September 01, 2000

Fort Adams (Newport, Rhode Island)

My second expedition to Fort Adams was as focused as the first. Where I'd spent that day working with the bastions and sea-side exterior of the fort, this day was to be spent on the more refined interiors, working in the rooms that were the accommodations for the officers and men of the fort.
6x9 cm transparency film
It was in these rooms that the starkest difference between the American forts and the ones in British North America became apparent. Whereas in Canada, the officers and troops were housed in Spartan quarters, the rooms and hallways of the quarters in Fort Adams had elaborate mouldings, delicate paint schemes and even sliding pocket-doors. The only explanation I can come up with for this difference is that, while the British were defending their empire, and had to house and feed their soldiers who were posted to a particular fort for a limited period of time, the American fort was designed to defend the home soil, and therefore the comfort and happiness of the soldiers was of more importance and considered in the design.
4"x5" film
When I first had my tour of the fort, I was torn between photographing the interior of the quarters, and the other elements of the fort. As I knew I could spend a full day photographing the quarters alone, I decided to leave them for the second visit, when I would have already documented much of the fort, and would feel less guilty for indulging myself with so much time on such a limited part of the fort. The plan turns out to have been a wise one, as I spent 90% of my time on the second day inside the eastern walls where the officer's quarters were. As with the other forts, I spent some time using colour, as well as black and white. In the other spaces, I used the 14mm lens on my 35mm camera but with these rooms, a more refined, detailed approach was called for. I loaded some Astia in my 6x9 rangefinder and made a series of images using this high-quality transparency film. The most pleasing of these images, to the left, shows the delicacy of the peeled paint and mouldings, and the bare lathe below the plaster ceiling. The irony is that all the delicacy and detail is constructed on the inside of a casemented chamber that, in need, could be easily refitted to contain heavy weaponry and cannons.

The last half-hour of the day was spent along the south wall, photographing the simpler quarters of the rank and file. These rooms were finished with plaster over the vaulting and lathe and plaster on the walls, and were more obviously of dual purpose, with the room more than open enough to move armament into quickly.
4"x5" film
The last image, above, was of a retrofitted room with a stairway that was added in the early 20th century to access a two-storied brick building that was placed above the original walls. The moment I saw the space, I fell in love with its visual organization, with the smooth arc of the ceiling being interrupted with by the angular slash of the stairs. What made the entire image for me, though, was the small detail of the vertical supports of the lowest step, revealed behind the peeled veneer on the corner of the step.

The second day at Fort Adams added to what I'd started a week before, but still left about 1/2 the fort unphotographed. The start I have made with Adams is a good indication of what I'd like to complete, given time and resources to return to New England again.

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