This article could be titled “Industrial Decay”, but that would be too negative. Our visits to three “abandoned” mills – iron, silk & wool – and a machine shop, underlined how industries transformed America from a mostly rural economy during the 19th and early 20th century to an industrial world power. Industrial growth was rapid, dynamic, and very exciting. This is the past that we try to capture.
All of our images are black & white because we love the drama, tones, and depth found with B&W. We find beauty and design in common man-made objects and scenes, and we are always conscious of capturing light and shadow to create a mood or suggest a story.
Because we are often in very dark scenes – dark cathedral crypts and old industrial warehouses – our camera choice is the Sony A7S, which features a specialized chip for capturing light and detail in very dark scenes. We travel very lightly with just one broad-range zoom lens – the Sony 24-240mm. For the images in this article, 40% fell within a focal range from 24 to 75mm; 60% from 80 to 230mm. While the exposure times varied, 70% were from 10 to 30 seconds with ISO mostly set at 800.
Our continual search for old industrial locations led us to these four sites in western Pennsylvania and Maryland. We packed our cameras, tripods and flashlights (both a must in these dark scenes) and caught a flight from California to Pittsburgh.
Carrie Iron Furnace, Rankin, PA.
For 98 years (until 1978) this blast furnace produced about 1,000 tons of iron each day. We’re not sure what function these various apparatuses performed in producing the iron. But you don’t have to understand them to feel the immediate urge to set up your tripod and start framing images.
There were some stairways that looked as though no one had climbed them in many decades.
Each area gave us a variety of challenges – what to include in the frame, what to exclude, what to modify later in Photoshop. Disclosure: we are art photographers and not photojournalists, so we feel free to change the images or lighting in Lightroom and Photoshop when processing the final versions.
A few scenes were initially shot in the landscape format, but after a review, were cropped to a portrait format.
Young & Sons Foundry & Machine Shop, Rices Landing, PA
This shop manufactured many of the components used in the repair of steamboats that traveled the river by the shop. They also worked with local mines keeping their machinery operating. All the equipment dates from 1870 to 1920. Although the shop was closed in 1966, the foundation that now owns it keeps the machines fully functional.
We arrived early on a cloudy morning and found beautiful overcast light, giving us soft shadows. In the shop’s attic we found intriguing forms. These ‘patterns’ were made from a special type of wood that could withstand changes in humidity without warping and were used in the process of casting parts in the foundry.
Klotz Silk Mill, Lonaconing, MD
Across the border in Maryland, was the Klotz Silk Mill. The machinery was originally steam-powered and produced thousands of silk thread rolls. Like so many scenes at industrial sites, we are drawn both to broad overview compositions and to close ups. There are two floors and a basement filled with equipment.
There is a mystery connected with this silk mill – in 1957, after 50 years of operation, it was suddenly locked one night and the employees were never told why, and they were never allowed to retrieve their personal items.
Waterside Woolen Mill, Woodbury, PA
Wool fibers everywhere! While we never saw them floating in the air, that was certainly the impression they gave. There are three floors and an attic filled with equipment and supplies.
The mill shut down in the 1969, but was started up again in 1990 with repairs made to the original machinery.
They manufacture and sell woolen blankets and vests to help keep the mill operational.
All four sites offer individualized photography tours. In addition, several photographers offer workshops for groups. The money from these tours and workshops help fund the maintenance and preservation work. These sites are run by wonderful people who we found to be very helpful and informative.
List of contacts:
Klotz Silk Mill: contact Herb Crawford 301-268-1168 or 301-689-3034 (no email). Also, see FACEBOOK
For Group Photo Workshops at several of these sites and many others: contact Mathew Christopher
Some other images from our trip:
Young Machine Shop
Klotz Silk Mill
Waterside Wool Mill