A Digital Journal

Photography by Tony Triolo

Sloss Furnaces Redux

Back in January, I had an opportunity to visit the Sloss Furnaces for the first time.  I posted my impressions in this blog on (1/10/10).  This past week, a photographer-friend of mine invited me back down to Birmingham to take another look at this old and historic iron production site.  Now, I’ll admit that my first review of the Sloss was less than charitable.  I had problems with the fact that the visitor’s center was closed, although, according to the schedule, it should have been open.  I never found a functioning restroom, a water fountain or vending machine the entire time I was there.  I also found it inconceivable that there were no safety or security personnel on-site.  I mean, while the Sloss may be on the list of Alabama’s historic places, it is one giant accident waiting to happen.  In spite of all that, the Sloss somehow has managed to become one of Birmingham’s most sought after venues for concerts, weddings, art shows and street fairs.  In fact, on the morning of my recent visit, a team was setting up for a wedding reception that very evening.

Blast Stove Graffiti

With all the negative vibes I was feeling for the Sloss, I thought that maybe I was being a bit unfair to the old gal.  Maybe a second visit, at another time of year, would put the place in a different, more favorable light.  The temperatures on the day of my first visit hovered in the low 40’s.  This week’s visit was on a day where the high temperature reached 100 degrees.  Did I mention that some people were setting up for an outdoor wedding reception later that day?  If the groom wasn’t sweating before the ceremony, he certainly would be after it.

Sloss Stacks and Water Tower

The change in temperature didn’t have too much of an impact on my photography.  I still function pretty well at both extremes, and fortunately, so does my camera equipment.  Surprisingly, there were more visitors at the Sloss on this day, when temps reached the century mark, than back in January when it was in the 40’s.  I don’t want to give the impression that there were throngs of visitors, however.  The number of people hanging lights and setting up tables and chairs for that wedding, easily outnumbered the tourists on this day.   And while those tables and chairs and decorations did effectually render parts of the site off-limits to me, it wasn’t a major inconvenience.  Initially, it was a little disconcerting to see white, frilly wedding decorations and candles lining the entire main entrance walkway.  If I had wanted an overall panoramic shot of the  site I would have been screwed, but fortunately, I had already taken those type shots on my previous visit.  On this day, if I wanted a semi-wide shot, I just had to point my lens upward, so as not to include any evidence of the pending wedding celebration down below.

Stack Pulley

My friend and I spent about three hours winding through the old smokestacks, boilers, and blast furnaces, trying to make art out of steel, cast iron, concrete and glass.  Rust is everywhere and the oxidizing paint gives everything a “burnt sienna” patina.  The sun kept disappearing behind the clouds, allowing shadows to come and go, giving a couple of different interpretations to everything I chose to photograph.

Pipes and Fittings

Stacks and Pipes


One has to be a little odd to find beauty in industrial decay.  Smokestacks, cast iron pipes, boilers and furnaces are not the subject matter often sought by most artists.  Most people just see rust, corrosion and things falling apart.  For me, the appeal lies in a couple of things.  I appreciate the history of the place.  I try to picture the Sloss during its heyday, when it was producing much of the iron fabricated in the South, and I try to imagine the level of activity that must have been here for almost a century.  What would it have been like to work here amongst these furnaces, especially on a day as hot as this one?  You have to wonder what kind of conditions the workers had to contend with, and how much they earned for their labor.  For me, the main appeal of photographing a place like the Sloss, lies in the challenge of finding order in all of the chaos.  I look for patterns in the piping and ductwork, the verticals of the smokestacks against the blue sky.  Sometimes I’m just looking for textures, or colors, or the play of shadows on a wall.  I’ll admit that it’s an odd place to get inspiration, but hey, we photographers are an odd lot to begin with.  You know, after a few more visits, I might even begin to like this place.

Door to Nowhere

August 11, 2010 Posted by | Alabama, Architecture, Birmingham, Historic Alabama, Photography | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment