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IMPORTANT NOTE: The Klotz Throwing Company (aka. Lonaconing Silk Mill) is critically close to shutting the doors for good. Herb Crawford (the owner) has noted that there is no State or Federal funding coming in to support desperately needed roof repairs and, his personal funds are depleted. If repairs are not made to the roof prior to this upcoming winter season, severe damage could occur causing permanent closure of the building. Now, more than ever, is the time to take the opportunity to photograph this historic facility before it’s gone!

Have you ever been to a new location to shoot and been so overwhelmed at all of the possibilities? Such was the case for us the weekend of 8/13/11 in Lonaconing, Maryland at the abandoned Klotz Throwing Company (aka. Lonaconing Silk Mill).

Kelly and I had to the opportunity to visit and shoot a site which had last closed its doors to its employees on July 7th, 1957. More on the history of the mill can be found here.

Lonaconing Silk Milk

"The Factory Floor"

The small town of Lonaconing is about a 4-hour drive for us so, we left at 4am to be insure we arrived for the 9am entry time. As anticipated, we arrived an hour early (which we always encourage – you just never know!). I’m glad we showed up early because as it turned out, the owner, Herb Crawford, arrived about 30-minutes early and gave us a quick history lesson about the mill and, talked to us about the current state of the mill.

Our plan was to meet with between 9-13 photographers to shoot this location for the 5 hours we were allotted. Due to some other photog’s circumstances, we ended having a group of 11 photographers shooting the mill. This turns out to be a nice number to “share” the large 3-story space of the mill. People were spread out enough to where you really didn’t get in each others way. This is an important consideration if you’re planning a trip to shoot with others. Be aware of your surroundings and respect the space of others. Makes for a much more pleasant shooting situation.

Any time you go to an unfamiliar location, do as much research as you can to help preplan and maximize your shooting time. This was our first time to to the mill so, I did as much research as I could to know what we were getting ourselves into. With 5 hours to shoot on 3 floors with everything from small, intricate items to large machinery, our plan was to divide and conquer! Kelly headed off one direction, I took another. This works great when you shoot as a team like we do but, if you’re shooting alone you have even more work to do. If you’re alone in a situation like this, work your way around the building, scanning up and down as you move and shoot.

The Barrel and The Cart

"The Barrel and The Cart"

The mill is in excellent condition for a 104-year old building. As one may expect though, there was only minimal electricity, natural lighting from the large windows and no air conditioning (unless you count the holes in the windows). The challenge here was to start where there was light, shoot then move to where the light transitioned throughout the day. Another challenge was the large pane windows and the dimly lit rows of equipment towards the center of the floor. Think of a diver at the surface of of the water and as he dives deeper, the lighting begins to disappear to the point of almost total darkness. If you shot from the end of the row of equipment, back towrds the windows, you had to choose between exposing for the light at windows or, the dark shadows at the ends of the rows of equipment. The best suggestions here are to use a tripod and create multiple exposures, one for the bright window lighting, a middle (or neutral) exposure at the middle of the equipment and a long exposure for the low light of the end of the equipment. Blending these exposures together in Photoshop will help to provide detail throughout the image. Keep in mind that when you are creating multiple exposures to maintain the same aperture setting while only adjusting the shutter speed. Another option is the use of a neutral grad filter to achieve the proper exposure.

That Was Then...

"That Was Then..."

Something that I always find interesting at a new location are the things I had not anticipated seeing. I think we all go to a new location with a certain expectaion ofwhat we are going to see and how we are going to shoot it. It’s always refreshing to be surprised viewing things we never thought we would see. Don’t think of these unsuspecting images as distractions but, rather pleasant surprises! All too often we force ourselves to “see” the shot instead of opening our eyes to “feel” the shot.

"Green in the Window"

As far as equipment goes, my wife and I pretty much brought all of gear (listed below) but, prodominantly shot wide-angle and standard (50mm) angle shots. We do plan to go back and get some macro shots. Other photographers with us shot mostly the same with a couple shooting medium and large format film cameras. Flash was never used (but could be) as natural lighting made for a more pleasing tone. The mill has a very “Urb-Ex” feel to it as it hasn’t really been touched in decades, and it is still a decaying factory which is dirty and oily. Wear clothes and shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty in. Be prepared to crawl around on the floor and even climb on top of things for some great shots. The owner (Herb Crawford) is very good about letting you move things around as long as you put them back in place when finished.

"Step Stool"

If you have the opportunity to visit and shoot the silk mill in Lonaconing then, make sure you are well rested, well fed and clear of all the daily distractions in your mind as this place will open itself up to you with amazing photographic opportunities. If you would like more information on the mill, please feel free to contact me by email.

Equipment used:

  • Hasselblad H1 with Leaf-Aptus 75s 33mp back
  • Hasselblad 80mm/2.8 HC
  • Canon EOS 1D Mark III
  • Canon 24-70mm/2.8
  • Sigma 10-20mm/3.5
  • Feisol Tripod w/ RRS BH-55 head
  • Manfrotto Tripod w/ RRS BH-55 head
  • Cable Releases
  • Batteries
  • CF Cards
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