New York Photo Review
Volume 2 Issue 43 December 6 to 12, 2011

Making Caribbean Dance by Susanna Sloat
The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino
Soho Photo Gallery
Central Booking Magazine

Into the Woods
Jeff Brouws
The Machine in the Garden
Don Burmeister
Railroad Landscape #3, Poughkeepsie
and Eastern right-of-way (abandoned 1938),
MP 92, view south, spring, McIntyre, New York by Jeff Brouws. Source: robertmann.com
Jeff Brouws, "Railroad Landscape #3, Poughkeepsie
and Eastern right-of-way (abandoned 1938),
MP 92, view south, spring, McIntyre, New York" 2009

Jeff Brouws has taken a respite from the highways and strip malls of 21st century America forming the bulk of his work to look at some of their 19th and early 20th century equivalents: the railroad lines that were once ubiquitous presences in the landscape. An assiduous traveler, Brouws did not need to go far for this for project as all the photographs in “The Machine in the Garden”, now at the Robert Mann Gallery, were made within 10 miles of his home in Duchess County, New York.

Before the growth of reliable roads and trucks, the countryside of Duchess County and the surrounding area was interwoven with dozens of such small railroad lines. Literally making ‘milk-runs’, trains would weave between villages, stopping at every substantial dairy-farm, to load milk and produce to deliver to central distribution points in New York and the immediate suburbs.

Railroad Landscape #56, former Poughkeepsie and Eastern right-of- way as ingress to private hunting preserve (abandoned 1938), MP 92, view south, Winter, McIntyre, New York by Jeff Brouws. Source: robertmann.com
Jeff Brouws, "Railroad Landscape #56, former Poughkeepsie and Eastern right-of- way as ingress to private hunting preserve (abandoned 1938), MP 92, view south, Winter, McIntyre, New York" 2010

With the rise of trucks and paved roads these small railroads eventually became unprofitable. By the Great Depression they went bankrupt, the rights of way stripped of their rails, the land left abandoned. But the marks of the railroads remained. The graded paths over rough ground, the blasted rocks, and the dry elevated embankments through the marshes endured. Some were put to other uses, becoming dirt roads or simple footpaths, others were forgotten by all but a few hikers and hunters. Many began to be slowly overgrown by the surrounding forests.

Brouws has taken the most straight-forward approach imaginable to documenting these momentos of progress past. He stands in the middle of the path, puts the vanishing point of the receding trail close to the center of the frame, and shoots. But with this simple device he brings to the forefront the true subject of his pictures: the gentle, vibrant, constantly changing beauty of the the North-Eastern natural landscape.

Whether it is the sprightly spring green of an overarching second-growth forest, or the gray majesty of a snow covered cornfield under a leaden sky, the images here are as simple and glorious as the landscape itself. The oak-hickory forests of the mid-Atlantic region in the 19th century were the subject of countless paintings by the Hudson River school, though the far more dramatic landscapes of the American west soon captured the imagination of painters and, especially, photographers.

Yet for this reviewer at least, the modest forests and fields of the Northeast have always had a much stronger, more complex attraction, the gentle intertwining of color and atmosphere part of its pull. Brouws has done a superb job of presenting this beauty. The presence of the railroad, and its absence, creates a departure point for further thought, just the kind of thing to mull over on a long afternoon’s hike through the woods.

Jeff Brouws
The Machine in the Garden


Robert Mann Gallery
210 Eleventh Ave. 10th Fl
Chelsea         Map

212 989 76000
robertmann.com

Thursday, October 27 to
Saturday, December 10, 2011
Hours: Tues-Sat, 11 to 6
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The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino
Making Caribbean Dance by Susanna Sloat
Central Booking Magazine
Soho Photo Gallery