Archive for the ‘Steam’ Category

Wrapping up our look at the plant in Cambria, Wisconsin:


I know: same but different. I hoped you might excuse that repetition, based on the slightly different framing. All that yellow and brown…yum…plus several elements visible in one shot but not the other. I needed seconds.


And finally, some relative simplicity to be plucked from all the chaos and movement of the shots from a couple of days ago. No crazy mazes of wires or pipes or steam:





Three images from the ethanol plant in Cambria

After so much narrative yesterday, I’ll stick with pictures today.




How DOES one answer a stranger who asks why you are taking so many pictures of his facility? I still can’t think of a good short answer to that question.

Or “Wabi Sabi and Johnny Law go Head to Head.”

Four images.

Five miles from the UWGP ethanol plant in Friesland is Cambria, a village of fewer than 800 souls, but look what they have! Another ethanol plant! This one is far larger than the ones in Stanley or in Friesland.


There are actually two big plants here (I believe they produce more than ethanol) and they are separated only by the width of a street. A public street! Giddy with excitement, Wabi Sabi forced her long-suffering driver to circle the plants and make three swings down the street to the dead end and back, pausing repeatedly so that she could jump out and shoot both sides. On the second pass, two men with clipboards and hardhats stared us down.


On the third, the plant Security and Environmental Safety officer stopped us to inquire just what exactly were we doing taking all those pictures, what with terrorism concerns and this being an ethanol plant and all?

However, as soon as the windows were lowered and he caught a glimpse of just whom he was dealing with, Mr. Security immediately changed his tune.

Wabi Sabi talks smack but can only strike fear into the hearts of people 14 years of age or younger. As soon as I began to babble something like “Oh this is so beautiful” and “I take a lot of industrial photographs,” I knew in my true heart that I sounded like Wabi Sabi: Confused Uber-Dork. I could sense that the security officer was suddenly thinking with great tenderness of the cooling cup of coffee he’d left on his desk and thinking that maybe if he nuked it and grabbed up some of those chocolate cookies in the lounge, the morning would not be a total waste after all. Smiles and nods all around.

“Any questions I can answer for you?”

“Nope.” Because, how do you tell someone that you really don’t care how many tons of corn are processed in their plant each day? That all you really care about is steam and cooling towers and ginormous vats? Far be it from me to hurt the poor man’s feelings.


I related this story to a friend of mine who said “Why didn’t you say ‘Why, yes I do'” and then quiz him about the number of security officers employed at the plant, whether they were armed and, if so, with what sorts of weapons and if there was possibly ever a time between shifts that the plant was unguarded?

There are reasons that some of my friends are never asked along on photo shoots.


I had considered calling this series “When Worlds Collide,” but both wind power and ethanol are clean energy sources so they’re on the same team. The best title came from my friend Jean who quipped “Rock, Vapor, Scissors.” Wish I’d thought of that first.

Friesland, Wisconsin. On a recent trip to Madison, the official Wabi Sabi staff car took a meandering path, questing after smokestacks and vapor clouds…and scored big time.


This is the United Wisconsin Grain Producers ethanol plant (UWGP) located smack in the middle of rolling prairie…and smack in the middle of a pretty huge wind farm as well.



Now…in my head I know that these are both good things, but in my heart/gut/lizard brain, it just LOOKS wrong. Or oppositional. Or menacing…


…as though a giant four-year-old set up a LEGOLAND scene and decided to include all the pieces whether they belonged together or not.




Upon leaving this site, more smoke and vapors were spotted off in the distance. “Oh,” said Wabi Sabi naively. “It won’t be another ethanol plant, but let’s go check it out anyway.” 

To be continued…

 I’ll set this into context tomorrow but I liked the narrative possibilities of the single picture.


On a flash-bang drive across the equator of Wisconsin on Sunday (four hours over, four hours back) I allotted myself EXACTLY five minutes off-road to take a few shots at the ethanol plant.

I was there once before in mid-March when corn-laden trucks were coming and going and the whole place seemed to be cooking full-steam ahead.

Is it painfully apparent that I found an unopened box of hyphens wedged in back of the junk drawer and I am trying to use them all up before they go bad?

On this day, there didn’t appear to be much action at all and those glorious steamy clouds of vaporized corn were just not happening. The air even lacked that cotton candy smell that had braided itself into my hair last time around.

Even the “Ace” sign was fully visible.

No matter.


Even with a dirth of steam-swirl, there was still enough to soften the light and filter my shots of the plant, giving the whole place a satisfying and slightly other-worldly look.


And then I jumped back into the car and disappeared in a cloud of…well, not so much of a cloud, but I did head back to the highway.


Clear proof that Wabi Sabi is perfectly capable of practicing restraint when she chooses:

     1. She did NOT include phrases like “Soylent Green is People!” in this post


     2. She did NOT finish the Lili Von Shtupp song started earlier in this piece.

Steamier views of the plant can be found at



I’m generally tentative when it comes to converting my images to black and white.  Translation: my skillset for this area is extremely primitive and results can be hit or miss.

These next few images, however, really lend themselves to a black and white format. Removing the color creates capital-D Drama, with intense blacks and sky-swallowing grays. Clean blue reality and soft banks of fluffy white can’t compete.

head shot



You really need to see this last image at full resolution.


These photos were taken two months ago in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.



An ethanol plant in the western part of Wisconsin. Thick heavy air, damp and gray. In other words, a perfect low-hanging steam-filled vaporific glad-I have-my-camera-with kind of day.


I was so excited when I took these pictures. Seriously: wild eyes plus loud chestal pinging. Normally, I have to shoot factories or plants from a bit of a distance, but this place sits smack-dab on a crossroads in the middle of farm country. No fences. If there is such a thing as a creative rapture, I was in the middle of it.

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In retrospect, I realize I’m lucky that I wasn’t picked off  by a semi loaded with corn.




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Because I was moving around in the swirling clouds,  I carried traces of it home with me in my hair and clothing: a sweet, fermented smell. Not exactly yeasty. More like airborne corn syrup.




Details from mills and power plants. An unconventional crop combined with dramatic adjustments to exposure and saturation and suddenly, we have a snapshot view of a fantastic parallel world.

A matter of uncoupling the mind from what is SUPPOSED to be going on and considering other amazing possibilities.




Top of the tower, two different finishes.

tower top1

tower top2

I’ve shared full-on pictures of the Pulliam Plant tower in the past–see Nov 24 and Jan 27 posts–so if you are not familiar with the structure, check it out.

Examining these shots closely, I realized–duh–that all those gauges and cages would indicate that workpersons have to get up there from time to time. A  fear-of-heights moment washed over me and I nearly did a swan dive to the floor from my desk chair.

Wabi Sabi follows a strict “bottom rung only” rule for how far up she will climb a ladder.