The Foundry


Most people drive from point A to point B with little thought to the structures that can be seen along the road, let alone what might be discovered among some of the non-descriptive side streets that appear as just another dead end. Yet it is in such locations I had hoped of finding exquisite textures, accidental random patterns having turned into abstracts that would please my visual senses and the esthetic ideal of an undisclosed beauty.

A few months after my open-heart surgery it was necessary for me to travel several weeks on a regular bases to Berkeley, when I had decided to explore the area between Berkeley and Emeryville. There are a number of small streets that branched off Fourth Street, where a number of industrial businesses and warehouses can be found.

Luminescence and the beast

On my very first excursion I had discovered a unique site with an open shipping gate and no visible individuals around to keep me from having entered. To me, this was and is nothing more than a green light, an invitation to continue, so I had ventured passed the gate and cautiously explored the premises.

Besides the large main building, there were two smaller structures, all empty of machinery or anything else, however for me I had just discovered an abundance of textures, but it would need to be ignored in favor of the architecture and the surrounding ambiance. For the site resembled either a slacher or futuristic film set in which survivors of the human race battling each other over petroleum or other rare commodity. I had discovered a photographers dream and I had been standing right in the middle of it.

Thor’s mighty hammer

A couple days later I had returned, trying to gain access once more in order to focus on some other interior areas I was previously had been unable to capture, because on my last visit, all three memory cards were filled, but the day I returned, everything unfortunately was sealed off tighter than a drum.

Not wanting to be discouraged I had decided to seek out other possible sites in the area only to be rewarded beyond my wildest dreams. On this one street I had discovered three different businesses I knew I would want to spend numerous hours, if not days, exploring and capturing the kind of images I had always admired and studied.

The earth shaker

In previous times I would just have just trespassed because when I had asked for permission, the answer received was always a resounding ‘No’, so it come as a huge surprise when two of the firms I asked, said they would check with the property owner and for me to call back after few days.

The situation at the last company was very different as the owner himself approved my request, which allowed me to proceed to the warehouse immediately, where I quickly set out capturing the very shots I felt were beyond my reach.

A week later I called Coulter Forge and learned that I had been given the opportunity to photograph and upon my return visit, John, one of the managers, showed me around the grounds and we agreed on some fundamental ground rules for my safety.

A menagerie of tools

Whenever the weather was overcast and I had the energy—considering I was still in recovery—I would stop off at the front office of Coulter Forge and ask if it were all right to take some more photographs. By now I had also learned what clothing to wear, especially how to protect the shoes from the materials that covered the ground of the foundry, however my tripod was another matter and always required cleaning after each visit.

Over the next couple of months there were about five, maybe six visits to the foundry and every time it felt like seeing an old friend, as the surroundings and I became more comfortable with each other.

No longer being dazzled by the location, I had been able to see beyond the machinery and discover the intimacy of many years and the many hands that had left their mark and were now being ‘written by light’ into images the mind beheld when the camera had been positioned on the tripod.

Matrix and punches

The first couple of visits the focus had been on the over all environment and the larger machinery, with subsequent returns this had shifted towards discovering the human elements, like the tools they used day in and day out or any personal belongs accidentally left behind and forgotten.

Even though the workshop is dusty and dirty from all the different metal fragments, there was a certain charm and beauty that I found totally irresistible.

It has now been almost three years since I last visited the plant and at some point I would like to go back to arrange a time and capture individual portraits of the crew, for as one looks at these pictures it feels like the nineteen forties or the fifties if not even earlier in the century.

Tools of the trade

I also cannot help but wondering how much longer such an industry as this can remain in business as it competes against a global economy or the rapid technological changes and yet I feel that if we lose such a place as Coulter Forge to modernization, we lose not only a place of business where everyone is family, we endure a far greater loss of human possibilities and endurance.

Numeric punches

This post is part of the series: We are all Addicted to our Past . . .
All images taken with a Sony DSC-V1, full frame


Leah Virsik said...

Hi Egmont,

Nice to see you posted today. I was concerned about you last night.

Such a great story! Your photographs are quite interesting themselves (I love the alphabet punches!)and your words add so much more giving them a lot more depth. I become more connected to them. I also really appreciate you talking about gaining access to the site. It's amazing what you receive when you ask. Many times I've asked for things and to my amazement I get a yes.


Monika Wolf said...

Wonderful story told... a story about transience but also about your feeling when exploring this place again and again, about photography and experiences related to it. Love the images... my cup of tea! :-) My favs are Grips (gorgeous compo), Luminescence and the beast (wonderful lighting), A menagerie of tools (you just sit and wait for the workers to show up) and Numeric punches (the object itself and how you've set it)
Excellently done, Egmont!