Brian Micklethwait's Blog
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Most recent entries
- White Van Brians
- A Shiny Thing by Frank Stella Hon RA
- Richard J. Evans on how evidence can become more significant over time
- Another from the archives
- Big 4
- Another quota sign
- Magic clarified
- Viewing the clutter at Centre Point
- Giant cat head worn by a human
- BMdotcom abusive comment of the day
- Made-up London detectives in real London places
- Marc Morris on how the Bayeux Tapestry ought not to exist
- Fantastic day
- Another use for a drone
- London is getting more colourful
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Category archive: London
I’d been meaning to check out that big Shiny Thing outside in the courtyard of the Royal Academy in Piccadilly, ever since Mick Hartley gave it a mention at his blog, with a photo, way back on April 8th. Earlier this week I finally got around to doing this, and I took lots of the usual photographs that you would expect me to have taken, of which these are two:
Click on the left, and that shows what this Shiny Thing is like, in its present context. I loved the Shiny Thing itself, as my picture on the right illustrates. In there I see things like Darth Vader. And, rather smaller, I think I also see a naked woman there. Also, there is something vaguely feline about this shape, with its pointing ear-like attachments. Endless photographic fun, especially with the evening light warming up the colours of the surrounding courtyard buildings.
But, I found the rest of this agglomeration rather less interesting. If the idea was to create some interesting reflections, then blander shapes next to the Shiny Thing would have worked better. As it is, the wooden pointy thing, in itself nice enough, is by comparison rather mundane and the black frame that the wooden pointy thing and the Shiny Thing are held up by is ungainly, obtrusive and, to me, when I actually saw it, downright ugly. I mean, did the creator of the equally shiny Chicago Bean feel the need to stick a lot of other crap right next to it to be reflected in it, given that there was already a city there? No he did not.
But I guess if you are Frank Stella Hon RA, one of the most important living American artists, you feel the need to do something arbitrary. Mere Platonic symmetry doesn’t do it. A merely beautiful Shiny Thing won’t serve your purpose. It would dilute your brand. Anyone could have done that. There had to be something there which would get people saying: Why did he do that? Come to that, who the hell is he? So that they can be told that it was done by Frank Stella Hon RA, one of the most important living American artists, and so that Frank Stella Hon RA, one of the most important living American artists, can supply an answer about what he thought he was doing when he, Frank Stella Hon RA, one of the most important living American artists, did what he did, like this:
The contrasting materials employed in the sculpture, the natural wood against the highly finished metal, the differing treatments of space in the line-drawn star and the round curves of the solid star, create a tension and sense of the works being both repelled and attracted to each other at a fixed distance by an invisible force field.
Maybe if I go back and take some more snaps of this Shiny Thing, I will decide that I find the other crap next to it not so crappy after all. The other crap certainly looks better in the shots at the other end of the link above than it did to me, on the spot. And, if it was necessary for Frank Stella Hon RA to ponder the contrasts between a wooden thing and a shiny thing and black metal stuff to get Frank Stella Hon RA, one of the most important living American artists, to have made a very entertaining Shiny Thing, then fine. Whatever it took.
Another of those pictures from the archives that gets better with age. Can you see why?
Well, let me tell you. In the foreground (perhaps that should be “forewater") is the Thames Barrier, looking as it always did, and looking as it does now. But right in the middle, in the distance there, between the two nearer buildings, is the Shard. But not the Shard as we know it. The Shard when it was big enough to be hugely impressive, but when it was still under construction.
Taken in January 2011.
Yesterday, while walking along the sharp right kink at the top end of Horseferry Road, which I do a lot, I looked up into the bright blue sky and beheld things of colourful beauty. What do you suppose it is?:
Does this make it any clearer?:
Clear for those to whom it is now clear, but still not very clear for most, is my guess.
Yes, it’s a Big 4. And if you still don’t know what it is, apart from it being a Big 4, it is the Big 4 outside the fantastically over-the-top front door of Channel 4 TV HQ.
This Big 4 has changed a lot over the years. (You can see a few of those changes in among all this google-search-imagery.) Different artists and designers have taken it in turns to adorn its metal skeleton in a succession of different colours and costumes. The above is merely the latest iteration of this process. And definitely one of the better ones, I think.
I like how the colours all vanish once you get straight in front of the 4, and all you get is a relatively bland white 4. The effect is calculated to resemble the fleeting glimpse of the 4 that you get in the various intros you see just before Channel 4 shows on the telly. Note also how the sun at that particular later afternoon time of day picked out the white bits of the Big 4, while leaving the stuff behind it in relative darkness. I still don’t really understand how this happened, but I definitely like it.
The bad news, however, is that to get that particular Big 4 picture from the exact right place, you need to be standing in the middle of the road that turns south off Horseferry Road, past the left hand side of C4HQ, as we look at it, and at exactly the spot where the pavement would have been, right next to Horseferry Road itself.
So, finally, what we now see is the exact moment when a car came up right behind me and honked loudly, anxious to get past me and out of Horseferry Road instead of being stuck right in it, and honked at in its turn by angry cars behind it.
I immediately jumped out of the car’s way, and it politely waved thankyou as soon as it had made its slightly relieved way past me.
A lot of cars deliver and collect a lot of people to and from that exact spot, and they must get this a lot.
It is more important to me that I get to bed at a sensible hour than it is that I do some sensible blogging before getting to bed. So, another sign:
But this time, instead of them doing something a bit strange, it’s me doing something very silly.
Photographed by me in Walthamstow, yesterday.
Good night, and I’ll try to do better tomorrow.
I took this snap of a sign, in Chinatown (London manifestation of), just off Charing Cross Road:
What I like about it is how they had to add the English language explanation of what hair “magic” actually involves. Presumably the oriental characters make it clear to orientals what’s on sale here. But at first, the English weren’t buying. I mean, “magic”? Could be anything or nothing. Hypnosis? Pills? Herbalism? Magic mud of some sort? Clearly the English needed further elaboration, however much it spoiled the original splendour of the original sign.
But alas, the nature of the service on offer, once explained, descended in one word from the transcendental to the commonplace.
At the point where the east end of Oxford Street connects to the south end of Tottenham Court Road, marked by Centre Point, there is now much building activity. Centre Point itself is being turned from offices into swanky apartments. And at the bottom of Centre Point there is to be a new Crossrail station which is being attached at vast expense to what is already a complicated tube junction stroke station.
Urban building activity is often described as being like a wound. But for me, such a temporary space is a photo-opportunity. It opens up unfamiliar views of clutter clusters, of entertaining comings together of and alignments of the temporary and the permanent, the ancient and the modern, the mechanical or the eletrical and the architectural.
Here are a few shots I recently took just to the south of Centre Point:
Mostly quite (to me) anonymous stuff, but with a couple of bits of favourite modern architecture in there, the BT Tower and that colourful Piano clump.
Soon, most if not all of these views will be gone.
Around ten days ago, I took lots of rest (the medical term for sleeping) during the day, and then couldn’t sleep properly at night. Since then the lurgy has persisted and I haven’t really got back to sane hours.
In the meantime, what did not help - did not help at all - was the latest from Madame Harry Potter, who now, some of the time, goes by the name of Robert Galbraith. I read the first Cormoran Strike tale when it came out, and a few days back I was awake all night reading number two. It was daylight when I finished it.
One of the many things I like about Cormoran Strike is that he operates in London. His lair is a flat on top of one of the shops in Denmark Street, which is London’s pop musical instrument street.
Here is a clutch of Denmark Street photos I took recently:
Lots of amateurish reflections there, in among the occasional deliberate ones, but what the hell? I am an amateur. (Spot the selfie.)
That grey-blue front door (on the right of the picture bottom middle) is how I imagine/presume Strike’s front door to look.
Having kept up with all the Rebus books, I found it much more fun actually knowing a lot of the places haunted by The Detective. And with this in mind, I have now started on this first crime novel by Tony Parsons. All this searching has just told me that it is the first of three. This is (these are) also set in London. This morning I was reading about The Detective visiting something called Westminster Public Mortuary in Horseferry Road, which is a five minute walk away from where I live. (The Tony Parsons detective is called DC “Max Wolfe”. Why can’t fictional detectives ever be called something like Colin Snail or Brian Sludge or John Watson?)
“Robert Galbraith“‘s Cormoran Strike is a freelance, but Max Wolfe is regular police, so he often visits New Scotland Yard, which is not much further away from me than that Mortuary, another five minutes walk in the same direction. Here is a photo I took of New Scotland Yard from the roof of my block, in 2006:
London possesses roof clutter arrays that are denser and more voluminous, but none that I know of is more elegant.
Fantastic weather anyway. I’m still not feeling a hundred per cent. (Perhaps I never again will. (This is one of the facts about getting old. When bodily functions malfunction, they may never well-function again. (And it feels like that even more often.))) But I went out anyway to do some shopping, and then went out again with fewer clothes on, to enjoy the first real warmth and sunshine of this year instead of getting too hot in it.
Here are some snaps I took that show what a good day it’s been.
On the top left, the top of the tower right opposite me, seen from Vincent Square, through the leafless trees. Top middle, the Wheel (through more leafless trees) and that four-pointed Parliament Tower thingy that nobody knows the name of, with the Vincent Square cricket pavilion in the foreground. Top right, the new and rather crass (but I’ll probably end up liking it (perhaps after some clutter has arrived on the roof)) apartment building going up next to Vauxhall Bridge.
The bottom three snaps show what the sun, when it’s out and when evening approaches, does to the buildings on the other side of the river from me.
As you can see, from the all cranes, there is lots of new building activity in my vicinity.
Here is a piece I did here about how Modernism got associated with whiteness. And for most would-be Modernists, Modernism still is white. But, here is another piece I did about coloured Modernism, in the form of Renzo Piano’s very colourful buildings near Centre Point. (Renzo Piano also designed the Shard.)
Here is another photo I took of these, I think, delightful edifices:
And here is a faked-up picture I came across not long ago, which suggests that Piano’s colourfulness may have struck a chord with other architects:
That picture adorns a report about the footbridge that you can see on the right of the picture, the very same one that I saw being installed last August. But I think you will agree that the towers on the Island there are a definite echo of that Pianistic colour.
The great thing about coloured architecture is that you can build the most severely functional lumps, and only worry about brightening them up afterwards. Form can colour function, and then colour can cover up the form and make it fun.
But it need not stop at just having one plain colour. Soon the artists will join in, and there will be giant murals.
If I had to place a bet about how different London will look from now in thirty year’s time, this would be the change I would bet on. Both new buildings and dull old ones will be much more brightly coloured.
I’m guessing that outdoor paint is a technology that has had a lot of work done on it in recent years, and that such work continues.
I will be interested to see if those Piano office blocks become faded, or if the colour stays bright for a decent time.
Interestingly Le Corbusier was a great one for colour being slapped on Modern buildings, but the notion never really caught on. Or rather, it is only now catching on.
As is illustrated in this posting at Material Girls. Where the point is also made that another huge influence on the monochrome association with Modernism was early and black-and-white photography. Even colourfully painted buildings didn’t look coloured in the photos. (One might add that newspapers and magazines only burst into colour after WW2, in the case of newspapers only in the 1960s. Until then, all newspaper and magazine photos were printed in black and white. So even if Modernism was done in colour, its influence spread in black and white.)
Now, colourful buildings tend to look colourful, both for real, and in the photos.
After photoing the old London Model, which was the original reason (excuse?) I had visited the Building Centre, I took a look around the place to see what else was on view.
Look what I found:
Nut I took another picture of the Building Centre CATable which included a rather cool looking chair. All I was thinking about when I took it was including the chair. I liked the chair. (I also liked how it was lit.) But this snap, quite fortuitously, turned out to make the CATable look particularly like a cat:
It looks like it’s got eyes, because of the accidental aignment of two of the holes, and because of the way that there is light behind. We humans are programmed to find faces where we can, and if they can’t be human faces, maybe they can be cat faces.
The way that the CATable’s legs are done already shows that the cat resemblance is deliberate.
The CATable is not a one-off creation. They are now being mass produced and you can buy one, if you want to. A snip at $4,799.
Further evidence of highbrow types climbing aboard the catwagon in this Colossal report on Intimate Portraits of 50 Artists and Their Cats Compiled by Alison Nastasi. Artists eh? They’ll do anything to get noticed.
And I don’t mean Twiggy.
I love it when a bald bloke photos a London Big Thing. So I loved it when this fashionably bare-headed gentleman photoed lots of little London Big Things:
This big old London model is in the process of being refurbished. If all goes as advertised, a big new London model will be ready to view at the end of this month.
People often say “I can’t wait”, when things like this are in the offing. What do they mean? That by the time it arrives, too much time will have elapsed and they will no longer be interested?
I know, it’s just what they say. They don’t really mean it.
I can wait, and I will wait.
Ages ago now, before I was ill, I checked out that Suicide Bridge in North London, as reported in this posting. This was a fine destination to have picked for an photo-odyssey, both because the destination itself did not disappoint, and because it was in an unfamiliar part of town, and thus was only the first of many wondrous discoveries I would make that day.
As the years go by, I accumulate more and more photo-collections of such days, and get further and further behind in mentioning them here. Which is fine, because there will soon come a time when I won’t want to be going out at all, just sitting here reminiscing. Then I can catch up. Then I can die.
So, March 8th of this year. I hoover up snaps of the view from Suicide Bridge and then walk away from the top of it in a westerly direction, along Hornsey Lane. I am in Highgate. Then I go north (actually more like west north west) along the B519, past the Ghana High Commission, until I get to a turning that looks like fun again, turning west, again (actually more like south west). I am climbing, still, getting higher and higher above central London. And I take another turn, south, and come upon a miniature version of the Alexandra Palace Tower (that being a bit further out of London, to the north east), beside a lane called Swains Lane.
Here is a web entry that says what this tower is.
And here are some of the photos I took of it and of various decorative effects that it had on its surroundings, on a day that, although getting very dark in parts, is still topped off with a bright blue blue sky, worthy of Hartley himself:
And here is another web entry, which explains what an excellent war this contraption had:
The British immediately realised that the powerful Alexandra Palace TV transmitter was capable of transmitting on the transponder frequencies and instigated ‘Operation Domino’. Using the receiving station at Swains Lane, Highgate, the return signal from the aircraft’s transponder was retransmitted back to the aircraft on its receiving frequency by the Alexandra Palace TV transmitter and hence back to the aircraft’s home station. This extra loop producing a false distance reading.
The Swains Lane receiver station was connected by Post Office landline to the Alexandra Palace transmitter. By using a low-voltage motor, this line controlled any drifting in the lock-on carrier beam, thus eliminating any give-away heterodyning beat-notes.
Which you obviously wouldn’t want, would you?
I love the way things like this look. Totally functional, but … sculptors eat your hearts out. It beats most of what you guys do without even giving it a thought.
Actually, slight correction provoked by actually reading some of what I linked to above. The current structure at Swains Lane is the metal successor structure to its wooden predecessor structure, and it was the wooden predecessor structure which had a good war, but was then blown down by a gale in October 1945.
Had it not been for this extreme weather story, pride of place there would have gone to the report about Quisling getting shot.
I love the internet.
Still ill. As in: still not sure I’m well. The Head Thing has now arrived at the back of my throat, and tomorrow? Well, it could be back in the top left of my head, and consequently causing me to have as bad a day as yesterday.
Meanwhile, another quota photo, and one of my favourite recent efforts:
That was taken a day after I took this one, from pretty much the exact same place, and I think I like this later one even more.
Also, I am proud to tell you that the picture came out of the camera just as you see it. No rotating or cropping at all. Not bad.
Today’s quota photo was taken on October 11th 2014. At first I thought that it was an example of a genre I have become increasingly fond of over the years, “Photographer (Crouching Down Right Next To Me)’s Head Photoed From Directly Above”. Actually, as I can tell from all the other shots I took of this lady, what is happening is that she has turned her head sidewise, pointing her hair towards me, and I just stood quite a way away from her and took the shot:
But, since just for the moment I am feeling somewhat better than I have been, here are some more photoer photos photoed that day, just after the one above. As you can seen, I once again make a point of showing very little in the way of recognisable faces:
What is on the Superman phone that he is holding up and that she is photoing? She is definitely photoing it. I am baffled by that one. But I do know the building on the screen, top left. That’s the terrible new office block they’ve built for the MPs, across the road from Parliament and Big Ben.
In these photos we once again see the inexorable rise of the mobile phone as a camera. Most of the cameras on show are mobiles. There are several big DSLR, Real Photographer cameras. And just the one old school little dedicated but cheap digital camera, the red one, top left.
Not long after taking those, I took the photos of the ice cream guys.
I imagine everyone else who gives this blog the time of day is bored with all my pictures of photographers, but I am not. Because “More photographers” had already been used here, I changed the title of this from “More photographers” to “Yet more photographers”.
It’s looks like this week is going to be quota photos all the way, while I try to recover from my lurgy.
Here’s the latest, another in my series of Great Photos Taken Adequately. If you are a Real Photographer who wants to go and take this shot properly, I’m pretty sure that the place to go is Low Hall Sports Ground, which I got to from Blackhorse Road railway station:
This was deliberate. I didn’t just happen upon this shot. I drew a line from the Shard to the Gherkin and onwards, until I came to some wide open space where it might be possible to see what I actually did see.
Date: July 28th 2012.