Friday, September 25, 2009

Totally Hands On

When I stepped through the door at the Bluebird Candy Company in Logan, UT, I thought I knew what I was getting myself into.

I was totally wrong.

I’ve photographed many candy companies that make their own chocolate candies. For most, it’s like an assembly line. First you melt, or temper, the chocolate, you pour it into molds and then you let it cool and harden. The artisan chocolate makers add a little flair but it’s almost the same process.

At the Bluebird Candy Company, I was not prepared for what I found.

As I walked into a back room, or the production area, there sat two women at a marble-topped table, with a trough of chocolate in front of each, a tray of centers to their left, a tray of dipped chocolates to their right and a paint scraper nearby.

What followed was definitely an art.

The Bluebird Candy Company makes hand-dipped chocolates, which they’ve been doing for over a hundred years. The company ships worldwide, usually to people who moved away from Logan and are looking for a piece of home or to those that have gotten their chocolates as gift from somebody living in Logan and are hooked.

For a company with worldwide demand, you’d expect them to be embracing technology and the digital age. Not quite.

A visit to their web site finds a page that looks and feels like one from the beginning of the internet. All in all, it tells you to call the store for a list of chocolates and to place an order.

As the women agree to let me take their pictures, they prefer that I shoot only their hands. They jokingly say taking their picture steals their soul. I manage to get a couple of frames of the two of them at the table but focus mainly on their hands.

As the sounds of country music flow from a 1980’s era boom box, they grab a center (today their making caramel creme), dip it into the chocolate, swirl it around, plop it down on a tray and delicately finish it off with a figure-8 or the “signature” for the caramel creme.

Each candy has it’s own signature. There are roughly 16 candies, each made in both milk and dark chocolate. A hand-printed sign on the wall shows all the signatures in case one of them has a momentary memory lapse.

Every so often they scoop out some more chocolate from the trough, swirl it around to let it cool and thicken, sometimes adding water if needed, and scraping to keep their pile of chocolate goodness in a neat little pile. Then they'd dip another chocolate.

They could easily modernize the process: bring in their chocolate on 18-wheeler tanker trucks, put in huge machines with mile long conveyor belts that churn out chocolate candies like a Henry Ford production line and maybe even open an amusement park. At that point, you would call them Hershey.

But hand-dipping makes Bluebird unique. And if you’ve been doing something right for over a hundred years, why change?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

(New) Berning Down the House

I’ve lived in North Carolina over half my life. There are a lot of places that I’ve had the opportunity to visit in this wonderful state. But there is so much that I have yet to see.

New Bern is one of the places I’d never been to. Until now.

New Bern was first settled in 1710 by Swiss and German immigrants under the leadership of Baron Christopher De Graffenried. The city is named after the capital of Switzerland, Bern, and shares its flag, as well as its mascot; the bear.

But don’t call Bern, Switzerland, the Old Bern. They are Bern. Period.

The little town, where the Neuse and Trent Rivers meet, is the second oldest in North Carolina. It served as the capital of the North Carolina colonial government until the end of the Revolutionary War and then briefly as the state capital. In 2010, the town will celebrate is 300th anniversary.

New Bern is home to Tryon Palace. Built in 1770, it served as the home to British Governor William Tryon and remained the capital building until 1794, when Raleigh became the state capital. The palace was destroyed by fire in 1798.

In the 1930’s, a push was made to restore the old state capital, led by Mrs. James Edwin Latham. She died before construction began and her daughter, Mrs. Mae Gordon Kellenberger, took over the project.

In April 1959, Tryon Palace opened its gates and gardens to the public.

But Tryon Palace is not New Bern’s only claim to fame. It’s also the birthplace of Pepsi Cola.

In 1898 Calem Bradham, a pharmacist in New Bern, introduced the world to his new elixir. It became an instant hit.

On the 100th anniversary of Pepsi-Cola, Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company of New Bern, Inc., opened the doors to the Birthplace of Pepsi, located in the same location as Bradham’s pharmacy. The shop offers Pepsi products on tap and memorabilia for the Pepsi fanatic.

Last, but not least, if you happen to make the trek to New Bern, be sure and stop in Mitchell’s Hardware.

Mitchell’s Hardware is a “turn-of-the-century hardware store” that has been serving New Bern since 1898. If they don’t have it, you really didn’t need it in the first place.

Friday, September 11, 2009

If the Glove Fits.....

Gloversville, NY, is located in upstate New York, about an hours drive outside of Albany, at the base of the Adirondack mountains. The area provides much of the raw resources needed to make gloves; an abundance of furs and leather as well as bark for tanning. In the early 19th century, the little village became an epicenter for glove making, thus giving the town it’s name when the first post office opened in 1828.

One of my assignments here is to photograph recently retired glove maker Bob Perrella. I get him to pose in front of one of his old shops.

After our shoot, Perrella asks me to follow as he slowly makes his way down the basement steps of his house. His arthritic knees of 82 years make the trek even more difficult.

Downstairs, stacked against the wall, are the remnants of his glove making business.

Perrella is a second generation glove maker. His parents started the business years ago. And when Bob and his brother were old enough, they too joined the family business that he ran up until recently.

Bob Perrella pulls out one of the boxes stacked against the cold wall in his basement. He opens it up and pulls out a few gloves. “You can’t afford to make these any more,” he says as he goes through the box. Glove making today has mostly moved overseas to China and other countries where labor is cheap, reducing costs and undercutting American glove makers. Gone too is some of the quality as Bob shows off the inside of one of his fur lined gloves.

These are not simple work gloves. Some are the elegant, long gloves similar to the ones Audrey Hepburn wore in the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

And there are stacks of them in Bob’s basement, along with cutting dies and old photographs.

The town that got its name from being a major hub for glove making has lost many of the companies that made it the center of the glove making world. And when Bob Perrella retired, the town lost one more.