Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
Alma Interspire on Centre Point and surroundings as seen from the top of the Tate Modern Extension
Brian Micklethwait on M20 bridge destroyed by passing digger
rob on M20 bridge destroyed by passing digger
Mark Rousell on Views of Epsom and views from Epsom
Mark Rousell on Views of Epsom and views from Epsom
Dent on The hottest day of the year (5): Old Citroens in Roupell Street
Melbourne House Check on Windows in bright light
Rob Fisher on Modernism now works
Jeff Weston on French animals from GodDaughter 2
Coffee Lover on On the connection between drinking lots of coffee and living a long and healthy life
Most recent entries
- Centre Point and surroundings as seen from the top of the Tate Modern Extension
- David Hockney comes to Pimlico
- Another Big Thing alignment
- M20 bridge destroyed by passing digger
- The Wembley Arch and The Wheel
- A very good meeting - and a quota horse with quota cart
- World’s tallest and longest glass bridge opens in China
- Views of Epsom and views from Epsom
- Sunny Croydon
- Bridge in Germany with houses on it
- A day in BMdotcom heaven (5): My belated photo-tribute to Kumar Sangakkara
- Quota Shard with quota cranes
- There’s a spiral staircase inside the Testicle
- Dernbach decisive again
- Windows in bright light
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Category archive: History
I continue to hoover up White Van pictures whenever an interesting one presents itself. And this one, that I encountered yesterday evening in Victoria Street, is surely a classic of the genre:
What I enjoy so much about this van is how this enterprise clearly started out in a state of in-your-face honesty. Yeah, we do lavs. Our boss is Dave. Workplaces need lavs. You got a problem with that? Everyone needs to piss and/or shit every now and again.
But then, as business expanded, the euphemisms crept in. Changing the website was too complicated, but the surrounding verbiage got more polite and decorous. That’s my take, anyway. Have you ever seen the word “welfare” used like that? I haven’t. “Welfare Vans” sounds a bit like something laid on by the Japanese Army during the war, providing you-know-what to the soldiery, and for which they still refuse to apologise to the women thus made use of.
Go to www.davlav.com and it’s all explained:
These self-contained welfare vans offer independent diesel heating, washing, toilet and kitchen/eating facilities. Also included are auxiliary power microwave, hand wash and water boiler. Our welfare vehicles offer superior standards and are completely mobile, providing staff with all the facilities required by current employment law. All parts comply with the new legislation for Whole Vehicle Type Approval.
I might have guessed there’d be government regulations involved.
As I said yesterday, much socialising this week. Another do tonight, and yesterday, another visit with Darren to the Oval.
One of the advantages of my White Van fetish is that whenever I am waiting to meet someone in London, I can pass the time by photoing White Vans, of which there are invariably some and often many. So, while I waited to meet Darren, I photoed White Vans, and also a couple of not-so-White ones.
Before elaborating on the vans let me be clear that Darren was not late. He was spot on time. I was early. The trip to the Oval is not a totally familiar one for me, so I made sure I was not late by being early. Hence these vans.
Pride of place goes to the first van, light green in colour, decorated with the regalia of the Surrey County Cricket Club. I spotted this vehicle as I was making my way towards the Hobbs Gate, where we were due to meet. It was parked under one of the Oval’s huge stands. All the other vans were photoed outside the aforementioned Gate.
By the way, I love what I found when I followed the above link, to the Cricinfo Hobbs profile:
Jack Hobbs was cricket’s most prolific batsman. He finished with 61,237 first-class runs and 197 centuries, most of them stylishly made from the top of the Surrey or England batting orders. And he might have scored many more had the Great War not intervened, or if he hadn’t been inclined to get out shortly after reaching 100 to let someone else have a go.
Anyway, here are the vans:
1.1: The Surrey CCC van, as related above.
1.2: The first of two snaps with a bike angle. But, bicycle recovery? This van is for collecting bikes to mend, but not, alas, for recovering bikes that have been stolen. The bits where it says “We fix bikes” have, for me, an air of clarificatory honesty about them. Like they were added to lower falsely aroused expectations of daring do against the criminal classes.
1.3: This one I especially like, because I like White Vans and I like signs (by which I mean: I like to notice them). And here is an example of the former devoted to the latter. Note in particular: “Health & Safety Signage”. A big growth area in recent years.
2.1: I think this is my favourite one, of these. Usually, what I like about the White Vans I photo is the profusion of information that they supply. But in this case it’s the lack of information that made me smile. VOITH? Like: Everyone knows what VOITH is! But not me. Turns out it’s an enterprise that makes stuff for cars. When it says it “builds its partnership with Vauxhall”, this doesn’t mean with Vauxhall the place (which is very near to where I was standing when I took the photo), but rather with Vauxhall the car making enterprise.
2.2: A black van, devoted to cleaning. Very wise. One of the problems with White Vans is how dirty they can look, if only slightly dirty. And if you are a cleaning enterprise – and especially if you are a fantastic cleaning enterprise - you don’t want your vans looking dirty.
That’s enough vans.
Savour this Dezeen headline:
I could write a long essay about that headline, and still not have extricated all the irony and nuance and cultural understanding and misunderstanding, history of failure, history of success, wrapped up in it. Maybe I will.
A central observation in such an essay, should it ever materialise, will be that Modernism now works. Those “machines for living in” that we were promised all those years ago did not work when they were first built, hence the unwillingness of normal people to inhabit these malfunctioning machines. But, now the Modernist machines do work. Architects have spent decades learning how to make “functional” architecture actually function, and now, on the whole, it does.
Thus, buildings which poor people used to run a mile from are now desirable dwellings, and rich people compete to purchase them.
I love before and after pictures. Here is another, showing how the world looked before Blackfriars Bridge Railway Station was built (photo taken in 2004), and after it was built (photo taken a few weeks ago).
What the two pictures have in common in those ghostly red columns, left over from an earlier Blackfriars railway bridge.
I seem to recall once upon a time speculating that the ugly lump next to the Shard made the Shard possible.Yes:
The Ugly Lump with the gasometer in front of it, on the right, is Guy’s Hospital. The other day I heard myself surmising that maybe if Guy’s Hospital had never been built, the Shard might not have been built either. As it was, there was no nearby neighbourhood or particular bit of the London skyline to ruin, aesthetically speaking, because that job had already been done by Guy’s. As it was, any aesthetical objection to the Shard was, as far as the immediate locals were concerned, a non-starter.
I still think that’s right. And what I now wonder is: did something similar happen with the new Blackfriars Station, the one on the bridge, that you can see in the right hand picture above, but not in the left had one? What I’m thinking is that the view that you see on the left, looking over Blackfriars railway bridge to the towers of the City is perhaps not a view that London’s rulers were especially proud of, what with those columns. Personally, I love the columns. For me, they are classic London at its weirdest and most eccentric. But you can imagine Powerful People being a bit uneasy about this oddity, and about the fact that Something Should Have Been Done About Them, by, you know, them. So, a railways station which spoilt this view, while not doing too much violence to views across the top of the bridge from further away, might not have been unwelcome. Without the columns, however, there was a view that they might not have been so ready to see interrupted.
This is just a speculation, just a thought, just a suggestion. I’m sure lots of other thinking besides that sort of thinking went into the building of this weird and eccentric railway station. (I added the word “more” to my title after first posting this.) But, I think there might be something to this.
Perhaps those Powerful People also hoped that something new and more constructive might be done with the columns, what with the new railway station being built. Maybe such a use was even promised, but later abandoned, for some reasons or other.
LATER: Actually, what I am now realising is that there used to be three disembodied rows of red columns, but that the right hand row as we look got swallowed up in a widened version of the original bridge. My pictures show this rather well, which is why I finally noticed.
This is a map showing my officially designated destination last Tuesday (the hottest day of the year (so far)). Across the bottom we see the railway going from past Waterloo main station to Waterloo East, in the middle towards the bottom, horizontally:
And just north of Waterloo East station is Roupell Street, in the middle of all those back-to-back houses, that I photoed in 2004 and then again last Tuesday (the hottest day of the year (so far)):
Here we are at the Cornwall Road end of Roupell Street, looking east. Lots of blue sky. No clouds. No clouds anywhere, actually.
I suspected gentrification, and the place did indeed have an air of rocketing house prices and of the banishment of old-fashioned workers, of the sort who presumably, once upon a time, lived in these houses.
In particular, I spotted three interesting vehicles.
First, a Citroen DS19 (I think 19):
So far so (relatively) ordinary.
But this was a bit more exotic, also a Citroen, something called (I also photoed where it said this) an “SM”:
And perhaps best of all, another vintage Citroen, in the form of an estate car version of the DS19:
Click on the above three pictures to get to the uncropped and even more sun-drenched originals.
All of these Citroens were parked within the space of about two dozen yards of each other, the first two right next to each other. I reckon what we have here is a collector of antique Citroens. And if that isn’t gentrification, je ne sais quoi what is.
Last Tuesday was ferociously hot by English standards.
The first thing I noticed, when I stepped into the inferno that was outdoors, were those windows which are not windows. (1)
I was at Waterloo because my officially designated destination was to check out the state of this view:
I took that photo in July 2004, with a now antique Canon A70, through a window, hence those unfortunate reflections.
Because it was a rather dirty window, this photo also emits a rather antique-photo atmosphere, like it was taken in the very earliest days of colour photography, an atmosphere greatly reinforced by the subject matter. Right in the middle of that snap is a bunch of back-to-back terrace houses. Where are we? Somewhere in The North? No, we are looking out on a little bit of London near Waterloo Station, a strange clutch of houses left untouched by either bombing or Modern Architecture. All around this antiquated patch of otherness, Modern Architecture is springing up, beating its chest and yelling for attention. But the thing itself is an unsullied little set of dwellings that would not be out of place in a DH Lawrence TV adaptation.
Here is how the same view looked last Tuesday:
No dirty window, no reflections, because I managed to get my camera through a small window opening out into the open. Also, my latest camera takes a broader view of things, which means that the stubby tower in the 2004 photo has become slimmer, and more of the horizon is to be seen. The Oxo Tower, for example, has moved into view.
The most obvious change is how 240 Blackfriars now blocks out so much. Tate Modern, Tate Modern Extension, and a large chunk of the City, all blotted out.
The place where I took these photos, from the outside, in 2004 as now, looks like this:
Just before taking the new version of the back-to-backs view, I took another photo, through another window off to the right of the ones you see in the above photo, the one of the Wheel and the cranes and the clutter in this earlier posting about a cricket match. (3) Which makes this the forth posting involving photos taken on that expedition.
For reasons of my own I have been digging into the photo-archives. This was taken on July 1st 2004. No Cheesegrater. No Walkie-Talkie. No lots of Things.
Don’t you just hate how Modern Architecture blocks out the view of the Gherkin?
I’ve been suffering from something a lot like hay fever. Yesterday, the doctor gave me some anti-hay-fever spray to spray it with, up my nose, which I hate. My symptoms are: aches and pains that wander around all over the left side of my head. I knew you’d be excited.
But, from the same doctor who wants me to spray chemical effluent up my nose I learned that if you get something stuck in your throat, which is what set all this off, they recommend: coca cola. I did not know that. So last night, when I went out for drinks, someone offered me a drink, and I though, no I’ve had enough (what with the headaches and so forth), but then I thought: yes, get me a coca cola. Apparently it clears out stuff in your throat by dissolving it. How come it doesn’t dissolve your entire mouth? (Maybe it does.) But whatever, it felt like it worked, and I’m drinking more coke now.
Last night, at that drinks gathering, I heard something else diverting.
We were having a coolness competition. What’s the coolest thing you’ve done lately? That kind of thing. I contributed the fact that my niece is about to become the published author of a work of crime fiction, which is not bad, and which I will surely be saying more about when this book materialises. It will be published by a real publisher, with an office in London and a name you’ve heard of, which intends to make money from the book and thinks it might. More about that when I get to read it. I usually promise nothing but I do promise that, here or somewhere I’ll link to from here. It would be a lot cooler if it was me who had accomplished this myself, but it is pretty cool even from a moderately close relative.
But another friend from way back whom I hadn’t seen for years trumped this, with something which in my opinion made him the winner, not least because he did the thing in question himself.
Remember the Concorde crash in Paris, back whenever it was, just before 9/11. And remember how the other Concordes all got grounded for ever after that crash. What you may not recall quite so clearly is that the other Concordes were not grounded for ever immediately after the crash. That only happened a few weeks later. And my friend told us that he took a trip on Concorde, on the day after the Concorde crash. How cool is that? Very, I would say. There were many cancellations, apparently, but he was made of sterner stuff, which is all part of what made it so cool.
I know, a bit of a ramble. It comes of me being somewhat ill. Illnesses can be cool, I suppose. But this one, which is just uncomfortable enough to be uncomfortable, but which hasn’t actually stopped me from doing things, merely from doing them energetically and enthusiastically, definitely isn’t cool.
Indeed. Taken in July 2006, through the green green glass of one of the Docklands Towers. Not the pointy one, the one next to it:
Michael Jennings, whose comments here are more informative than most of my postings, arranged this particular expedition. I think he was working there at the time,
No Shard. No Walkie-Talkie. No Cheesegrater. Photos like this get better with time.
I am an occasional visitor to Londonist, and I rather think that they’ve made it easier than it used to find be to your way to Oldie But Goldie type postings, of the sort that are not going to lose their appeal merely because they were posted six months or a year ago.
Postings like this one, which steers Londonist readers towards an amazing website, where you can compare old Ordnance Survey maps of London and surrounding areas with how things are now. As you move around in one of the maps, the other map automatically follows you. Brilliant.
The National Library of Scotland has just made freely available online 16,865 historic Ordnance Survey maps covering Greater London and the south east of England, dating between the 1840s and the 1950s.
Me being me, I compared the Oval cricket ground of old with how it is now:
Click on that graphic to get a bigger version of it.
Look how the playing area has shrunk, to make way for more places for people to watch play from. X in each map marks the same spot. On the left X is way out in the playing area. On the right, it is on the boundary edge. No wonder they hit lots more sixes these days. It’s not just bigger bats. It’s smaller grounds.
I love What If? History, and here is another What If?, from Jonathan Dimbleby’s book, published just this year, about The Battle of the Atlantic. I have only just started this, but so far it looks most promising. In particular, it promises to place this campaign in the wider context of the war as a whole, as this excerpt from the preface (pp. xxiii-xxvii) well illustrates:
Those responsible for the direction of the war on the Allied side were swift to appreciate the critical importance of the Battle of the Atlantic but rather slower to give their navies the tools to finish the job. In the early years of the war Winston Churchill juggled with many competing priorities as he sought to safeguard Britain from invasion and to defend a global empire. As a result, the nation’s resources were stretched to the limit and sometimes beyond it; to the profound frustration of the prime minister, who found it exceptionally difficult to reconcile his boundless ambition with the fact that the men, the armour, and especially the ships were not available in sufficient force to achieve everything at once. Nonetheless it remains one of the great conundrums of his leadership that, although he was to reflect that ‘the only thing that ever really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril’, he failed to follow through the logic of this foreboding until it was almost too late and certainly well beyond the point at which that ‘peril’ could have been eliminated. For every month from the start of hostilities until the early summer of 1943, Britain was losing merchant ships at a faster rate than they could be replaced, largely because they were inadequately protected against the Third Reich’s rapidly expanding U-boat fleet. From the British perspective, the story of the Battle of the Atlantic is in significant measure about a prolonged struggle between the Admiralty and the Air Ministry which became so fierce that a senior admiral was driven to comment that it was ‘a much more savage one than our war with the Huns’.’ Their hostilities were suspended only when, after three and a half years of war, Allied losses in the Atlantic reached such an alarming level that for a while it looked as though the U-boats were on the verge of severing Britain’s lifeline, a prospective catastrophe which forced a resolution in favour of the Admiralty.
This damaging clash between two branches of the wartime government owed much to Churchill. In the summer of 1940, as the Battle of Britain raged overhead, the new prime minister was naturally obsessed not only with the need to stiffen national morale but also to orchestrate action against Germany which would reverse Britain’s fortunes and, in time, lead to victory. As he cast around for a means to this end, he swiftly concluded that ‘an absolutely devastating, exterminating attack by very heavy bombers from this country upon the Nazi homeland’ was the ‘only one sure path’ to the defeat of Hitler. The ethical controversies provoked by this misapprehension have persisted to this day. By contrast, the consequences for the course of the Second World War have received less scrutiny. Yet Churchill’s failure to insist that an adequate number of aircraft be released from the bombing of Germany to do battle against the U-boats in the Atlantic until it was almost too late was a strategic error of judgement that made a fateful contribution to Britain’s failure to nullify the U-boat threat until many months later than would otherwise have been possible. The price of this delay may be measured in the thousands of lives and hundreds of ships which were lost unnecessarily in consequence. It may also be measured in terms of its strategic implications.
There is a tempting, indeed mind-boggling, scenario for those students who are lured by the ‘what if’ or ‘if only’ school of historiography: if the U-boat threat had been aborted several months earlier than it was, could the mass transportation of American troops and armaments from the United States to Britain have started in time to countenance a cross-Channel invasion of France in the autumn of 1943? Might the Allied armies have advanced deeper into Germany before the Red Army’s own push towards the German capital in the summer of 1944? If so, would the Allies have been in a position at Yalta to ensure that the Cold War map of Europe was drawn more nearly to reflect their own strength on the ground, greatly to the strategic advantage, therefore, of not only the post-war West but also those millions of Europeans who later found themselves entrapped behind the ‘Iron Curtain’?
It is a tempting vision that is explored later in these pages. What is surely beyond doubt, though, is that the prospect of an earlier victory in the Atlantic - by, say, the early autumn of 1942 rather than the early summer of 1943 - would have had a powerful impact on the fractious debate between London and Washington over Allied strategy in the prolonged build-up to D-Day (which this book also describes in some detail). In a cable to Roosevelt, which he despatched in July 1941, Churchill made it clear that he foresaw the liberation of Europe by a seaborne invasion ‘when the opportunity is ripe’. The single greatest obstacle in the way of this undertaking was the threat posed by the U-boats to the Atlantic convoys. Had this threat been eliminated earlier than it was, the strategic disputes between the Western Allies would have been even fiercer than they became by 1943; in particular the British would have found it far more difficult to persuade the Americans that victory in the Mediterranean (via North Africa and then Sicily) should precede the cross-Channel invasion of France. As it happened, of course, all such speculation, however intriguing, is rendered profitless because the prime minister was unwilling to prioritize the destruction of German U-boats over the destruction of German cities.
Churchill was a titanic leader whose strategic vision has often been unjustly disparaged but, in relation to the war at sea, his impetuous nature led him to embrace a false dichotomy. Contrasting the indubitably ‘offensive’ character of strategic bombing with the ostensibly ‘defensive’ task of forcing a lifeline passage for the convoys through U-boat infested oceans, he invariably favoured the ‘offensive’ initiatives hatched in the Air Ministry over the ‘defensive’ role assigned to the Admiralty. However, the prime minister was not alone in making this misleading distinction. Not only was it shared by his colleagues in the War Cabinet but also by the British chiefs of staff, including the First Sea Lord, Admiral Pound, who had most to lose. Although Pound became increasingly dismayed by Churchill’s refusal to withdraw from Bomber Command the aircraft needed to nullify the U-boat onslaught, he fatally weakened his case by failing to question the prime minister’s underlying premise. This collective mindset was evidently unable to recognize that the Atlantic convoys were no less ‘offensive’ in character than the wagon trains which opened up the American Midwest in the nineteenth century or (to borrow a twenty-first-century parallel) the military escorts which forced a way through the Taliban-infested deserts in Afghanistan to succour front-line towns and settlements. As it was, the Battle of the Atlantic soon materialized into a conflict that essentially was an asymmetric conflict between the convoys and the U-boats, a struggle in which, for month after month, the pendulum of triumph and disaster swung wildly from one side to the other.
Usually, I do quota postings in the small hours of the morning. Today, I am doing my quota posting in the big hours of the morning, to get it out of the way before a rather busy day, at the end of which I do not want to be fretting about doing a quota posting. Although, actually, this posting has now turned into something a bit more substantial than that, and I changed the title to something more meaningful. So anyway, yes, cranes:
Ah, cranes! Those structurally perfect votes of confidence in the sky. Those cranes were snapped from the south bank of the river, looking across at The City, on the same day earlier this month that I snapped yesterday’s quota photo. What that new Moderately Big Thing is, that some of the cranes there are ministering to, I do not know, but I like how it looks, in its incomplete state.
With Brexit, will the cranes vanish for a few years, until London sorts itself out and finds itself some new business to be doing? Crexit? (You can always tell when a word has well and truly caught on, because people immediately start trying to apply the same verbal formula to other things. Brexit, verbally speaking, is the new Watergate. Frexit, Swexit, Thisgate, Thatgate, etc. etc.) I thought that the cranes were going to depart after 2008 and all that, but the money people managed to keep the plates spinning on their sticks, and London’s cranes carried on. How will it be this time?
Here is a very pessimistic piece about Britain’s prospects, for the immediately foreseeable future. Does this mean that my crane photo-archive will, in hindsight, be the capturing of a moment of the economic history of London that will now pass? If the cranes do go, how will they look when they return? When the new cranes move in, in ten years time or whenever, will cranes like those above look strangely retro, like digital cameras circa 2005?
Or, will the cranes never return, but instead be replaced by magic electric guns which fill the air with muck and sculpt a building out of the muck, 3D printing style, all in the space of an afternoon?
So, daily-blog-read-for-me David Thompson linked to a posting at ArtBlog, about the rights and wrongs of arts subsidies. I read that posting, and read through the comments too, just as David Thompson did. I find myself wanting to comment. But, can I be bothered?
And then, in comment number 16, courtesy of the Maitre D of ArtBlog, Franklin Einspruch, I discover that I have commented, thus:
The greatest art seems to happen when high art and low art combine, in the form of something that is superficially entertaining and stirring and popular, and also as profound as profundity seekers might want it to be. Arts subsidies harm art by dividing it into less good entertainment art, paid for by punters, and less good high art, paid for with subsidies. Arts subsidies in Britain are now being cut somewhat. The result will be somewhat better art.
Which Franklin found in this Samizdata posting and copied into his comment thread. How about that?!
The two arts that best illustrate this opinion of mine are probably Elizabethan and post-Elizabethan theatre (i.e. Shakespeare and all that), and classical music in the days of its glory, from about the late 1700s until around 1900 (i.e. Mozart, Beethoven and all that).
Shakespeare’s plays are now considered just about as profound as Art with a capital A can ever get, but at the time, his stuff was considered rather middle-brow. Too commercial, too appealing to the rabble. About half of Shakespeare’s mere plays - the very word suggests something not to be taken truly seriously, doesn’t it? - were nearly lost to us:
Of the 36 plays in the First Folio, 17 were printed in Shakespeare’s lifetime in various good and bad quarto editions, one was printed after his death and 18 had not yet been printed at all. It is this fact that makes the First Folio so important; without it, 18 of Shakespeare’s plays, including Twelfth Night, Measure for Measure, Macbeth, Julius Caesar and The Tempest, might never have survived.
What will posterity, in its various and many successive iterations, consider to be the Great Art of our time? And how much of it will be lost, on account of it not now being considered artistic enough?
Well, not quite a decade. I’ve been photoing photoers since well before this, but the first of these particular snaps was taken in July 2007. They illustrate that I have been concerning myself with the photoing of photoers while contriving, in one way or another, not to photo their faces, for a long while now. When I started taking photos of photoers, face recognition was a mere idea, used by implausibly attractive detectives on the telly but not yet a real thing in the real world. Now, with the social media and ubiquitous digital photography, faces (not just big faces but faces in crowds) can be dated and placed and identified, of everyone, and very soon by everyone.
I just picked out a few photos that I like (although, it soon became a bit more than a few). I like them because the pose is fun (6.2, 6.4), or because they’re strongly back-lit (1.1, 3.4), or because the screen is so clearly visible (6.1), or because the faces of photoers are hidden by bubbles (7.3), or by a coat (7.1), or by an orange bag with the Eiffel Tower on it (that one is the one snap of these that was not taken in London (that’s Paris, Feb 2012)), or because they’re photoing through some bars (in this case at the top of the Monument (1.3)), or because they were just too far away (in one of the pods of The Wheel and on the other side of the river (5.3)), or because they are simply facing the other way or holding their cameras (or their arms or their hands holding their cameras (1,2, 1.4, 4.1, 4.3, 5.1, 6.4, 7.2, 8.1, 8.2, 8.3, 8.4)) in front of their faces. My favourite face-blocking device here is the blue balloon (2.1) saying visit Mexico. The balloon goes very nicely with the Testicle (click and look on the blue square below if you are baffled). Happy times:
The most recent of these was taken when I was photoing that model of the City of London (8.4). Someone else was also.
After assembling these thirty two snaps, I did more browsing, and I soon realised that I could easily have found another thirty two more, and more, many more, of equal fun-ness.
Like with everything else, good photography comes from doing the same thing again and again.
Here is a picture of the Lower Manhattan end of New York, the bit with the tallest skyscrapers, topped off in 2001 by the Twin Towers:
And here is another picture of the exact same scene, taken fifteen years later in 2016, this time topped off with the single replacement tower for the Twin Towers:
The guy who took these pictures was interested in which photograph is photographically superior. The first one was taken with old-school film and the second is digital.
To me the two pictures look nearly identical. Their technical identicality does not interest me. But their architectural identicality, aside from the Twin Towers alteration, is something that I find fascinating.
Skyscrapers have exploded all over the world in the last decade and a half. New York is one of the world’s great cities. And yet, here are two photos of New York taken at opposite ends of the last fifteen years, and aside from the rather dramatic change imposed upon the place by terrorism, nothing at all seems to have changed.
Things were not changing in 2001 and they aren’t changing now. Consider the cranes in these pictures. Basically, barring a few microsopically invisible ones, there are no cranes.
I don’t know why this is, but it strikes me as an extremely remarkable circumstance.
It’s not that you aren’t allowed to build towers in New York any longer, unless you are replacing something like the Twin Towers. In the part of New York a bit further to the north, just to the south of Central Park, there is an explosion of skyscrapers under way. Skyscrapers that are very tall, but very thin.
Here is a picture of how these new New York Thin Things look like they will look:
People have long feared that skyscrapers would make all big cities the world over look alike. But the shape of individual skyscrapers varies from city to city, and does the shape of skyscraper clusters as a whole, and as does the variations in the heights of buildings. A city where the newest and tallest towers are a lot taller than the older buildings is one sort of city. A city where new towers are only slightly taller than old ones looks very different.
New York’s newest towers are, as I say, these tall Thin Things, a lot taller than their surroundings. In London, the typical new tower is a much fatter looking Thing, the extreme recent case being the Walkie Talkie which is big on the ground compared to its height, and which then bulges outwards as it goes upwards.
Interestingly, the Walkie Talkie is the work of Rafael Vinoly, as is this new Thin Thing in New York. (You can just see the top of this new Thin Thing in the second of the two Lower Manhattan photos above, bottom left, in the foreground. That’s the one big change in these photos aside from the Twin Towers having been replaced.) It’s like Vinoly wants to do his bit to make great cities look distinct and recognisable, rather than them all looking the same. Good for him.