August 28, 2000

Fort Taber, New Bedford, MA

Fort Taber was the last addition to my itinerary; it is currently closed to the public, but one of our hosts managed to obtain permission for me to work within the fort. The fort is one of several 3rd System Forts of the same design; including Fort Popham, in Maine, that I'd worked with in 1997.
4"x5" film

The joy of photographing Fort Taber lay in the fact that I already knew the basic design, as it was identical to Fort Popham - but, unlike that fort, Taber was complete. The difference between the two forts was still substantial though, with Taber's interior showing the damage that several decades of neglect and abandonment. All types of graffiti covered almost every surface within reach, and much of the wooden walkways that lined the top level had been pulled up and burned. At first glance, the space was a cacophony of visual noise, but a distinct advantage of working in black and white was that much of the damage was minimized, leaving the dominant architectural forms undisturbed as the focus of the images.
4"x5" film

Drawing somewhat from the experience at Fort Adams, I walked around the first floor before I started photographing the fort, discovering what spaces I'd like to work with, and what was of little use. My biggest initial frustration was discovering that all the interior arches, so beautiful in Fort Popham, were interrupted by huge wooden support, added recently, presumably, to add stability to the structure. My initial disappointment was mitigated by the fact that every one of these arches was marred by graffiti, and would have been unpleasant to image, given the beautiful lines and arcs which I'd worked with in Popham. That said, there was still rich feast of possibilities to draw upon and I quickly got to work.
35mm transparency film
Without a doubt, the best visual feature of the fort was its spiral staircases. Unlike those I've worked with in Maine, these were enclosed in rectilinear rooms, creating wonderfully sharp corners and a strong dynamic quality that lead to very different images than those I'd made with the circular spiral stairs. It was in these close spaces that the 14mm lens again came into its own, providing me with a way to capture the entirety of the stair in one image. Again, as with the other views, the ever present vandalism restricted the images somewhat, but by pointing the camera up, and working with the underside of the steps, almost all evidence of the defacing marks was omitted. The warmth of the granite, combined with the soft quality of the diffused light provided a wonderful subject to work with. My only regret is that I felt guilty spending so much time (perhaps 1/2 an hour) on the stair alone, and moved on, before I really had covered all the possibilities.
4"x5" film
Overall, the day was a real pleasure, with me moving from space to space, methodically covering the fort floor by floor As I knew I only had the single day to work within the fort, I carefully allocated my time and film between the three levels of the fort. Because the layout of the fort was familiar to me from Popham, there was an odd sense of déjá vu as I walked through it. While I was always aware of the unfinished state of Fort Popham, the experience was a little like discovering the wonders of a brand-new-car after a lifetime of only owning used vehicles. With such a compact size and layout, I was more than able to achieve a good overview of Fort Taber in the day I spent photographing it, drawing from my previous experience with Popham and other sites to intuit which views and images were crucial to understanding the space as a whole.

I would like to thanks the office of the Mayor of New Bedford, for providing me with access to Fort Taber.

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