Rolling Mill, West Side Cuyahoga

Early February provided a perfect day to photograph smoke stacks at the former J&L Steel melt shop and rolling mill on the west side of the Cuyahoga river. Purchased from “Otis Steel”, J&L’s mill was home to thousands of steelworkers and millwrights since 1942. Over several generations the facility has been through numerous incarnations, the most recent of which was its acquisition by LTV Corp. (a consolidation with Republic Steel in 1984), a shutdown in 2002 pursuant to ISG’s purchase and finally the eventual acquisition by Luxembourg-based ArcelorMittal and the mill’s reopening in 2004.

The billowing “smoke” animating the image is really only steam as the morning’s low air temperature (-10°) created ideal conditions for condensation. The shot reminded me a little of a Braque or Picasso Cubist painting … each of the pieces reassembled, seemingly creating more than the sum of its parts. There is something ironically anthropomorphic about the structure with its jaws turned skyward and hot breath billowing in successive bursts. I resisted the temptation to include the sprawling length of the mill in a landscape format. And finally, rather than producing this as a black and white image, which would have reduced the image to a study in “shapes,” I retained the colors to add tonality and dimension.