Brian Micklethwait's Blog
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6000 on A Shiny Thing and a friend also photoing it - with an iPhone
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Most recent entries
- Why I mostly write about architectural design rather than about interior design
- A Shiny Thing and a friend also photoing it - with an iPhone
- Reading Anton Howes again
- Along the river towards Battersea
- Lovely light
- Animals not understanding cameras
- The Wires get mentioned! (But it makes no difference!)
- More Big Olympic Thing photos
- Snohetta does zig zag roofs for competitive cities
- Going from knowing a piece of music to also knowing what it is
- Don’t mention The Wires!!!
- 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
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Category archive: Sculpture
I am working on a quite big and unwieldy architecture posting just now, but this probably won’t be ready to go any time today, or even soon, so I’ll instead write a little essay on a related matter. Which is: Why I feel more comfortable writing about architecture, of the contemporary and hence controversial sort, than I do about contemporary interior design. The contrast between how fascinated I am by the architectural stuff (this is the posting that got me going with the architectural posting that I am now working on) at one of my favourite internet sites, Dezeen, and the indifference I feel concerning Dezeenery about interior matters, is becoming ever more extreme. I mean, designer X has designed a chair. And what does it look like? It looks like a chair. Hoo ray.
It’s not that I dislike or oppose interior design. It’s just that I feel that what I feel about it, or for that matter what anybody else feels about it, is of no public significance. We can all just pick whatever interior designs and objects appeal to us, and let others do the same. Interior design is not a political problem. There is therefore nothing vitally important to be said about it. Why argue, when there is no need to argue?
If you are one of those people who likes to tease out why you feel the way you do, about everything in general and interior design in particular, fine. Blog away about wallpaper, tea kettles, tables, chairs, standard lamps, stoves and suchlike, all you like. You’ll surely find plenty of readers, probably a great many more than I have. You certainly will if you specialise, as I do not. I write about such things myself, from time to time, when the mood takes me.
But on the whole, it tends not to. When the answer the question is: each to his own, and when that answer basically takes care of it, I generally don’t feel like adding very much.
You could say that this mood, of insignificant self-scrutiny, is upon me right now. After all, who cares what I put on my blog? If you don’t like it, don’t read it, problem solved. Choosing a blog to read is like choosing a chair. Nobody else need be consulted, or imposed upon.
But architecture is different. We can’t each step outside into a city like London and each have exactly the London that we want. If I am to have those new Big Things that I like so much, you also have to put up with them, even if you hate them. It therefore feels right to me to be explaining, to the entire world (even if most of the world pays no attention), just what it is about these Big Things that I like so much. It makes sense for me to say (even if I haven’t done much of this lately) why I came to hate most modernistical architecture when I was in my twenties, and why I think that modernistical architecture has improved so very, very much since that time, at any rate in the places I mostly walk about in and see in photos.
For the same reason, it also makes sense, to me, for me to be celebrating roof clutter, cranes, this or that piece of public or semi-public sculpture, these or those public signs. It is because these are public issues. Political issues, even. Definitely political, in the case of those signs I just linked to. Things like these have positive (mostly, in my case) or negative (perhaps in yours) externalities attached to them.
Actually, it is most unlikely that you hate all the publicly obtrusive things that I love, because you wouldn’t want to be reading such opinions, day after day. But, you get my point.
Shiny Thing in London, by Frank Stella Hon RA, one of the most important living American artists, near to where I live. I go there. I photo it. I show you some photos. I tell you what I think of the Shiny Thing. (I like it. If I didn’t like it I’d not be mentioning it.) So far so ordinary.
But for me this was not a regular photowalk. The difference this time was that I had a friend with me while I did my snaps, and she was snapping also. Just as I was about to depart from my home and do the checking out of the Shiny Thing on my own, the friend had rung up and we arranged to meet, near the Shiny Thing so that I could combine the two things, meeting the friend and then, as a separate operation, me checking out the Shiny Thing. But while seeking somewhere to sit down and have a drink we went right past it, she saw it and liked the look of it, and we ended up photoing it together.
I was using my “camera”, and she was using her iPhone. And of course I photoed her doing this:
I have been out and about in London with this same friend quite a few times over the years, and I have usually been taking photos in among chatting. But I don’t recall her even joining in with the photography so enthusiastically. It was the Shiny Thing that did it. And you can bet that her bests snaps were pretty soon if not instantly transmitted to others, long before I posted a couple of mine here.
There is a lot of this sort of opportunistic smartphone photography going on in the world, just now. The key moment was when cameras in smartphones got good enough, which at first they weren’t. But for a handful of years now, smartphone cameras have been more than adequate for shots like the ones my friend was taking, and of course smartphone cameras will, like my kind of cameras, keep getting better and better. Soon, it just won’t make any sense to own a dedicated point-and-shot camera, if you also use a smartphone, because the camera on your smartphone will be plenty good enough for all but the fussiest of purposes.
First, in this graph of camera sales from 1933 until 2013, we see the defeat of the old-school roll-of-film camera (the grey stuff) by digital cameras (in blue) like the ones I have owned over the last few years, and by DSLRs (green):
But now, take a look at what happens to this exact same graph when you include all the (yellow) smartphone activity, top right:
At the other end of the above link, they show the graph in all its endless-scroll-down vertical hugeness, huge enough to include all those smartphone cameras. Above, here, is the exact same graph, but ruthlessly flattened, to enable you to see the entire picture in one go, with no scrolling up and down.
As you can see, the big - very big - story is the sheer quantity of half-decent smartphone cameras there now are in the world, in private personal hands, such as the hands of my friend.
This is a transformation that I have of course been registering, with all my photos of digital photographers, with an increasing proportion of them in recent years using smartphones. See, for instance, this posting. Quote:
And of course, there is that vast category that has hove into view in the last few years, of people taking photos with their mobile phones. No less than seven of the above twelve snaps are of people doing this. This was not a decision on my part, merely a consequence of me picking out nice photos of people taking photos.
For me, the most interesting titbit in the article with the graphs linked to above (and again), is this, right at the end:
… and 92% of smartphone users worldwide say that the camera is the most used feature on their phones.
That embedded link being to another piece, which elaborates on this point. The other big use is, of course, texting.
The point being that all these smartphone cameras have not merely been sold to a billion plus people so that they can have them in their pockets.
Almost all of those cameras are being used, to take photos.
We also used our phone cameras while we were away. Firstly, so that we could email the kids something each evening and secondly (and photography snobs may want to look away now) because you can actually grab a decent shot every now and again. Oh, and it enables you to do things like this while someone else is using the “real” camera.
... and to make mini-movies.
Yesterday morning from first thing to about midday, I had a nosebleed, caused by my lurgy, a lurgy which is lasting for ever. During this lurgy, I have had several nosebleeds (having never had a nosebleed in my life before), yesterday’s being by far the worst, and it cannot be coincidence.
Since then, I have been recovering my wits, such as they are, and am accordingly now in quota photo mode. And here are today’s quota photos, all of them of the Big Olympic Thing, designed by the man who also did the Chicago Bean, Anish Kapoor:
The photo on the left was taken in March 2012, from the Victoria Docks area, looking north, and the one of the right was taken looking south from Walthamstow. The one on the right (with all its excellent roof clutter in the foreground) being an example of a common thing at this blog, namely a good photograph, taken badly. (The one on the left, though I say it myself, is a really quite good photograph, taken really quite well.)
Trouble is, whenever I do one of these postings about some Thing, which I have a nice photo of to show you, I then go trawling through the archives looking for more photos of the same Thing. Here are two more pictures of this Big Olympic Thing, this time with foliage in the foreground:
The one on the left of those two, behind the trees was taken from Stave Hill, looking east (guess). And the one on the right was taken from the big road just this side of the Victoria Docks. These two photos were (left) taken in August of last year, and (right) in 2012 (about week after the sunset photo above).
The most recent of these four photos, the only one taken with my latest and undoubtedly my best camera, is by far the worst, technically. This is because, for that photo to work, the light had to be very good, but it was not. A less good camera with perfect light trumps a better camera with poor light, for me, usually, given the sort of outdoorsy, long-distancy photos that I generally like to take. I’m hoping my lurgy goes away soon enough for me to take advantage of this summer, and all its light.
As you can surely tell, I consider the Big Olympic Thing to be a fine contribution to London. It is not beautiful, exactly, but it is extremely recognisable. Every time I happen to see it in the distance, I immediately know what it is, and it lifts my spirits.
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.
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.
The catification of the internet continues.
This big cat head isn’t now for sale, apparently. But I bet that it, or something a lot like it, soon will be.
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.
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.
It started with this picture, which I took at the home of some friends a while back. I know exactly how you probably feel about this cushion, but on the other hand, I don’t care:
I love how the TV remote is there next to it. I had no idea at the time, or I would have made a point of including all of it.
But now the www-journey begins. At the bottom right hand corner of the cusion are the words “Susan Herbert”.
Obviously, I click where it says “visit page”, and arrive here. I scroll down, looking for the picture of Bill Murray and the artistic nude girl. I don’t ever find the picture of Bill Murray and the artistic nude girl, but I do encounter this, which is a posting about a big blue horse at Denver Airport. Clicking on “Denver Public Art Program” merely gets me to useless crap about Denver, but googling “luis jimenez mustang” gets me to pictures like this ...:
… and to an article in the Wall Street Journal from February 2009, which says things like this about the Blue Denver Horse:
Anatomically correct - eye-poppingly so - the 32-foot-tall fiberglass sculpture makes quite a statement at the gateway to Denver International Airport.
But that begs the question: What kind of statement, exactly?
“It looks like it’s possessed,” says Denver resident Samantha Horoschak. “I have a huge fear of flying anyway, and to be greeted at the airport by a demon horse - it’s not a soothing experience.”
Many people here agree, calling the muscular steed a terrifying welcome to the Mile High City.
Samantha Horoschak was not wrong. Because, it gets better:
Mr. Jimenez was killed working on the sculpture. In 2006, while he was hoisting pieces of the mustang for final assembly in his New Mexico studio, the horse’s massive torso swung out of control and crushed the 65-year-old artist.
Ah, that magic moment in the creative process when a work of art escapes from the control of its creator and carves out a life of its own, independent of its creator. And kills him.
Is it still there? How many more victims has it claimed? Has it caused any crashes?
I love the internet. And not just because I am quickly able to look up the proper spelling of such words as “posthumous” (which was in the original version of the title of this) and “kitsch”. It’s the mad journeys it takes you on. Who needs stupid holidays when you can go on a crazy trip like this without getting out of your kitchen chair?
As usual, there’s lots of fun stuff at Colossal, of which a piece about the Chicago Bean attacking a tourist by dumping a lump of snow on them, is my recent favourite.
Go here to see the whole wonderful thing.
I like how people in Chicago call The Bean The Bean, rather than “Cloud Gate”. I feel the same way about how The Wheel in London is The Wheel, rather than the “London Eye”.
Late this afternoon I went walkabout near to where I live, and in particular to photo my local ballerina, at the top end of Victoria Street. There’s lots of building going on around her, so the nearby and behind scenery keeps changing. My favourite shot of her today was this:
At the time, that bus driving by seemed like it was an interruption, but now I think it definitely adds something, to a part of the shot which wouldn’t have been half so interesting without it.
I just googled “3D printing” and clicked on “images”. One of the more interesting images I encountered was this one ...:
… which I found here. The point being that this is one of those technologies which lots of people are getting excited about, perhaps as something they might be able to do themselves, for fun but also for profit. But most of the significant early applications of 3D printing seem now to be by businesses which were already making stuff, and now have another way to make it. Regular thing makers (for those not inclined to follow links that’s a link to pieces about the use of 3D printing by the aerospace industry) have a huge advantage over “home” 3D printers, which is that they already know what would be worth making.
And making in quite large quantities, which means that they can acquire or construct highly specialised 3D printers for those particular items, which use their own very particular material inputs. 3D printers, if they are to pay their way, must surely specialise. Which means they’ll be applied first by businessmen, rather than by mere people in their homes.
I have yet to hear about any 3D printing killer app which will kick off the much talked-of but yet-to-occur home 3D printing revolution. It will come, I’m sure. But it hasn’t come yet.
Somewhere between posting a photo of totally recognisable strangers that you took without their permission in 1930 and posting a photo of totally recognisable strangers that you took without their permission yesterday afternoon, there is a line. I took this photo ...
… in 2007. Did I cross that line? Perhaps. But they just look so great, and so happy. When it comes to totally recognisable strangers who look bad in the photo I took of them without their permission, I think I’d give it another decade or two.
I love all the white space behind and around them. It makes them look, in combination with the signpost, like a piece of sculpture. That spot often does that. Which is why it is one of my favourite photographic spots in London, up the steps that are attached to Westminster Bridge on the north side, looking up over the road towards the Houses of Parliament.
Me having written here about Anish Kapoor, he of the Big Olympic Thing, someone today emailed me about an art website which includes him. None of the pictures of Kapoors at that place strike me as very interesting. Certainly not nearly as interesting as the Big Olympic Thing, or as interesting as The Bean. So instead I googled for other Kapoor imagery, and found this rather excellent Kapoor photograph, of him posing in front of one of his creations, outside the Royal Academy, in London, in 2009:
Click on that photo to get a bigger version, which I recommend doing.
What I (of course) like is that you can see the little clutch of photographers, including (of course) the photographer who took this photograph, in the photograph.
Thank goodness for the I Just Like It! file. Today was yet another long and annoying day doing other things besides blogging, and yet, I want to stick with the habit, without being insultingly brief. That’s when some here’s-some-I-prepared-earlier snaps can come in really handy.
So here are a few snaps I picked out about a month ago from the archives, but never got around to posting at the time. The common theme is dancing. Two are males, dancing by mistake. The other two are of females, dancing on purpose.
Every now and again, I recommend that someone do a ballet about digital photography. All that posing both by photographers and the people they are photoing.
Although, one of the blokes is playing with a frisbee rather than a camera, and one of the dancing ladies is a statue. And a favourite object of my photographic devotions, as it happens. This time, though, with added airplane exhaust. And scaffolding.
Taken in November 2006, July 2008, September 2008 and February 2012. The one top right, July 2008, would, I’m pretty sure, have featured a very big Shard in the background, had it been taken more recently.