History And Perception

Wrench

In my first post I asked the question: What had to happen for the leaves and the photograph of them to exist? My observation was: Everything from the big bang forward. Perhaps because of the forms and textures in this image, the question that came to mind is somewhat related. Considering this particular wrench, what was its history? And how did it come to be?

My reflection begins with the observation that someone, likely a man with dirty hands, placed the wrench on an oil drum inside a mushroom farm in Loveland, Ohio. Where was the wrench before that? Might it have been used in a factory, a gas station or railroad yard? Did it hang on a pegboard above someone’s basement workbench? Was it cherished? Was it even used? Had it sat in a metal or wooden drawer filled with other wrenches? Had it been dropped in the dirt and rained upon? Not this wrench. There’s no of sign of rust. With each of these possibilities I imagine the environment, what the users would be wearing, the grease on their hands, dirt under their fingernails—the calendars on the walls, the smell of oil and gasoline, the sound of a baseball announcer coming from an cheap plastic radio and the voices of workmen talking, perhaps yelling, sounds absorbed and held in this object’s metallic memory cells. Yes, these are stereotypical images. But elements of imagination, like pieces of a puzzle, contribute to the picture of the human project, the strengths and vulnerabilities that spark appreciation and evoke compassion.

My imagination shifts to when the wrench was new, when it looked its best, gleaming bright steel with the manufacturer’s name engraved on it. Was it on display in a window? Or was it one of the many that were wrapped in brown paper and put in a box with a drawing or photo on top, specifications and serial numbers on the side? There are no right or wrong imaginings in contemplation. Each and every reflection contributes to the unfolding development of self and the perception of reality. Imagining is at the heart of contemplation. As well as enabling the exploration of times, places, events and abstractions that we could not otherwise experience physically, and sidestepping everyday thinking, imagination inspires creativity and fuels our appreciation of what is, as it is.

Back to the wrench. I think of the manufacturing process. I see the minerals being scooped from the ground by giant, loud and smoke-belching diggers. They are crushed and then dumped into a molten crucible where rock transforms into liquid. Sparks fly. Gloved men with black goggles handle the controls in a dark factory with a dirt floor. The cars parked outside are vintage 1930’s. Men in the office wear double-breasted, three button suits, starched collars and ties with finger-length clips to hold them in place. Their office managers and secretaries wear shirt waist and nylons with seams down the back.

Further back in time I see a gray haired man sitting at a drafting table wearing spectacles. He also wears a tie, but his sleeves are rolled up and he smokes unfiltered cigarettes. With fine-pointed pencil in hand he transposes a sketch with notes on dimension and weight into a blueprint that will be used to create the model and mold for the wrench.

Much farther back is the visionary (or visionaries) who met the challenge of a connection problem. How does a mechanic connect two pieces of metal in a way that they will almost never come apart without purposefully being separated? Trial and error. After many attempts and failures someone (innovation more often begins with an individual rather than a group) imagines a threaded bolt with flat sides and a tool with a handle that would turn it. Tighten. Untighten. Brilliant!

Descending the historical ladder even further, where did the iron ore for this particular wrench come from? China most likely. Other possibilities include Australia, Brazil, India, Russia, South Africa, Minnesota and Michigan. And whose idea was the making of a molten soup consisting of iron oxide, magnetite, hematite, goethite, limonite and siderite, particularly when these minerals are scattered around the world? I think about motivation, the need for a material harder than any rock, the desire to build things that would last—and win wars.

I can see this wrench new, old or ancient. I can see it whole or as a conglomerate of parts. I can think about it as a solid or liquid, even as fields within fields of quanta. Perception is a choice we make. For me then, the question becomes: What is gained by different perceptions? It’s more than beauty that’s in the eye of the beholder.

There is nothing in all the world that is not God’s manifest glory and essence.

                                          Kabbalah 

About This Image

Wrench

Theme: History And Perception

Negative #: 516-C2

Fred’s Mushroom Farm

Lebanon, Ohio

September, 1978

I was riding country backroads looking for something to photograph when I saw a sign that read Fred’s Mushroom Farm. The place intrigued me, so I went in and told the manager I was a photographer; would he mind if I photographed his facility. Not only did he grant permission, he gave me a tour and described the process of growing mushrooms. He introduced me to his employees and displayed great patience while I photographed anything that caught my eye.

I shot about six rolls of 120 film in that facility, all by available light. Of the images I printed, not one was of mushrooms. In passing from one room to another, I saw this wrench sitting on an oil drum. I composed the shot and made one hand-held exposure. The light level was very low, so I was not surprised when the slow shutter-speed resulted in an image with shortened depth of field and slight blur. I didn’t print the negative. Years later I was paging through my contact sheets and decided that, because of the simplicity and graded light, the image might have possibilities. Now, it peaks my imagination ever time I see it.

Besides being exhibited and published, I used this among other images in my Visual Communication classes to illustrate a comment made to a reporter when he asked one of the masters of street photography, Henri Cartier-Bresson, the secret of his success. His response: “Be there and f8.”

© Copyright, David L. Smith, 2014. The images and the associated contemplations on this site are protected against any and all commercial and promotional use without the permission of  the author. However, permission is granted for individuals to download the images and print them for private, non-commercial, non-promotional use.

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5 thoughts on “History And Perception

  1. A truly fabulous photo! This reminds me of some of the best work during the great depression by master photographers like: Walker Evans, Arthur Rothstein and Dorothea Lange. This may have been taken at an Ohio mushroom farm, but it evokes to me the dangerous, dirty, yet rewarding toil of oilfield roustabouts. Color has no place here! A photo of this eloquence and power could only exist in black-and-white.

  2. This is one of my absolute favorite photographs. I love this and could look at it everyday. The light and texture are simply gorgeous. Your contemplation paints such a beautiful crystal clear portrait of the life of the wrench. It enhanced my viewing of the photograph I love through an incredibly rich and detailed back story. Great post!

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