December 19, 2003
A magic hour with the digital camera - Hungerford Footbridge - London

On Wednesday afternoon I found myself just south of Waterloo Station with no pressing need to be home at any time in particular. The sky was cloudless, and the sun bright. I was well wrapped up. So instead of going straight home I went on one of my favourite walks, the one across the Thames from outside the Royal Festival Hall, across the now new Hungerford double footbridge, through Charing Cross railway station, and onwards into the West End and its various second hand CD shops.

I had my camera with me, because I had wanted to photograph the new Sainsbury's in Wilton Road, which is now emerging from its wrapping, and had already taken some very dull pictures of that, earlier in the day. The light spoilt them, by lighting up the top and plunging the street into darkness.

But now this same light became my friend.

I am starting to look at things photographically rather than as a person, and I saw the possibilities in this shot.

I'm on the downstream side of Hungerford Railway bridge and looking upstream through one of the old brick railway arches, and this is the Wheel, and one of the towers of Parliament. No Photoshopping at all.

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That's it, exactly as it emerged from my Canon A70. I didn't know for sure if it would come out that good, but I gave it half a dozen goes and was confident. I climbed happily onto the deck outside the RFH, past Nelson Mandela:

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It's not that I violently object to NM. But I do object to most of the people who worship the man, so I don't much care for this object of their worship either. But even that looked good on this magic afternoon. If he looks larger than life, that's because he is. It's not a great photo, but I thought you might like to see this thing.

The new Hungerford Bridge footbridge gives you a choice of two footbridges, up or downstream of the railway bridge itself. They hang by cable from a series of spikes that are like inverted Vs, and the result is to make the original railway bridge, a girdered object of extreme banality and considerable antiquity, look like a suspension bridge, when in fact it is only the pedestrian bridges which are suspended.

Here's how it looked just before I climbed aboard, looking towards the new Charing Cross station on the far side of the river. I tried messing about with the darkness/lightness settings to lighten things up a little, but in the end I left it as was:

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Up onto the bridge. Now I look downstream, to the towers of the city, and as I cross, they come into view. King Midas, in the form of the late afternoon sun during what I believe the movie makers call Magic Hour, has reached out and touched the NatWest Tower, turning it to gold, but has left the Gherkin looking its usual self, for once upstaged. Even those cloddish lumps nearer to us, on the south bank, are turned into things of beauty.

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On to the other side of the river, and a look back across the footbridge towards the Royal Festival Hall:

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Just before we dive under Charing Cross station, another view of the towers of the city, this time through an artistic foreground of autumn arboreality, and this time including St Pauls:

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My next few shots were of one of my favourite secret spots of London, by which I merely mean a spot you don't see in the picture postcards. It's a strangely Dickensian little stretch of the walkway through Charing Cross station, which has been tricked out in cream coloured ceramic tiling. I like it. And I guess it was just one of those days, because the most blurred photo I took all day was also one of the ones I most liked when it came up on my computer screen at home:

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I really like that. It looks like an artist's sketch, probably a watercolour. I love the colours, in fact I love everything about it. It's the arches that make it work.

More snaps, and then the card runs out. Here's the very last picture I took, a few yards further along towards the station concourse. We've moved from ancient to modern, from claustrophic masonry to modernistical metal work. It's a suspension bridge under a building and over a sheltered pavement, approximately speaking:

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It's not the best photo I took all day, as a photo. But I like what it shows, albeit a little blurrily. And then the card ran out of space.

As usual this happened long before the batteries gave out, the battery life being one of the more remarkable improvements on the old Minolta. That, and the fact that the Canon A70 actually works. Which I now carry with me all the time.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:10 AM
Category: ArchitectureLondonPhotography