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Posts from the ‘rivers’ Category

Further Up the River: Boom and Bust

Readers know that the story of the Blackstone River has been a major focus of my work over the past year or so.  Much like the Quabbin Reservoir area, I find the mix of nature, history and environmental struggle compelling.  For first time callers, the Blackstone River runs from Worcester, Massachusetts to Providence, Rhode Island, a span of just under 50 miles.  The fact that it falls 500 feet along the way created the story of the River as resource, place of exploitation, place of growth, place of social change, place of pollution, place of neglect and place of beauty.  That’s quite a list I know, but I do believe it is actually a rather conservative list.

The Blackstone River was the home of the industrial revolution in the United States, beginning just after the signing of the Constitution.  Entrepreneurs powered mill after mill with the falling water.  The landscape changed from agrarian to industrial.  Massive numbers of workers and their families came to work in those mills from all over the Europe as well as Canada.  Times were good for many.  Global competition intervened and the factories moved.  Jobs were lost and the river was left as a dumping ground.  It became a poster child for the Clean Water Act and since the Act’s signing, the quality of the water is improving, albeit slowly.  To those of you who have read the same material before, sorry for the review session.  Now we move on.

We recently took another journey with our friends from Blackstone River Cruises, this time along the stretch of the River that runs through northern Woonsocket, Rhode Island.  The era of the mills began south of here in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, but this is where that era exploded, before imploding.  The River as it runs through Woonsocket was home to some of the largest mills in the United States.  The River also flooded here, repeatedly, sometimes with devastating results.  As you cruise along the River, you can see the history of nature and man and their impact here.  I think it’s useful just to absorb the scene before drawing conclusions, so I start with the River itself.

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The River is quite lovely, especially on a day like this.  In the background you can see the industrial past and present.  Looking more closely, you’ll see that the River has been “channeled.”

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Rock has been placed along long stretches of the river bank on both sides by the Corps of Engineers.  That river bank is not supposed to move in the wake of a flood event.  Other actions by the Corps, the opening and closing of flood gates, are meant to control the water level.

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The abandoned mills pre-date the rock channeling, but not the flooding.  When a mill is flooded, jobs are lost, sometimes thousands of them.  The Alice Mill was once the largest rubber factory in the world, built in 1889 and continued to function as a rubber factory until the 1960’s with a few interruptions.  After its main activity ceased, efforts were made to repurpose the building, but it burned, as abandoned mills tend to, in 2011.

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The former homes of the families who worked in these mills are still readily apparent along the River.

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Parts of Woonsocket are quite nice, but the city payed a high price for the experience of boom and bust.

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Further north, in spite of the rock channeling, nature is making a comeback as it always does when left to its own devices.

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One problem we face is understanding the impact of actions that can take hundreds of years to play out.  We’re not terribly patient as a rule.  Boom and bust appears from this vantage point to be a hard way to go.

“When Autumn Leaves”

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“I miss you most of all.”  Sad times.

(Lyrics by Joseph Kosmo)

Herons Along the Blackstone River

It is very hard if you’re out in nature in New England on a routine basis to not develop a fascination with herons. These wonderfully large and patient birds are actually quite easy to photograph. Working stiffs, they only get annoyed with you if you get so close that you screw with their fishing. Can’t say that I blame them. Their markings and scars give each bird a distinctive purpose. For whatever reason, it has been a great year for heron along the Blackstone River. I thought I share a few environmental and reflective portraits as the season wanes.

hunt_160620_1120624-edit-editBlackstone River Heritage Park, Upton, Massachusetts

hunt_160815_1020843-edit-edithunt_160831_1130459-edit-edithunt_160831_1130468-edit-editBlackstone Valley Bicycle Path, Millbury, Massachusetts

hunt_160814_dsc4192-edithunt_160814_dsc4216-edit-editWoonsocket Falls, Woonsocket, Rhode Island

hunt_160831_1130586-edit-editBlackstone Valley Bicycle Path, Millbury, Massachusetts

Contemplating the Water

Last week I posted a series of images of the water flow at the South Natick Dam, along the Charles in Natick, Massachusetts.  Using long exposure techniques I’ve enjoyed studying the way the water flows around its various obstructions.  My interest in the water, and enjoyment of being at the water is hardly new or unique of course.  The flow of water has been providing sustenance and soothing to humanity for as long as we’ve been here (though it doesn’t seem to help us much in weeks like this one).  Focus on water is of course also not unique to humans.  I was reminded of this recently while continuing to photograph here.

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Of course this fellow does it for a living.  Note that these are long exposures.  But he’s not moving. Those who photograph wildlife routinely will generally confirm that wild animals never actually stand still.  They may be quite, but not still.  He’s staring at the water and continued to do so for a good 20 minutes.  He then changed positions and continued his focused attention.  A young couple nearby struck up a conversation and reminded me that he’s doing that because he has to.  We listen to the water because we like it.  How did it all start?  We’ll see this fellow again soon.

Technical note:  These images were shot on film, TMAX 100 and Pan F 50.  Both are wonderful films, still available.  There is very  little grain visible except under a magnifying glass.  I sometimes shoot with film just to make me think about things in a more contemplative fashion.  I found it most helpful here.

The Structure of Currents – New Work

I’ve been striving diligently to simplify my images.  I can speculate as to my motivation for doing so, maybe it has something to do with how messy the world is these days.  I also have a tremendous fondness for the work of folks such as Michael Kenna.  (If you’re serious about photography or art, please hit the link.  You will not regret it.)  More pragmatically though, this effort requires reducing the number of elements included within the frame.  Turns out this is not as easy as it might sound.  Life around us is filled with complexity.  It is in fact messy.  So, much like creating sculpture, you have to keep taking things out.  Unfortunately, unlike when working with sculpture, you can’t just pop out a tree.  OK, you could with photoshop if the tree is positioned just right and if you’re really good at doing that type of work.  The result though still frequently looks as though the image is missing something that was popped out in photoshop. Alternatively,I find that I have to think about a potential image in a new way.

Recently I’ve been spending time at the South Natick Dam along the Charles River in eastern Massachusetts.  I find it very restful there.  It is also a wonderful place to photograph.  On one side of the River you can even sit in the shade while photographing the River in bright, hot sunlight. It’s almost too easy.

But it is not a simple place to photograph.  Again, there is a great deal going on.  So, as Bill Neil says, you have to edit out reality, often by using a telephoto lens.  I once had an exchange with Bill in which I asked him how he might go about managing some issues in a wide angle shot.  His answer:  “I’d never take a shot like that.  Too messy.”

I’ve posted many pictures of flowing water here including in my most recent post. Typically, I want to give the viewer a sense of place by providing the context for the water’s flow.  What if you ignore the need for a sense of place, and just explore the water?  What you find are structures in the water’s flow.  Every photographer who photographs water knows this of course.  You can see structure if you shoot at around 1/4 of a second to maybe two seconds.  After that, the water just glows, which has a beauty in itself.  I’ve become interested in the structures that emerge with just a bit of a slow shutter.  What do they reveal?  I’ll let you be the judge.

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