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Posts from the ‘Landscapes’ Category

The Dams of the Blackstone Watershed

The Blackstone River, which runs from Worcester, Massachusetts to Providence, Rhode Island was, and still is, very heavily dammed.  Counting its tributaries it’s easy to find a dam nearly every mile or so along its path down to the sea.  The River falls nearly 500 feet along the way and was the river of choice for textile mill builders in the late 1700’s and 1800’s.  It is considered to be the energy for the dawn of the industrial revolution in the U.S. (beating the Merrimack River by a couple of decades).  I’m currently teaching a course titled “Unintended Consequences:  at the Interface of Business and the Environment,” at Babson College.  I’m very fortunate to be joined in this effort by Professor Joanna Carey, an environmental scientist.  It became very clear early on that she sees a river in a very different way than I, even though I’m also an environmentalist.  To her, a river if far more alive and dynamic.  The dams of the Blackstone River and watershed play a crucial role in the course.  They have changed nearly everything about our landscape.

I wanted to capture a bit of the sense of these dams for our students, most of whom have never set foot in the Blackstone Valley, though we’re about to bring them out.   I initially thought I should really have used a drone for this, but there’s a problem with that approach.  I don’t fly drones.  Then I realized that there is something about these dams that is particularly New England, at least to me.  Their scale is different.  In spite of their impact, which is massive, they tend to be much more approachable, more intimate.  T’hey remind me in some ways of the dams at the Quabbin Reservoir which though massive, are also very approachable.

If you’re on a mobile device the embed may not work.  You can see the video here.

These dams powered numerous textile mills, changed the landscape, and created beautiful ponds.  Some played a role in the expansion of slavery (for another post, but yes, it’s true).  Most impeded the work of the rivers involved by stopping the movement of sediment, and fish.  Some will be removed, though I suspect many won’t.  It’s just too costly.  Dam removal impacts both property values and in some cases can release centuries of pollution.  Perhaps what’s done is done.  Human impacts can be irrevocable.

Under the Highway

People don’t tend to know what’s going on under the highway.  Neither did I.I had driven over this location for nearly twenty years before I looked. I’ve mentioned this area before, this is near the head of the Blackstone River in Worcester and Millbury, Massachusetts.  The River winds, looking rather tepid at times, along beside the Providence and Worcester Railroad tracks and under Route 146, the main highway that also, like the River, goes from Worcester to Providence.  Beside the River there also winds a Bikeway, part of the Blackstone Valley National Heritage Corridor.  The Bikeway is lovely in most spots, down here, it is more interesting.  Here’s a short journey.  (My apologies, if you are on a mobile device, you probably can’t see the embedded video directly.  However, go here, and you’ll be able to have a look.)

I’m grateful to have found my way down there, with Chris’s accompaniment of course.  FYI, the sounds you here are the combination of falling water and the echo chamber effect from the semi’s going by overhead.

I find this location to offer a powerful look into the quandary that is our relationship with nature.This is in fact a very beautiful river further south.  It has its own beauty here.But, it also been abused for several centuries.  Now there is a real interest in cleaning it up, and that is happening.  But you can’t go back in time, you can’t reset the clock.  The question is I think, what can we learn from our shared experience?

Working with Color Infrared

This is a technical post, which I never do, so apologies in advance.  I’m actually fairly enthusiastic about some recent developments that I wanted to share.  I have never enjoyed my only rather mundane efforts with color infrared images.  They never looked right to me, only somewhat “cooked” in digital photo parlance.  As such, I typically convert them to black and white and sometimes am pleased with the results.  I”ve been working with a new process for the past several months, and actually published a few results on my previous Earth Day blog.  I have continued to experiment and been relatively happy with the results so I thought it might be useful to share a few details.

The story begins with an e-mail from Kolarivision (my new Infrared camera conversion company with which I am quite pleased) regarding a course they were recommending.  Perhaps bored at the time, I thought I’d give it a try.   The name of the course is Creative Light and Infrared.  You can find out the details about the course here.    I’ll stress up front that I am not a paid endorser for this group, F64 Academy, have never met them, nor talked with them, ever.

The course offers an in-depth exploration of the digital infrared post production process, along with several  accompanying and quite useful tools.  If you’ve done any infrared photography, you know that there are a few significant challenges you face in post production, particularly with color.  The biggest one is that the white balance setting you use in the camera likely won’t hold once you bring an image into your average photo editing program.  It goes all red or at least mostly so.  Worse yet, most photo editing programs don’t have enough range in their white balance settings to be able to fix the problem.  Second, if you’re interested in color infrared images it can be most helpful to effect a “channel swap”, coverting the red channel to blue and the blue channel to red.  I’ve known that for years, but like many photographers was never, ever satisfied with the results.  Adding insult to injury, if you get an image to actually work for you, it is hard to replicate it.

The course walks you through the process of creating a Lightroom/Camera Raw profile that you can apply to your images and effect a nice looking white balance.  In addition, the course provides a set of LUTS that layer on top of the correctly balanced image that will offer you various different channel swapped looks, including looks that are fairly photorealistic. Finally, the course ships with an extensive panel of actions for use inside photoshop, as well as detailed instructions for their use.

So enough with the jargon.  These are from my work with mills in the Blackstone River Valley of Central Massachusetts.  The first two are of the Bernat Mill in Uxbridge, Massachusetts.  The mill burned in 2007.  The last is from the Wilkinsonville Mill in Sutton, Massachusetts.  Wilkinson was an associate of Samual Slater, the first builder of mills in the Blackstone Valley.Hunt_190509__DSC0572-Edit-2Hunt_190509__DSC0576-Edit_DSC0802-Edit-2

This is still a work in process as you can see, but my interest hasn’t flagged so far.  One of the most interesting aspects of photographic work is the almost never ending opportunities for learning that you can stumble across.  Courses like this aren’t cheap, and some are duds.  This one was helpful.  Of course, YMMV.

 

Acadia

We haven’t had a particularly pretty foliage season in Central Massachusetts.  Not to my eyes at least.  Luckily, we had an opportunity to spend a few days further north in Acadia National Park, Mount Desert Island, Maine.  They were not so unfortunate!  I don’t know that I’ve ever seen such intense color, so of course I spent a good deal of time working in black and white.  We were with Tony Sweet and Susan Milestone and a bunch of very nice and quite talented workshop participants.  I always learn a lot from them, probably because of their depth of preparation, their knowledge and their positive attitude.  Tony has an ability to articulate the creative process and rationale that I always find inspiring.  He has a wonderful way of validating the imagination, something I need a dose of every so often.  I recommend them highly if you’re looking for a workshop experience.  You won’t be disappointed.

But, no thousand words today though, on with the pictures.  (And I swear, I did not touch the saturation slider on these.  You get up early in the morning and shoot late into the evening with Tony.  Mother nature is the one manipulating the colors at those hours, but that’s sort of her job so…)

From Eagle Lake at sunriseHunt_181013__DSC0812-Edit

Along Duck Creek Road

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Boulder Beach at Sunrise, in the rain

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From Thunder Hole (It really does sound like Thunder)

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From Cadillac Mountain

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Acadia National Park is about six hours north from our home.  I can’t believe it took us this long to get there.  It is a big Park, and I would recommend either going with a guide, or doing some serious research before hand, during the day time!

Tech Note:  I hate writing about gear because it’s basically irrelevant at this point.  But a number of these images were taken with the Nikon Z7, Nikon’s new entry into the mirrorless market place.  For whatever reason, none good, it seems to draw a fair amount of criticism on the good old internet, particularly from those who have never used it.  It seems to be a tribal thing, or a way for “influencers” to generate click bait.  It’s sad that all you have to do these days is make something up and it becomes fact.

I thought the camera performed exceptionally well.  I’ll be using it a lot for video as I have grown very tired of taking along a second system.  The still image quality, video quality, still and video autofocus, all worked beyond my expectations.  And we really did land on the moon in 1969.

Mills and Dams – The Bernat Mill

Chris, my wife, remembers going to the Bernat Mill store in Uxbridge, Massachusetts to buy yarn.  She certainly isn’t alone.  If you were into knitting, that was what you did in this area.  At one point, the mill was the third largest yarn mill in the U.S.  (Note, the brand still exists and is in use by another yarn manufacturer, Bernat.)  The mill itself had a long and exemplary career in the Blackstone River Valley.  The first iteration of the Mill was built there in 1820 by John Capron.  Why that location?  Falling water.   This is the current dam along the Mumford River that creates Capron Pond.  It’s quite a lovely place with a very nice park, a nice place to think, or have a picnic.

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Capron evolved to the Backman Uxbridge Worsted Company.  They were the first manufacturers to utilize power loops in the U.S., a staggering change moving the industrial revolution forward.  Their ability to engage in mass production doubtlessly lead to their ability to land contracts for the production of Civil War uniforms, World War One Khakis and World War Two U.S. Army uniforms.  Those familiar with the U.S. Air Force dress blue uniform can take note, it was probably manufactured in that mill.  That blue was chosen from the Backman Uxbridge catalogue.

As it did with so many large manufacturers in the Valley, the bust stormed into town in the form of international competition, technological change and an aging plant.   In 1964 the assets were sold to the Bernat Company which refocused the mill on yarns.  As manufacturing declined, the mill was repurposed over time in what was actually a very successful conversion.  The class mill repurposing involves creating small spaces for retail, office and creative studios.  They must have worked quite hard on the conversion because by the night of July 21, 2007, something like 400,000 square feet which had been devoted to manufacture was productively employed by numerous small businesses.  Hundreds were employed there.  Unfortunately, that night and for several subsequent days the mill burned.

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Hundreds of firefighters fought the blaze.  The complex was almost completely destroyed.  Most of the businesses, worth millions, were lost.  There are I would stress still a number of businesses remaining in a portion of the mill complex, but nothing like the number there prior to the fire.

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The damage is still stunningly visible.  Government on several levels planned to help but those plans seem to have floundered.  This is of course not the first mill to burn in the Blackstone Valley.  Many of those mills absorbed a century or more of a variety of chemicals.  Some thought the fire at the Bernat Mill was almost inevitable.  The bust of an economic surge, particularly one that lasted as long as large scale manufacturing in the Blackstone Valley is extraordinarily difficult to manage.  These were very big businesses, not just for their time, but for any time.