'And the Iron Did Swim'

'And the Iron Did Swim'

Mary Barnett's photographs document demolition of foundry

April 26th, 2009 in Entertainment

By Ann Nichols annsnichols@aol.com

In 2006 documentary artist Mary Barnett focused her camera and attention on U.S. Pipe and Foundry. The 125-year-old plant had just been shut down and was slated for demolition.

An exhibition of these photographs goes on display May 8 at Tanner Hill Gallery. The show, "And the Iron Did Swim," addresses how the physical destruction of a familiar place can distort memory. During this process, new images associated with the same site are created.

The photographs of workspaces, machinery and industrial debris were selected after Ms. Barnett interviewed former plant workers.

"After spending so much time photographing individual workspaces at the foundry, I really wanted to get to know some of the people who had been there," she said. "It was really an emotional experience for these men watch the demolition."

In trying to convey a sense of the workers' attachment to the foundry, she photographed machine controls, desks, chairs and locker rooms. In fact, the title of the show was inspired by a sermon pamphlet she found inside someone's locker. The sermon was titled "And the Iron Did Swim," referencing the Bible verse 2 Kings 6:6, which describes Elisha throwing an ax into the river and the ax head swimming.

In photographing the exterior of the foundry, she wanted to capture the massive scale of the buildings and the skyline, she said.

"I loved shooting over there in the early evening because of the amazing beautiful light from the sun setting behind Lookout Mountain," she said.

In the early morning, she photographed the east side of the foundry as the sun came up over Missionary Ridge.

For the project, which was made possible by a grant from CreateHere, Ms. Barnett used a Sony D80 digital camera and printed her pictures on photographic, cotton and metallic papers. Sizes range from 6 inches square to 30 by 40 inches.

When applied to film, television or print media, the term "documentary" is often associated with images in black and white. Ms. Barnett chose color to show things just as they were when she first saw them.

"Color allows the subtleties of a faded, distressed and gritty environment to come out," she said.

In addition to the pictures of the foundry, Ms. Barnett will display a series of abstract photographs.

An opening reception for "And the Iron Did Swim" will be held 5:30-8 p.m. May 8. The show will remain on view through June 5.

Tanner Hill Gallery, 3069 S. Broad St., Suite 3, is open noon-5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and by appointment For information, call 280-7182.


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