Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Ray & Rudy

Nest Slide-Talk
Finding Brass Valley
A Place in Time that Has Almost Vanished
Stories of the the Brass Industry in CT and the Last Operating Brass Mill

Thursday, October 24 at 6:30 PM
The Bigelow Center
100 Mona Terrace, Fairfield, CT 

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: The factory closed and stands empty, and machines that were not scrapped for their value in metal, like Expansion Bench #23, may be making tube in Mexico today. Here Ray and Rudy worked the rough tube to make it hard and to move it toward its specification gauge and diameter. Many steps remained before this tube would be ready for use in a submarine. Ray and Rudy worked as a coordinated team as others had done on machine #23 for more than a century.

This journal has been silent for some time due to computer issues and work on other projects. That work continues, but solving the computer problems has led to old images once bypassed that now seem to me worth processing and sharing.

Sunday, September 22, 2019


Kent Art Association Full Juried Show

First Prize in Photography
Exhibition runs through October 14

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: I think this was the first time I photographed Charlie at the old Farrel factories in Ansonia. I made almost 100 exposures of him that day as he repaired this part. Perhaps he or someone else will remind me what it is called. Although I visited Charlie often and made other photographs, the later tasks were never quite so photogenic. Thank you, Charlie, wherever you are, for letting us take pictures and for sharing good chat.

Below are a few more shots from that shoot.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Wednesday, June 12, 2019



Finding Brass Valley
A Place in Time that Has Almost Vanished

Thursday, June 13 at 11 AM
Stamford Senior Men’s Club
open to the public
First Presbyterian Church
1101 Bedford St, Stamford, CT

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Last week, I realize, took us back to places Lazlo and I have been making photographs for a decade. Time feels like wind, but it is also rain and the sun’s regular stroke, and here a carpet of seedlings reaches to be a prairie. It’s a place to watch. Time blows with the seasons here but never stops. We follow tracks to see where they lead.

As we arrived here I realized I had the wrong lens and I would have to shoot this interior with the equivalent of a 100-400mm zoom, a telescope good for birding, but not my usual choice for interiors. It was a chance to see differently. I may try it again.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Across the Naugatuck


Finding Brass Valley
A Place in Time that Has Almost Vanished

June 13 at 11 AM

Stamford Senior Men’s Club
open to the public
First Presbyterian Church
1101 Bedford St, Stamford, CT

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: The settlers who came to this place in 1642, used the Native American name, “Paugasset” to refer to the trading post they established there, on the east side of the Naugatuck & Housatonic Rivers' confluence. It was as far inland as ship’s could sail, a valuable port and place of shelter in time of storms. It was incorporated as the township of Derby in 1675. In the 1830s, here on the West side of the Naugatuck, near the point where two rivers meet, Anson Phelps, a metals merchant, and Sheldon Smith, a business man, collaborated to build a reservoir and canal to power a large factory village which they called “Birmingham,” after Birmingham England, the center of world brass-making at the time. It would make Derby one of the three founding cities of Connecticut's "Brass Valley."


Saturday, May 18, 2019

Ansonia Canal — A Secret Garden


Finding Brass Valley

A Place in Time that Has Almost Vanished

May 31 from 11 am to 12:15 pm
Stamford Senior Center
888 Washington Boulevard 2nd Floor
Register at 203-977-5151 

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: This sunken factory yard was once filled with water, part of the canal that Anson Phelps built in 1845 to create the town he called Ansonia. Before the canal brought manufacturing, there was no town here. The canal still flows from the Kinneytown Dam for over a mile before disappearing underground and ending in a pool behind a wall just beyond the crane at the left edge of this picture. 

Saturday, April 20, 2019


Points of View

"This exhibition showcases photographs from members of the Washington Art Association in a group exhibit of 63 images. The title Points of View also applies to the curating of the work. Chris Zaima and Hugh O’Donnell have selected this work and it reflects their “point of view” of 17 individual artists that share the commonality of living and working in the context of this area of Connecticut.”

April 27 - June 8, 2019
Washington Art Association, Washington, CT
Please join us at the opening reception on April 27, 4-6 PM
(Two of these photographs are included in the exhibit.)

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: For as long as I’ve driven the dirt road over Rabbit Hill there have been cows there, and it seemed like the old house and brittle barns must date to the Revolution, but it wasn’t until the fall of 2017, when the dirt road was paved right through the old farmyard, that I tried to photograph inside the barns and  milking parlor. Luke and Trudy Tanner welcomed me.  By then they had been raising and milking cows there for a half century. 

The milking parlor is small and dark, and I quickly learned that there were only a few weeks throughout the year when the sun was in the right place at the 5 PM milking to make good pictures with availablel light. Even then, I shot only until the parlor was full and cows blocked the window light. After the season ended, I was eager to return last fall when milking was again in sync with the Sun. And so it was sad news when Luke told me that the herd would be sold that week.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Edge of the Stream

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Before there was a Factory Hollow there was a Green on a hilltop and a meetinghouse, but even before those, to make a place habitable, settlers required a gristmill and a fulling mill and a sawmill, each along a nearby stream with a steady flow and a spot for a mill dam with a good fall and some hollows upstream dammed for the dry spell. 

Sprain Brook, along which Gideon Hollister, second of that name, settled, begins in the swampland below Davies Hollow, accumulates flow quickly near its head and follows a narrow valley for 6 to 8 miles south, where valleys merge out of the Northwest Hills. It was all engineered by the lumbering glaciers who, midway through the long valley, sent Sprain Brook through a meadow above which Gideon Hollister set a dam to channel Sprain Brook over the flutter wheel that kept his saw blade hopping 120 times per minute for 170 years. But Gideon Hollister was not the first to set his works in this spot. 

Where the valley widens to a meadow, beavers once dammed its flow and lived off the bounty of the stream, but there were no beavers when Hollister settled, thanks to those who didn’t settle but who traded the bounty of the beavers’ pelts with those who hunted and trapped them to the point of extinction, an event recorded in the diet of the native people and in a layer of sediment, many miles south under Long Island Sound. There, fifty years before Hollister settled, rich nutrients from the rotting debris of failing beaver colonies had made algae bloom and die. 

The same nutrients that made algae bloom in Long Island Sound made broad, flat meadows bloom in the fertile loam of vanished beaver works, near where Sprain Brook turned the Hollister mill wheel and up and down the valley in both directions and in the infinite hills beyond Sprain Brook.  

Such meadows brought settlers who could plant them quickly, but the settlers’ first crop was old-growth trees from the ageless forests which kept Gideon Hollister’s sawmill turning as long as Sprain Brook flowed and kept his potash works burning when it froze. Captain Hollister traded with his neighbors for their needs and his, and he fought beside them for their freedom.

When, in 1805, the turnpike followed the glacier through the long valley, the property with sawmill and water rights belonged to Gideon Hollister, third of that name, who probably appreciated the road's traffic of iron goods from the north and merchants from the south and an expanded region of neighbors and trade lubricated by reliable currency that flowed even to the colliers, smoking mounded timbers in the hills beyond the valley. 

And his son, fourth of that name, continued sawing lumber there for floorboards and headboards, cupboards and clapboards, posts, beams, shingles and shakes until he sold the mill in 1844 to 18-year-old Almon Galpin. Galpin restored it after Sprain Brook raged in the floods of 1853, taking out part of the dam and much of the valley. By then the endless forests were eighty percent gone, cut to the horizon, though Galpin would go on cutting through the Civil War until he sold the mill in 1876.

Edward Fenn was the next to own the flow of water, adding a forge and cabinet-making shop to the flutter of the mill and the chatter of the saw. It was said he could make anything out of wood, and he did so there for a half century until he retired, and the mill wheel stopped in 1926. 

Forests have returned around Sprain Brook and beyond, but the sheltering space beneath old growth canopy is gone forever and species of things we will never see, their passage marked where rich nutrients of the uprooted forest made algae bloom and die in the sediment under Long Island Sound as Sprain Brook sawed floorboards and barn boards, cradles and coffins that can still be found along the turnpike road.


The mill was stabilized by Sidney and Beatrice Hessel and restored later by Jane Bentzen, Benedict Silverman and Steve Solley. 

Material for the above came from the following source:
“Why We Need Beavers” by Ben Goldfarb in “Connecticut Explored,” Spring, 2019
“An 18th Century Flutter Mill Reborn” by Frances Chamberlain, NYT Dec. 15, 1996
Stone By Stone, Robert M. Thorson, Walker & Co, NY, 2002
Empire Over The Dam, Kenneth T. Howell & Einar W. Carlson, Pequot Press, 1974
"An Inventory of Historic Engineering and Industrial Sites” Matthew Roth, Soc. for Industrial Archeology

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

A Walk Thru Faust's Garden

Next Slide-Talk:
April 1, 2019 (no kidding) at 7:00 PM
Work in Progress: On Photographing Brazen Grit

Granby Camera Club
meeting in the Granby Senior Center, Community Room
15 North Granby Road, Granby, CT

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: It wasn’t exactly magnetism that drew the iron blast furnaces to the ore. When the forests were gone in Northwestern CT, and one could look across the hillsides, the ground shifted and iron ore was attracted to coal. Iron made from coke had qualities industrial manufacturers wanted, while charcoal iron lingered for those who cherished quality wrought iron, a niche market. The forests of the Berkshire Hills had been burned; in the West there were mountains of Coke yet to plunder.

We’ve arrived at what might be considered ground zero of American industrial enterprise. In the three-ring-circus of the industrial revolution, the feature acts were always energy transportation, and iron. A firm grip on any one of the three was a firm grip on the throttle. The names click into position like the reels of a slot machine: Rockefeller, Ford, Carnegie, and standing behind them, at the cashiers’ window, J..P. Morgan, the only one born to wealth. 

To travel from the 1847 Beckley Blast Furnace in East Canaan, CT, with its bucolic tombstone remains (recently posted), to wha’s left of Andrew Carnegie’s Carrie Furnaces, across the river from the infamous Homestead Works in PA, requires a half century leap. How many miles of rail had been laid? How many locomotives sent steaming over the tracks? And how many new steam ships were bringing newcomers, as the canal was being cut across the isthmus of Panama to reach Pacific waters from the Atlantic coast?  And how many tall structures scraped the sky, made first of iron and soon of steel in New York and Chicago, before the Great War came and we made more guns and tanks? And after the War we took to the roads in oily vehicles of iron and steel. 

Welcome to Faust’s Garden. Rockefeller, Ford, Carnegie and Morgan left huge legacies, both for good and for ill that we still can’t reckon. 


Saturday, March 23, 2019

Ex Caliber

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Gallionella and Leptothrix live at the bottom of the bog where they make iron grow. Iron compounds dissolved upstream are freed downstream when washed with the peaty, acid-rich waters where this pond-bottom team of anaerobic bacteria live and consume and concentrate the iron particles into tubor-like buds. 

Medieval armorers relied on men with rods who poked across swampland to harvest the buds. A clever bog harvester preserved his resources by carefully replacing the peat and marking locations so a generation later his children might return and harvest his crop of iron tubors. 

And the magical arts of refining bog ore into workable metal belonged to genius alchemists, who knew the secrets of mixing the iron with charcoal and flux, of fanning the hot mix, feeding the furnace at the top so it bloomed at the bottom. 

There was bog iron enough for the armorers and blacksmiths, but the Faustian dreams of scientists and inventors required rock dug from hills.  And some rocks were barren while others bore ores. Rich veins of iron were discovered around 1730 near what was soon to be the town of Salisbury and then here in Canaan and elsewhere in the northwest hills of the colony called Connecticut. By the revolution a thriving iron industry flourished in the region and farmers and farm blacksmiths learned to make the tools needed to build and grow a nation.

Today the furnaces they built are unlikely tombstones along country roads in the frozen earth. They recall iron wills chained across the Hudson opposing English rule as they also represent axes and plowshares, hammers and nails. It was no picnic, making that iron. and a hungry furnace consumed forests for charcoal and branded circles on the forest floor still visible today, The forests have regrown, and this is no longer an industrial center nor even an especially busy picnic site.


Below, charcoal kilns in Wassaic, NY, provided charcoal for local iron-making and a lime kiln in Sharon baked limestone to make lime used as flux. 

Saturday, February 16, 2019

The King of Instruments, Notre Dame, Worcester — RIP

When the modes of the music change, the fundamental laws of the State always change with them. —Plato

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: According to Plato, there were two subjects essential to educate young people for their role in his Republic: music and gymnastic. Gymnastic prepared the body developing muscle and coordination, music prepared the soul by reaching deep inside us. By music, Plato meant also poetry; by extension music might include all artistic expression. As Pater reminds, “All art aspires to the condition of music.”

When Plato talks of the “basic laws of the state” changing, he is looking through the telescope from the opposite end than John Ruskin was (see previous blog post)Ruskin believed art  was the truest measure of a society; Plato would agree, but he was more interested in controlling than measuring. 

What do we learn about ourselves from the music and the art of our time?

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Mirror, Mirror

"Great nations write their autobiographies in three manuscripts—the book of their deeds, the book of their words, and the book of their art. Not one of these books can be understood unless we read the two others; but of the three, the only quite trustworthy one is the last.” 
—John Ruskin (1877)

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Lascaux Nouveau

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: If “Style is the outer form of spirit,” as a good friend once told me, and if what is true of an individual’s “style” is also true of a community’s style, a nation’s style or the style of a whole civilization, then...

1. What art speaks for our own time, 2019 America?
2. What does it tell us about our spirit?  …about National character?

I invite anyone to suggest answers in the hope that art can get around partisan politics. What is the art that most represents who we are? What does it tell us about ourselves?

NOTE: We are still seeking new audiences for our slide-talk and book signing for the 2019 season. We’ve done more than 80 of these in the last 3 years. The coming seasons will take us to Bethel, Granby and Fairfield, but if we haven’t been to your community, we still have dates available.  Help us out by passing word of our talk to places where we might be welcomed, or send us a contact name and we will follow through.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Lacuna Misterioso

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Sometimes the music lies in the notes and sometimes in the space between.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Auld Lang Syne

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: For those who can’t zoom, the actual music titles are, “Sleepers Awake” and “A Patriot’s Prayer.” Minor White suggests: “Photograph things not just for what they are, but for what else they are."

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Casting Shop, Ansonia

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: I kept expecting my eyes to adjust to the dark until I realized the dark adhered to every surface, hung in the air, soaked up light like a sponge. The president of the company was leading us on a tour into the darkness of the casting shop, while a foreman in a battered utility cart followed and worried from behind an oxygen mask attached by a hose to a tank in the back of his cart. That was spring, 2011.

The picture on the left was shot in June, 2013; in six months the company would be out of business. Work had already slowed. Then came the pickers and scrappers who contracted to salvage anything of value. They were followed by experts in white suits who detoxified whatever was left. The picture on the right was just taken this month, five years after work stopped. For several months workers have been gone, and the dark has been replaced by purposeless serenity.