Erie Canal Lock

red metal

The New York State Canal System entails over 500 miles of waterways throughout upstate NY. A major portion of the system is the famous Erie Canal first opened in 1825. The canal passes less than a mile from my house – walk up across our hay fields, through the hedgerow, across a neighbor’s field, through a swamp, across the RR tracks, and boom you’re there.

The canal hasn’t been used commercially for many years. It fell on hard times and wasn’t exactly what you would call an asset to the community for awhile, but these days “it is enjoying a rebirth as a recreational and historic resource” as they say on the official New York State Canal website.
control booth
Just outside of town is one of the many canal locks. Locks help hold the proper water levels and deal with changes in elevation.  A lock basically consists of two gates between different elevations. A boat enters the lower gate, the water is raised inside the lock to match the upper level, and then the boats leaves the upper gate. Here is a link to an animation of a lock.

Watching a boat move through the lock might not sound like the high point of year, but it is actually pretty amazing to watch in a leisurely sort of way on a hot July afternoon. There is a walking/bike path that runs for miles along the canal and near the lock are some picnic areas that are nice for lunch breaks.
canal lock
Mid-February is not a good time to hang out at the lock. I’m not exactly sure why, but they drain large parts of the canal during the winter – our little stretch is one of them. It isn’t completely dry or anything. There is always a stream of water running down the middle of the bed. So the lock sits quietly all winter long waiting for spring like everybody else.

The locks have a lot of big bright yellowish orange and blue boxes and huge gears and pipes and control booths and boats and what not so they get photographed a lot. I’ve never bothered. Then one night I was driving by and I thought it might be cool to take some shots at night during the winter when everything is sort of abandoned and quiet.

I let this idea roll around in the back of my mind for a few weeks and finally decided to try it. Unfortunately the weather decided not to cooperate. Every time I had an evening free a blizzard would hit. I don’t mind working in the cold, but negative wind chills and horizontal snow fall just isn’t conducive to photography.

yellow rails

After several weeks of this I fianlly got a break and headed out. It was maybe 25F, but no snow, not much wind, and nice clear black skies. I spent a couple of hours fiddling around down there. Nobody else was around – just me moving in and out of the shadows with the sound of  water hissing through the culverts as background.

I might go back during the summer when I don’t have to jump up and down to keep from freezing!


P.S. It has been a while since my last post and since I visited any one else’s blog. Sorry about that, chief. I have been spending most of my time the last few weeks printing and framing images for a gallery show at the Image City Photography Gallery in Rochester. Tomorrow is the day to hang everything so it will be all downhill from there and I should have time for other things.


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12 Responses to “Erie Canal Lock”

  1. iheartfilm Says:

    Great shots. I like your eye.


  2. fencer Says:

    Hi forestrat,

    That’s wonderful, to have the Erie Canal so near at hand. Just to hear about it makes me want to break out into an old folk song or two…

    Interesting shots, such a contrast with your usual subjects, although the second one down especially has the same flavor…

    Good luck on your show!


    • forestrat Says:

      Hey fencer,

      Of course by living so close to it, we here tend to take the canal for granted, but it really is pretty important historically. Down the road from my house is a small cemetary where some of the men who died while working on the canal are buried. It took a serious amount of manual labor to dig that thing.

      I’m getting into the taking photos at night thing. I like the high contrast and being able to let the background disappear into the blackness. I may put some more of the lock photos in my next post since it doesn’t look like I’ll have time to go hiking this week either.


  3. flandrumhill Says:

    Good luck with your show. Your photos are sure to impress and inspire!

    The juxtaposition of the yellow railings with the black night brings out the intensity of both. It makes the design of the railing appear so bold and un-railing-like.

    • forestrat Says:


      The opening of the show was last Friday night. There was a good turn out especially considering that I’m not a “known” artist in the area and practically everyone came in to the show cold.

      I got a lot of nice comments – not a lot of sales though. We’ll see how things go over the month that the prints are on display. People tend to find my stuff interesting, but not exactly the kind of thing they would hang over the sofa.


  4. lookingforbeauty Says:

    I think these are fabulous photos – so different from your naturalist ones. Quite a departure.
    For a disused lock, the paint is pretty shiny – especially since it’s winter and the freezing temperatures can play havoc with paint. Like Fencer, I really like the contrast that you get from these shots.
    I like them all – there is a mysteriousness to the one of the little shed. The first one and the last one are positively abstract! From you! Our died in the wool Environmentalist/naturalist.
    Congratulations on your show and here’s wishing you great success with it.

    • forestrat Says:

      Thanks K.

      There are about a gajillion coats of paint on everything. They like to keep everything ship shape with a new coat each spring I guess.


  5. Ansel Says:

    Just dropping by.Btw, you website have great content!

    THIS IS A DREAM JOB! No gimmicks. No catch. Work from home whenever you want!

  6. flandrumhill Says:

    “I got a lot of nice comments – not a lot of sales though.”

    I know what you mean…

    Years ago I read that art buyers will often make a purchase after forming a relationship with a piece of art over a period of time. Consequently, it has to be hanging someplace where they can see it several times before making the commitment to buy. Not sure if this is true but it seems reasonable. Don’t be discouraged.

    Over the past week I’ve been getting some prints of my drawings framed for display at a local inn. Hopefully that will produce some sales, at least during tourist season. But I’m not holding my breath. I don’t think purchasing art is at the top of anyone’s priority list in this economy.

  7. suburbanlife Says:

    These photos are wonderful! I was particularly excited by the variety of yellow as seen by available light – the second and third photos are gems, truly! Your exhibition should be great to see. best of luck with it all – a show is a huge amount of labour and cost, a nervous-making time, but the payoff should be when you see the installation for the first time. You might wonder how you did what you did. it’s magical and strange feeling. G

    • forestrat Says:

      Wow, thanks suburbanlife! I really appreciate all the kind words of encouragement from you and all the other commenters.

      The bright directional lighting surrounded by the darkness really set off the yellow color of the railings so that they glowed.


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