Beginning Labor Day Monday of 1997 I began approximately a 6-week obsession with the Fafnir Ball bearing plant in New Britain CT. The factory was being razed and was fenced off from the public, my friend Peter Bosco and James Monteiro had been here several times and suggested I join them for some exploration and photography. Peter and James were much more accomplished with this type Urban work than me, I very much enjoyed looking at their work so I eagerly agreed. To this day I remember Peter telling me, “Steve, it’s all about filling space”…a revelation I’ve not forgotten.
During the six-week time frame I would visit the site on weekends and even weekdays after work, many times by myself. I’d bring coffee and pastry for the security guard in exchange for gaining entry. Guard told me that if anyone was caught he would deny knowing we were inside and we’d be subject to the consequences. I had become totally mesmerized by the photographic opportunities and huge contrast challenges this abandoned 6-story structure presented.
The first day in the building and the very first negative I made was “Fafnir Doorway” on 5×7 Tri-X sheet film. I can recall thinking, is this image for real, could this somehow be heaven sent !! I don’t believe I even had to move the door one way or the other. The light was streaming in from a side window that provided the dramatic side lighting on the open door but made for a nightmarish amount of contrast in dealing with the porcelain toilet and especially the background behind the toilet. The area behind the toilet at one time was rather light and now was particularly dirty and distracting, in order to project the porcelain toilet as the secondary focal point of the image I had to not only darken the tonalities but balance the background to allow the toilet to stand out with no distractions from behind. The final print was a challenge with the papers that were available in the late 90’s.
From the minute I got inside the structure I was never fully comfortable, country boy inside a dark unlit building with paid security to keep out the unsavory element of the day. I remember one Saturday being on the 2nd floor and hearing a lot of yelling and commotion going on right outside a wall of windows. I finally got up the nerve to go to the window and see what all the noise was about, a group of a dozen of so, cash in their hands yelling while two cocks were fighting in the center of a circle created by the onlookers. Not long after that episode I decided to print this Fafnir work more dramatic and with stark shadows then my previous work. I was unnerved while inside, most times by myself and I wanted my photographs to portray my feeling of anxiety. I remember being so engrossed with composing and designing the photograph there was no concern for my safety, once done with that particular image I would move to another location or floor and that is when the anxiety and concern would surface if I encountered individuals I was unprepared for.
Even now after nearly 20 years I still enjoy the simplicity of the image, three elements in the composition, the toilet bowl, peeling paint on the door and of course the “light” !! For me, the Light and how it defines the image will always be the most important component of a photograph that I respond with, whether it be my own or someone else’s image. There’s a bit of sarcasm and how dare you make this photograph to the final image I find rewarding !!
It’s that simplicity and clear understanding of why the photograph was made that has drawn compliments for those included in this email campaign who are not photographers themselves but can relate to the image or at least why I was moved to create the photograph, I am thankful that this Blog has been so well received by all…please consider passing it onto others who may enjoy the back story.
Technical info: 5×7 Deardorff camera, circa 1953, 210mm lens, f32 @ 2 minutes, developed highly diluted HC 110 N-2. Split Contrast Printed to maximize mid tone & micro contrast.