Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The March Project at WPII

This building is in pretty good condition, but it's been unoccupied for as long as I can remember, and I've lived in this part of the state and driven past from time to time for more than thirty years. It may have come to life, briefly, a few times without my noticing, then gone back into hibernation.

As I shot this, the "gentle light" that is the theme of this series of pictures was fading away. There were snowflakes in the air, though they don't show in this one. By the time the snow was thick enough to photograph, the light had died—a sullen, leaden presence.

So just a few words about this experiment of March postings. I love to travel and find new places to photograph. When I get to do that though, I spend an awful lot of time driving while finding only a few places that inspire me to get out and look for pictures. Luckily, there are a few places right near where I live that are just the sort I would stop and shoot if I found them a thousand miles from home. Returning to these places repeatedly over literally decades, walking the same shopping districts and residential areas, I often make very few exposures because I don't see anything I haven't already done. Light that may have seemed promising when I left the house may be gone half an hour later. No new curiosities, no dramatic changes in the scene.

Sometimes though, a day works out perfectly. The light and weather are exactly the kind I like and the conditions continue for hours on end. Since I know the locations intimately, the perfect conditions unveil a whole crop of new pictures. I may jump back in the truck and move to another familiar spot as the light changes. On a day like this I may get a remarkable harvest of pictures that strike me as successful. Payback for all those hours invested looking and searching while little or nothing quite comes together.

February 18, 2009 was one of those days. A storm was forecast, but in the late morning there was high cloud cover and beautiful, luminous light. From just after eleven till just before two, when the snow began to swirl around the green block building, things just seemed to fall into place. Later, when I looked over the day's shoot and began a preliminary edit I realized it had been one of those really nice harvests. For no reason I can think of, it occurred to me to arbitrarily limit my edit of the 357 captures to 31, the number of days in a month, and post them as a series here. When I thought about sequencing the pictures, my first thought was to make it simply chronological. First thought, best thought. So there's the March experiment. The pictures are the most interesting things I saw as I walked through several neighborhoods of Waterbury over the course of several hours in my favorite kind of light. Minus, of course, the 326 captures that weren't as good.

PS: For the technically interested, the pictures were all made with a Pentax K20D equipped with a 31mm FA Limited (normal focal length) lens.

Monday, March 30, 2009


I seldom make "close up" photographs. Maybe because I've done too many thousands of them as commercial illustrations. But also, my general thought is that "the significant detail"...isn't.

But this one got my attention, and I couldn't resist making the picture.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Yellow SUV

So something extra came along. There are things I like about both versions of this and I'm not really sure which one I prefer.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Green Block Building

Over years of working with large format view cameras I got into the habit of setting up the camera when I found '90% of a picture'—a scene that almost worked, and just might come together if some other element came into play. Working with a hand held digital camera and the "free film" of digital capture files I find myself actually shooting a lot of things that seem to be almost, but not quite, a picture. Partly because some of them turn out to be better than I'd thought, and also because sometimes that extra added element comes along.

Friday, March 27, 2009


I see these roadside memorials frequently on highways and country roads—often just past a sharp curve—but it's unusual to find one in the middle of a city.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Billboard II

Back when I used to spend a fair amount of time at advertising agencies I learned that the number of public service announcements outdoor advertising companies post on billboards in high-traffic locations was a reliable indicator of the state of the economy. There are a lot of public service billboards all around Waterbury, and that ain't a good sign for the economy, though it's nice for the organizations getting their word out.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Hollywood Video

Another big box store out of business. This shopping center on the northwest side of Waterbury has always been comprised mainly of down-market retailers with a frequent turnover.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Thursday, March 19, 2009


Below the riverbank hillside, in the narrow river valley, there's the downtown part of Waterbury while shopping districts lie north and south. This fairly large strip mall has seen better times, but is something more than half rented out at this point. Click the image for a larger view of the seagulls floating over the parking lot. They fly up from Long Island sound when the weather threatens storms.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


The wall, the garage above it, the foundation of the house in the background, all stonework, which is typical of the construction in this part of the city. The bit of graffiti is comparatively rare here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Pink Siding

The house siding is pink, but the pavement is colored by the city's street de-icing compound which combines salt with red dirt.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Shrine III

Another private shrine in the side yard of the house in yesterday's post.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Front Yard Shrine

The masonry and stonework are probably also a legacy of Italian owners or builders, past or present.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Hobby Horse

Here's a much bigger side yard with a swingset and a lawn. It's probably counted as a double lot.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Fenced Tree II

There was no place for the sidewalk snow to go but into the small fenced yard. I don't know how the little trees survive all the road salt.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Fenced Tree

Along a relatively flat shoulder in the hilly terrain, this street is lined with small fully detached houses. The yards are tiny. The buildings likely date back to the early 20th century and range from run down to modestly updated with vinyl siding. On some, earlier, more ambitious projects like decorative iron fences mix with later improvements. There are enough carefully tended trees in this seemingly uncongenial surrounding that I want to do a small project collecting pictures of these city trees as spring and summer roll around.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Exercise Bike

I've never understood why photographers wait for sunny days to make pictures. I seldom like the look of harsh sunlight—I don't mean I don't like what happens photographically but that I just don't like it, period. I suppose it could be connected to the fact that I've always been susceptible to sunburn (through a cotton shirt, through tinted auto glass, under a hat from light bouncing back up off the ground...) but I get a warm, glowing, feeling from the look of an overcast day, not from a sunny one. The way that light delineates and describes objects on an overcast day can be a delight. Not all cloudy days are created equal. Overcast can be sullen and dull, but it can also glow. In particular, the moments just after a sky clouds over, or later the moments when the overcast thickens enough that it just begins to rain, these are times when the light turns rich and photographic description can become especially vivid. All the pictures in this series were made under rich, variable overcast conditions.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Nativity Scene

More Christmas-related stuff still standing in mid February.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Front Steps

Houses built into hillsides can end up having a daunting set of front steps, and a long walk to the garage.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Derelict Stores

The first floor front and second floor rear entries are both at grade.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Heading Up

Some of the hills really are steep. A lot of the old cars that live in the neighborhood can be heard straining hard to make the climb.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Town Plot

Some booster a long time back described Waterbury as, "The San Francisco of Connecticut." This has been repeated frequently, but generally with ironic intent. Still, the city is built on an interlocking series of steep hills and ridges. The Naugatuck River runs through the middle of town, north to south. In this view the built-up hillside in the distance is over on the east side of the river.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

No Parking in Front of the Garage

The Town Plot neighborhood on the western side of Waterbury is built into the steep river valley wall. The streets follow a slightly crazy grid, a pattern distorted by the steps and terraces of the hillside. Many of the older houses are generous in size, but now almost all seem to have been divided into multiple apartment units. A striking number are either for sale entirely, or less than fully rented.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Front Yard Shrine

Waterbury was an industrial power in the 19th century and into the 20th. It's still nicknamed The Brass City, though the mills are closed. Many of the mill workers were Italian immigrants. It's said that the entire populations of able-bodied men from some small towns in Italy were transplanted en mass to work in Waterbury's mills. As families joined them, 'little Italy' enclaves grew up all around the hilly terrain. These Catholic newcomers built numerous churches, and private shrines abound to this day, though many of them are now kept up by the Hispanic residents who have become a major part of today's population.

I was struck by the plastic door with its tiny padlock protecting this statue. The safeguards would hardly hamper a determined thief or vandal.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Our Lady of the Samurai

There are a lot of shrines around Waterbury (more on this later) but this scene made me wonder if the figure had been swiped from someplace else and left here as a prank. The empty Corona bottle adds to this impression. Have to go back and see if it's a permanent installation or not.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Small Flags

Three mailboxes indicate this large older home has been divided into apartments. The porch and yard are quite cluttered with little figures, knick-knacks, flower boxes, bird feeders and suet cages. It makes me wonder whether the owner or the tenants is responsible for all the decoration, but I didn't find anyone to ask.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Yellow Garage

Something new at WPII.

Through the month of March I will post one picture each day from a group of photographs that have several things in common. Just what those common elements are should become clear over time. For one thing, the pictures were all made in a small place, the city of Waterbury, CT.