Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A steel plant

Luke Swank
American, 1890 - 1944
Steel Plant, 1932
Gelatin Silver Print

from Art Institute of Chicago's exhibit, "Photography on Display: Modern Treasures"

Vivid contrasts, studied and subtly unbalanced symmetry, energetic lines and angles. Against a romantic cloudscape. [1] [2] Against. Violence. [3] A battleship docked at port? Towers, smokestacks looming over electrical lines. A comparison of power—military and industrial. No? A Steel Plant. Steel. Plant. Comparison yet. Light and darkness, movement and pause, tranquility and upheaval, disarray and design, natural and human, romantic and modern. A story, a vignette, a declaration of the rise of a modern industry, magnificent and shadowy! Arise, arise! billowy clouds bursting from the stacks—handrails atop the towers—mysterious, sourceless light that hums in the sky—power lines, like scratches in the film, gouge the surface and deny with an enormous X the things beneath!

“[Swank] served in the U.S. Army during the first World War, and was assigned to a research facility to study the manufacture of poison gasses.” [4]

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!-- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

-from, Deluce Et Decorum Est, Wilfred Owen