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: at the Library of Congress.

The best collection of early photos I’ve found is here: ( 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 ( 

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…