First

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: The pickling tanks are empty and crusted with residue, and nearby is the emergency shower with its simultaneous threat of danger and promise of safety no longer operational.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Fittings & Dies (color)

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: It remains to be seen whether yesterday’s posting was a serendipity or just a clumsy mistake. The B&W image was inadvertently made from a seriously underexposed RAW file that had been previously developed for compositing the overly bright, windows. It was never intended to be the base of a finished interpretation, but I didn’t realize that when I worked on it this week - thought it was just poor lighting that kept it from working in color.

A story Freeman Patterson told near the start of a week-long workshop ten years ago has stuck with me. It was about a student who realized after a day of wonderful shooting, that her camera was set incorrectly, and all of her exposures were horribly over-exposed. She was in tears and was about to throw everything away although she knew it had been otherwise a sensational shoot. Fortunately, Freeman saw the images and persuaded her to show them to the group. They had been shooting in an old house, and when the group saw the overexposed images, they thought the effect a brilliant way of treating the ghostly, timeless features of the decayed dwelling. The mis-exposed images were a serendipitous discovery.

The group’s discovery bore fruit at the end of the workshop when we all presented a final project on topics drawn from a hat. The most memorable of these was a slideshow of images of a young girl posing in the abandoned house that Freeman’s workshops often used. The model was a frail thing, and the photographer had dressed her in lace and placed her where the light was streaming and had created a series of eerie, haunting high-key images amid the wreckage of the house and highlighting the phrase the photographer had pulled from the hat: “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue."

Often we think photography is about getting it sharp and “properly” exposed, but it seems to me technique should be a means to an end, rarely an end in itself, and properly focused, properly exposed are not always what the finished photograph calls for. That said, I didn’t know yesterday when I struggled to render this image in color that I was working on a seriously underexposed original. No matter what I did, colors that should have been vivid would not come to life, and color relationships were off. The shoes, especially, were lost with their orange linings turned to dark rust. However, what was noisy, weak and unusable in color became a flattening gritty surface that led to the image produced. This morning while updating my catalogue, I discovered the mixup and found that if I used the right original, I could render the image as originally visualized in color. 

I also made a new B&W version from the new color version. The new B&W rendering has more local depth than the posted version, more polish, and it lacks the scratchy noise that flattens the posted version, but it’s not entirely clear to me the scratchy flattening is bad and I’m undecided which B&W version is preferable.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Fittings & Dies

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  It took a long time for me to find the right treatment for this composition, and it was hard to give up some of the bright colors that punctuated it, but in the end my eye wanted evenness, clarity and detail to wander through. It is best viewed large. This is one more in a series of manufacturing stations that I began assembling four years ago. Sometimes the stations have been long abandoned, essential items removed or altered, curious items added. Sometimes they are still in daily use and the objects are of the moment.

Dies and fittings such as these were a prominent feature of the brass mill. Metal racks and shelves, both round and square, filled every alley and space between the long draw benches and expansion benches used to work cold tube. In the far back on the left is the giant extruder. Before the pipe can be worked on the benches it must be run through the pointers, right middle-ground. Part of the expander bench can be seen in the row behind the desk.

I knew the man who worked this station, but whatever station he worked, I knew he had been working there by the way he left his gloves. I took this photograph six months after the factory closed; I’d never known him to leave his shoes.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Control Booth

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: I suppose it could be anything now, the cab of a tractor or the booth from the shamed TV show, The $64,000 Question, but it is perched above a pit where I believe giant machine parts were once cast. 

How long does it take for darkness to sink into a thing and the hum of life to subside? Who still remembers what it felt like to stand here and run these controls that managed the flesh-searing liquid metal that splattered from the molds with only a bit of glass and wire screening to defend against the heat and stink. The machine parts made here required cranes that carry 40-ton loads. It has been at least a quarter century since anyone sat here, and the foundry behind is stacked with the flotsam and jetsam of factories everywhere closed or failed.

I find pleasure here in the various ways light and color are filtered and reflected and changed. The soft colors refused all my attempts to brighten and clarify lest I disturb time's dust.

Be sure to double click the image to get the feel of standing inside. Full resolution images clearly show the weave of the various levels of wire screen.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014