No. 50 August 2005
About this site
We've created a database and photographic inventory containing more than half the 18th & 19th century churches in the state and add to it each month. We solicit all contributions and suggestions from visitors.
— Highlights —
of the month
As a vacation break from the large format black-and-white, traditional photochemistry-based images of churches that normally occupy this site, I have developed this month's feature around (1) color images, (2) made with a digital SLR of (3) other aspects of the state's history. If you are going to break a tradition, you might as well do it boldly. Let's start with the history. Those of you not interested in photography will find only half an essay this month, as after a couple of paragraphs of about these delightful historical parks I discuss fairly advanced issues about making images that may completely mystify anyone not really, really serious about photography.
There are at least a dozen eighteenth and nineteenth century villages, manufacturing and mining complexes, farms, and plantations that have been preserved by county and state governments. A few of these include authentic old churches, like Millbrook Village in Warren County, operated by the National Park Service's Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area staff, Allaire State Park in Monmouth County, Batsto Village in Burlington, and Morris County's Waterloo Village. None are overrun with visitors even on weekends, and admission fees are modest or non-existent. Some have artisans in period costumes demonstrating weaving, blacksmithing, and carpentry, and the guides are frequently knowledgeable and engaging. For a photographer, or just a day trip with the family, these villages offer a most pleasant way to engage our past. I visited two of these parks in recent weeks, partly as a respite from religious structures, but mostly to shoot pictures for a book I'm working on for an educational publisher. My interest was in domestic and industrial artifacts of previous centuries, but especially on subjects that might be of interest to kids in middle school.
Village is the best-known of these parks, probably because of the many festivals,
art shows and concerts it has hosted over the
years. The town flourished with the completion of the Morris Canal in
1831, and boasts a number of authentic nineteenth century buildings,
a lock of the canal and a few remnants of the inclined plane. Fittingly,
an early building hosts the headquarters of the Canal Society of New
Jersey, and there is a display of many fascinating cultural and engineering
aspects related to the canal. Visitors can see the gristmill, sawmill,
blacksmith shop, general store and tavern. Also at the site is a reconstructed
Minisink Indian village—pretty authentic as far as I can tell.
No tipis or feathered warbonnets here. There is also an 1807 cabin that
was moved here from elsewhere and anchors a good representation of what
a subsistence farm might have been like in the first half of the nineteenth
Village arose about the same time as Waterloo (1830s)
but traces its origins to the erection of a gristmill on the Columbia-Walpack
Turnpike (an early toll road). By 1840 the Methodists had built a small
church, which still exists although it has been converted into a replica
of the original schoolhouse. The Park Service then erected a replica
of the 1860s church. You figure that out. The population of the village
reached a maximum of 75 people in the 1870s, when there were 19 buildings.
Changes in farming, transportation, and life style siphoned off any of
the village's vitality, and it had become home to a few summer residents
and retired people by the 1960s. It is a historic site although it is
not an exact replica of an 1830s village. In the summer there are usually
guides in period costumes and a number of artisans plying their crafts
and explaining all to visitors.
with a relatively inexpensive digital camera for a couple of months,
I purchased an excellent digital SLR and a couple
of very good lenses (10-20mm and 18-70mm). I haven't picked up my older
35mm cameras since, although I do use a couple of the lenses which are
compatible with both cameras. My motivation was the incredible convenience
of digital, and my reservations had mainly to do with the small negative
size and the absence of the
swings and tilts available on the large view camera. Given the settings
and capacity of the memory card, I have the equivalent of at least four
rolls of 36 exposure film with me at all times, which is about ten times
more exposures I would make in a day with the view camera. That capacity
as much as the convenience of a 35mm camera encourages a thorough exploration
of a subject. The view camera requires about 20 minutes to set up, read
the light, compose, focus, adjust, and make a single exposure, and that
just isn't going to happen 144 times in a day. Probably not even 14 times
in a day. An additional convenience is the ability to see my images right
away, including a histogram which gives me invaluable information about
my exposure. I often took Polaroids with the view camera, but Polaroid
film is expensive and has a short shelf-life unless refrigerated. So
for the kinds of images that appear on this website, a digital SLR has
many advantages. If I were making large prints for exhibition, I am not
yet sure I would endorse the 35mm format, film or digital, quite so strongly,
but to my eye, there is no detectable difference between film and
digital prints when using a 35mm camera.
So I now find I am increasingly shooting in digital color, which I (usually) convert to black-and-white, frequently with greater control over the subtle tonalities than I had in my darkroom.
Other considerations: (1) Some corrections can be done in the computer, but perspective control, like control of exposure and depth-of-field, is always done better in the camera than in the computer (or the darkroom). (2) I have not been able in spite of much effort to replicate the dark yellow or orange filters that I like to use with film when there is sky (and especially clouds) in the image. Ansel Adams printed many of his best-known images of Yosemite with skies that are absolutely black. That sounds strange but we got used to it; some of his early prints when he printed the sky more normal now look washed out and certainly less dramatic. He used a red filter (I think) and did much burning in in the printing. Some selective darkening of the sky is possible in the computer (but not easy), but the use of a graded density or polarizing filter just doesn't do the job. (Yes, I realize there are plug-ins available that claim to replicate the effect of yellow, orange, and red filters—I've tried many of them and they don't measure up; of course, it may be that my Photoshop skills are deficient.) In any case, I have never liked black skies for my own work. Because we don't have the sandstone cliffs streaked with brownish-purplish desert varnish stains that gives so much character to images made in the southwest, I have not yet sounded a lament for the loss of the dark green and red filters that are effective in bringing out those dramatic markings. (3) There is no less need for a solid understanding of the craft of photography—metering and exposure, control of depth-of-field, and so on—if one attempts to make an image of unusual grace and subtlety. It is just that some of the necessary crafts have changed more dramatically than the shift to film from the wet plate-collodion images a hundred and thirty years ago, and the photographer will have to update his or her mastery of that craft.
For those whose visit to this site is not complete without at least one image of a religious structure, as a reward for your patience in wading through the technical stuff I offer this interior view of St. Mary's Church in Burlington made with my digital camera.
If the website looks a bit different on your screen it is because it has been optimized for Mozilla's Firefox browser instead of Internet Explorer. Firefox is superior in compliance to web standards, usability, performance, and is not nearly as susceptible to security problems. I have urged all my friends and family to make the switch. Firefox is an open source program, which means it is free. You can download it at www.mozilla.com. EWeek Magazine calls it "the best standalone browser available today and generations ahead of Microsoft's Internet Explorer."