Quarry Panorama and Rockface

Quarry Panorama is a series of large-scale panoramic photographs. It is a work in progress and is ongoing.

Quarries are some of the largest examples of how we use the natural resources of the planet to our own end, creating "inadvertent" land art on a massive scale. My goal was not to do an "expose" of this industry, nor did I want to just create large, unusual photographs, but to show the vastness, the sculptural aspects and beauty of these spaces.

Approximately 10 years ago, I worked on a series of photographs, Rockface, which were large very abstract images of rock that had been exposed by blasting, a decidedly unnatural process. Taking inspiration from the Abstract Expressionism movement, I eliminated the horizon and foreground references, thereby revealing just the pattern of the rock. After working in the quarries for some time, I realized that the scale of the environment called for large panoramic photographs.

Tobacco and Tobacco Panorama

These photographs are from one of the shade tobacco farms of the Connecticut River Valley. Reputedly, the best cigar wrapper tobacco in the world is grown in this area. Hence, the nickname for the valley: 'The Tobacco Valley'.

With this series, my intention was to remove any connection to the political and social issues related to tobacco in order to reveal the form. Initially, I used 'normal' photographic formats to concentrate on the abstract angular geometry and volumes of the forms and spaces. The 360 degree panoramas go even further, transforming the barns and covers into almost unrecognizable shapes. While panoramic images present a complete image of an environment, they also break it down into separate, even more abstract elements.

In the late 1980s, when I started working on the series, it became an effort to document the farms before they disappeared, which seemed inevitable at the time. In fact, quite the opposite happened, what with the cigar craze of the 90s. However, in the last 2 to 3 years the farm that I photographed has completely shutdown, as has much of the shade growing in Connecticut.

The Harbor

The Project

The New Haven Harbor is spanned by the Pearl Harbor Bridge, known locally as the Q Bridge, short for Quinnipiac, the river whose mouth it spans. It carries I-95 and is, by far, the most salient feature of the harbor. Having ridden over it thousands of times in my life, I have always been intrigued looking down at the harbor. I seldom drove through the area until construction of a new bridge prompted the initiation of the project.

The harbor's major business is as a terminal port for the storage and distribution of fuel oil. The main feature of this business is tank farms, which consist of multiple large white storage tanks. Some of the other businesses, which provide support to other harbor industries, such as boatbuilding, have been there for some time, including a machine shop in business for over 145 years. Other businesses are further down the chain, e.g. lunch joints and a Dunkin Donuts. A backdoor fresh seafood shop (Live Lobster, 2013) went under while I was working on the project. In the middle of the harbor, at the tip of land at the mouth of the Mill River, lies Quinnipiac Park, which has basketball courts, horseshoe pits and baseball fields, as well as a fishing platform at the very tip and has a very expansive view of the new Q Bridge.

The Investigation

On one of the first days of shooting last year, my camera was aimed toward one of the tank farms, although it was 1/4-1/2 mile away. I was approached by someone from Port Authority Security. He was very curious as to what I was doing and I was very open about it. I stressed that I had no political agenda, that I was an artist and that all the images would be used for was exhibition. He was supportive of the project, even going so far as to say he would ask to see if I could get into the tank farms to photograph. I gave him my business card, which was the logical thing to do, but in retrospect, probably wasn't the wisest. He said that Homeland Security, if they saw me photographing near either the bridge or the tank farms, might not hesitate to arrest me and confiscate my equipment! Of course, I continued to photograph.

In late February of the next year, while I was in a hospital following surgery, I received a visitor who very clearly was not a hospital employee nor anybody I knew. He identified himself as an FBI Special Agent. Not surprisingly, I was more than a bit taken aback. I did have a suspicion that it was about the project. After asking me numerous questions about what I had been doing and why, he advised me not to continue with the project. He said he gathered from my comments that I probably would anyway. Even he admitted, off the record, that I didn't warrant investigation. He specifically said I should not photograph the tank farms, the new bridge or the power plant. He was a little surprised to hear that the power plant had been shut down for over 30 years. I thought it was somewhat amusing that the FBI was unaware of that.

Ohio Horizon

Photographs from Northwest Ohio

The glaciers that covered much of North America during the last ice age scraped nearly perfectly flat a huge area that includes most of Northwest Ohio and western Lake Erie. Much of this area evolved into The Great Black Swamp. It covered about 1500 square miles, forming a vague triangle stretching from Port Clinton, Ohio to Fort Wayne, Indiana and back to Toledo. In Ohio, the perimeter of the swamp is marked roughly by the cities of Sandusky, Fremont, Fostoria, Findlay, Defiance, and Toledo. It was so impenetrable that few attempts by anyone were made to even traverse it, let alone 'develop' it. The first known effort to clear a few acres was made around 1811, on the edge of the Sandusky River. This triggered a 100-year effort of draining the entire swamp into Lake Erie. It was a gradual process, done by incredibly motivated individuals. The only endorsement from the government came in 1859 when a series of state 'ditch laws' were passed that laid out the grid of ditches. The result is still some of the richest, and flattest, farmland in the Midwest. The grid of ditches, along which most existing roads were built, forms rectangles a quarter to one mile on a side. Nearly all of these images were made at least that distance from their subject.

It is nearly impossible not to be influenced by some people specifically and difficult not to be influenced by nearly everybody, positively or negatively, even if minimally. As a very young photographer, I was strongly affected by the work of Art Sinsabaugh. After living in Champaign-Urbana for a while and puzzling over how to photograph the area, he saw the spirit and heart of the Midwest landscape by reducing the field of vision to the thin strip of the horizon. Even though I had read his description of this many years before, it took just as long for me to come to this realization and for these images to be revealed, which seems right.

My intent in the series was not to copy his work, not to make new Sinsabaugh-esque images. Rather, after spending time in and photographing the area for a number of years, I realized that it was a subject that could only be captured and described accurately by using the technique of radically restricting the view, i.e. essentially eliminating the foreground and sky, thereby concentrating on what is out there.

The format may be extreme, but it is the language this landscape speaks.