August 25, 2000

Fort Adams (NewPort, Rhode Island)

The real motivation for the New England Expedition was Fort Adams. I first learned about this fort in the fall of 1999 and the more I learned about it, the more I wanted to photograph it. As part of the American response to the British presence in North America, it fell well within the body of work I've been working on since 1990. Fort Adams, however, was on a far larger scale, containing more than five times the fire-power of the largest British fort in Halifax, Nova Scotia. In anticipation of my visit, contact was made with the Fort Adams Trust, to ensure I would have permission to work within the fort and to use my tripod.
4"x5" film
Upon arriving in Newport, I met with the Trust staff to show them examples of my work with the Halifax and Maine forts and to discuss my hopes for the work with Fort Adams. Following this, we received an extensive tour of the fort, given by the Executive Director who not only pointed out physical sites of particular interest but also provided a rich amount of anecdotal and historical information about the fort as a whole. This tour would prove to be central in shaping how I approached the documentation of the fort over the two days I worked with it, giving me a good sense of the space as a whole and permitting me to block it off into areas which would be easier to address systematically.
4"x5" film
Usually when I work with a new space, be it a fort or a place I am working in with a model, I photograph as I move through it, preferring the pleasure of discovering the surprises around the corners to knowing what lies ahead. With Fort Adams, though, it was for the best that I knew of the site as a whole before I began, as it was far larger than I had anticipated, even with the excellent websites I have come across on-line. After the tour and a break for lunch, the work with the fort began in earnest, focusing on the interior spaces which most closely mirrored those I'd photographed before. The northeast bastion is one of the most beautifully arched areas I have ever seen, with wonderfully interlaced brick arches providing the ceiling for more than ten gun emplacements. I spent more than an hour working with this small space, revealing in the wonderful complexity of the arches and the richness of the light that crept through the gun embrasures. Most of the exposures were in the range of ten to thirty seconds, giving some idea of how low the light was.

The remainder of my first day at Fort Adams was spent working my way through photographing the enclosed, vaulted emplacements on the northern curtain wall, and in a second bastion, on the north-west side. I also photographed a spiral staircase which lead up to the rampart on top of the western curtain wall and went outside of the fort to photograph the exterior by late afternoon light.
4"x5" film
While the fort had elements of both the British defenses and the New England structures of the same period, the use of brick for the emplacement facings and the over-all scale of the fort were totally new to me, and a constant source of surprise and pleasure. While some of the images I made were purely documentary, the vast majority of the images I created on this day were about visual beauty. The stark simplicity of these places, regardless of their original purpose, is something that always strikes me. The lines, deliberately designed with belligerence and violence as their prime consideration have a grace and elegance to them that is often missing in far more carefully designed public spaces of the same area.

I would like to thanks the staff of the Fort Adams Trust for their assistance in providing me with access to Fort Adams.

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