Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
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6000 on Nine reflections
Simon Gibbs on The River Thames carpet
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Simon Gibbs on The River Thames carpet
Alan Little on The localness of London's weather
Michael Jennings on Sacred architecture and profane roof clutter - a speculation
Friday Night Smoke on The River Thames carpet
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- Cat news
- Quota selfie from 2006
- ASI Boat Trip 7: Other photographers
- Nine reflections
- The localness of London’s weather
- Round headlights equals an old car
- The River Thames carpet
- Cats … on scaffolding … with shadows …
- Sacred architecture and profane roof clutter - a speculation
- ASI Boat Trip 6: Crowd scenes
- Self-healing concrete
- Bombardier Embrio
- Football comment
- Quota bird
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Category archive: My photographs
Every now and again I do a posting here, to fix some fact in my memory that I am having trouble fixing in my memory. Like: the name of someone I really don’t want to insult any more by not remembering his name; and like: the difference between Norman Foster and Richard Rogers.
Well, this is another such posting, and this time it’s a building:
There are two of my favourite photos of it, and when I chanced upon them in my photo-archives, I realised, again, that I can never remember the name of the thing, or rather Thing, for it is indeed a Thing, albeit not a very big Thing.
It is called the Palestra. I sort of knew this already (scroll down to the picture of stupid propellers on a roof), in the sense that when I googled for “that big new building outside southwark tube” and found my way to it, I realised that although I had forgotten this name, I did once know it.
Though buildings like the Tate Modern and the reconstructed Globe Theater have done an admirable job of breathing new life and interest into Bankside, venturing south quickly brings the observer into gritty residential and industrial neighborhoods with little to recommend them to the passer-by. The borough’s latest architectural projects aim to extend the revitalization south from Bankside: among these are the planned extension of the Tate Modern, the construction of Southwark tube station, and distinctive building projects by the brightest stars of modern architecture. SMC Alsop’s Palestra, an office building completed in 2006, is one of these projects. Located on Blackfriars Road just across from the Southwark station, its dramatic glazing and cantilevered structure draw the eye and stand out starkly against its dreary surroundings.
Apologies for the American spelling there, which I am glad to see my word processor underlines with red squiggly lines.
And apologies to Southwark for that stuff about those “dreary” surroundings. This is typical architect talk based on the idea that the only important thing about buildings is how they look in photos taken on Sunday, early in the morning, with no people outside them having a good time.
The photo of Palestra on the left, above, was taken from the platform of Waterloo East railway station, and those peculiar bobbles you can see reflected at the bottom there are the pods of The Wheel. I really like how that looks.
So, Palestra. This posting is entitled “Palestra”. Palestra, Palestra, Palestra.
Bizarre day today, and am only now shoving whatever I can think of to shove up.
I went trawling through the photo-archives, and came up with this weird selfie shot from 2006:
Two cameras I no longer use. My previous pregnant-out-the-back telly. Some book about Something For Dummies.
I haven’t yet finished showing you photos from that Adam Smith Institute Boat Trip, that I got in on and took lots of photos of, at the beginning of this month, and which I have been showing here, now and again, ever since then. I’m hardly even close.
For instance, it’s taken me three quarters of a month to get around to it, but, of course, there were other photographers present besides me:
I chose these pictures simply because they fitted the bill subject matter wise, and because they look nice. I did not choose them to illustrate any particular point about digital photography.
The result being that they do illustrate a particular point about digital photography. Consider the stats.
There are two regular old school digital cameras to be seen snapping (1.1 and 1.3), three if you count mine. There is also just the one big tablet being used (3.3).
All the other photographers are using mobile phones.
Usually, when I photograph photographers, there are more regular old school dedicated digital cameras to be seen. But this is because I am photographing lots of “photographers”, i.e. people like me, who see themselves as more photography-minded than regular people.
What this boat trip illustrates is how much regular people now use their mobiles to take photos, in among all that networking and connecting and chatting and socialising. It isn’t so much that mobiles have replaced those tiny, cheap digital cameras, although yes it is that, a bit. But it is more that mobiles can now take photos, so now they do. A lot of photos are now being taken that would not have been taken at all, before mobile phones learned how to take photos, by people for whom mobile phones are essential, and photography with mobile phones began only as an extra.
And you can bet that many of the photos that the above people were taking were already flying off into the big www beyond, to work their propaganda magic, promoting the ASI, its Boat Trip, and the people who went on it, before the trip was even over.
Young people these days are quicker off the mark than I am. That’s their job. And being slower off the mark is mine.
I was laden with bags of shopping, but I still thought this worth photoing, late this afternoon:
Which do you think is better, a good photo of an okay thing, or an okay photo of a good thing? This, I think, is a photo of the latter sort. Digital cameras come into their own in taking such photos, because, although lacking that last ounce of phototechnicality, they are easy to have with you and easy to use, even when you are basically busy with other things.
What I like is how totally different each of the nine shapes are, like they are nine different pictograms or something. Only the one bottom right rather lets the side down.
Also, the car wasn’t helping. Had that not been there, I would probably have done it from right in front, and it might have ended up being a good photo of a good thing.
You don’t see many of these these days:
I’m talking about round headlights on cars. About ten years ago, and I have photos that notice the moment, car headlights, having been round for about three quarters of a century, went absolutely mental, with silver moldings and weird shapes of all kinds. It’s been like that ever since. Now, a car with round headlights is an old car.
Like this one, the car with the above headlight:
It appears to be one of these, or if not then something very like it. I photoed this car this afternoon.
A while ago, I started photo-collecting round headlights, and the cars that sport them. There may accordingly, although I promise nothing, be a huge spread of them here, any month, or year, or decade, now.
Some new cars these days have pretend round headlights, such as the new German Mini. But they are only pretend round. Look carefully, and they are not properly round, like the one above.
The are two photos which I took last Monday. The one with the bright blue sky, me looking up, was taken in Wigmore Street. The one looking down, was taken from the ME Hotel Radio Rooftop Bar.
They are photos not so much of roof clutter, as of roofs, roof in all their elaborately designed glory. But, you can spot the late twentieth century incursions:
The aesthetic impact of radio and television aerials does not seem to be much discussed in the architectural world. It could be that it has, and I merely haven’t noticed, but I don’t think that’s it.
Here is what I think is going on inside the heads of architectural aestheticians, on this subject. The deal we will make with you mindless philistines is: you can have your damn aerials, because we know that if you are not allowed, by us, to have your damn aerials, you will hut us down and burn us at the stake. But, we refuse to talk about them. We will not incorporate them into our aesthetic theories of how things look, and should look. We will not see them.
Which is how we got from the above scenario, where everything on the roof is elaborately designed, but the first few aerials have crept into the pictures, but have not been seen by the architects and their aesethetic guides, to this:
Yet still, they don’t see it and they don’t talk about.
Really, really weird.
I’ve been pondering roof clutter for a while now, but the more I ponder it, the more weird the phenomenon is.
What this reminds me of is a distinction that my sociology teachers at Essex University all those years ago made much of, that between the sacred and the profane. The sacred stuff here is the regular “architecture”, the walls, the windows, the roofs, the interiors, and so on. All of that is sacred, and is accordingly obsessed over, every tiny square inch of it, every subtle colour change, just as priests obsess about every word in a prayer.
But those aerials are profane. They don’t register. They aren’t architecture, any more than a tracksuit worn by a impoverished member of the congregation in a church is a sacred vestment, the details of which must be argued about by bishops and theologians, or the sales pitch being done over the phone on Monday morning (by someone who had been devoutly praying on Sunday) is itself a prayer. That sales pitch is profane. Forget about it. Don’t even think about it.
Those aerials, in among the sacredness of all those designed chimneys and roofs and little towers, are profane. And hence invisible. Aerials are designed, by aerial designers, to make sense of radio waves. But they are not designed to be looked at. They are a pure case of form following function. Architects ought to love them, if they believed their prayers. But they don’t because what is there for architects to add? Nothing. The job has all been done, by profane aerial designers.
Well, I don’t know. I’m thinking as I go along here, but writing it anyway. Which is all part of why I have this blog. At this blog, I am allowed to be wrong. This is a thinking allowed zone, you might say, a place where the thinking does not have to be done before the blogging begins. This is, you might say, a profane blog.
The reason to do crowd scenes is to show what a big crowd it was. Yes, it matters who was individually present. But the sheer number of individuals present also counts, a lot. It counts that they are too numerous to count conveniently. Think what some of them might accomplish, in the years to come. The law of averages says it’s bound to add up to something.
Crowd scenes also show the venue, which, if impressive, ought to register in the photos taken. And could there be a more impressive venue than London on a fine evening, from the river? Earth has not anything to show more fair.
What’s that you say? One of these pictures is just a head shot? Not a crowd scene, you say? Look again.
Last Saturday, I was out and about by the river, taking pictures like this one:
But then, I noticed that bird, at the bottom of the left hand tower of Tower Bridge, and started snapping away in a more zoomed wayr than for the picture above. Hence the title of this posting:
I don’t know what brand of bird that is. I do know that it is not one of those avian imposters that calls itself a “crane” (thus clothing itself in dignity stolen from the mighty urban machine of construction), but other than that, I can only guess. A cormorant perhaps?
Pick and click.
Photographing birds properly is not my strong suit. You probably need to know their habits, the way I know the habits of the digital photographer, the one living creature that really interests me.
If, on the other hand, birds were to start taking photographs ...
Yes, here are yet more snaps I snapped on that boat trip. This time they are not of people posing in groups, but of individuals, if not on their own, then photoed on their own by me. Other people are strictly background:
The point of these pictures, for me, is not who the people are, simply that I like the pictures. But, for the record, the one’s whose names I know are: 1.1 Damien, 1.2 Noreen, 2.3 ASI Co-Supremo Madsen, 3.1 Mr Devil’s Kitchen, 3.3 ASI Junior Supremo Sam. If anyone knows others, please comment accordingly.
Once again there is a propaganda message here. As well as adding up to a happy and companionable movement, these people include some very interesting separate, individual people, distinct characters. What I like to think these pictures get across is how clever these people are, as well as good humoured and good fun.
The light in these pictures was not perfectly handled, nor was it in the previous batch of photos from this trip, of people posing in groups. But photoshop (or whatever you personally use) is a wonderful thing, and great pictures can be extracted from very average ones these days with no great strain, the way only fictional spies used to be able to do.
Besides which, I really like 3.2, of the young woman next to the no smoking sign. I think all that light and shadow makes her look really good. Okay, it wouldn’t do as a portrait, and it certainly wouldn’t do as a passport photo, but as a picture in its own right, I like how it came out. She looks intelligent, I think. Not that she didn’t to begin with, but you get my point.
In general, I think it creates a far better photographic atmosphere to have lots of light splashing around everywhere, even if that sometimes makes for somewhat unsightly shadows and badly lit faces. The point is not: these are great photos, artistically speaking (even though some of them are pretty good even from that point of view). The point is: it was a great boat trip, and everyone had great time.
I also think that bridges, which I like for their own sake, make good backgrounds for head shots.
The key moment for me on that boat trip came near the beginning, when Eamonn Butler, Joint Head Person of the Adam Smith Institute asked me to send in any good photos that I took.
Until that moment, I had not been sure whether photography was really tolerated, let alone encouraged. But I took that as an invite to snap away all evening. (It wasn’t that really, but that’s how I chose to interpret it.)
The bread-and-butter shot when photoing occasions like this one is the posed group. People in groups, who are friends, or who are maybe becoming friends, and who know that they are being photographed, are duly photographed, resulting in pictures like most of these ones:
Photos 1.1, 2.3 and 4.2 don’t quite fit the posed group template, because here the people in the shot aren’t posing for it, merely being photoed. But the message is much the same. Here are some attractive, intelligent, companionable young people, having a good time in each other’s company. They believe in libertarianism and free markets, and are going to make that count for something in the years and decades to come. Socially isolated human atoms they are not.
3.1 is also a bit of a departure from the norm, but you want a bit of craziness at such events. If absolutely everyone is being nice and polite and well behaved, then it ain’t a proper party. Once again, Mr Arm Tattoo (the previous posting in this series featured that same Arm getting itself a drink) contributes a bit of quirkiness and danger to the event. When I was a kid, only self-declared professional criminals had tattoos like that, or so I was raised to believe. At best, people who worked at fair grounds. Those days are now long gone.
On the left, the strange reflection effect I saw, on my way to St James’s Tube Station, and at once photoed. This is one of those cases where the smaller the photo, the clearer the effect, so it’s good that this picture here is quite small. Click on it, to make the effect less clear:
On the right, what the sunlight was bouncing itself off. It’s New Scotland Yard.
Soon there will be another Scotland Yard. But calling this New New Scotland Yard would be silly. So, instead, It will be called Scotland Yard.
Is it just me, or does the white line between the two photos above look like it’s at an angle?
A while back, I asked Madsen Pirie how it was that the Adam Smith Institute had been so successful in getting young people interested in libertarianism, free markets, and so on. Simple, he replied. Have a party, with free drink. That gets them to come. Start the party by saying that libertarianism and the free market and so on are great but get that over with quickly, and then serve the drink. That’s it? That’s it. Well, there is a bit more to it than that. The message may be brief on the night, but it needs to be good and it has to be backed up during the day with a mass of sober activity and verbiage. But, ignore the free drink and you are not understanding the ASI.
This was certainly the formula for this Boat Trip, as you can see:
When I first got there, I chatted with ASI Junior Boss Sam Bowman, and I think I mentioned this give-them-the-message-and-then-fill-’em-up doctrine. Sam then talked about how the ASI gets ideological bang for its alcoholic buck by buying its own good but cheap drink - good but cheap champagne on this particular evening - in bulk (that being why it’s cheap), and bringing it to events like this. Which means that lugging big crates of drink around London, from the ASI office to wherever the latest event is is a big part of the life of an ASIer. Serving alcohol is central to their entire way of going about things. This is not some sort of afterthought. Alcohol is to the ASI almost what petrol is to a car.
Drink also makes for good photos, I think. (The ASI used the one of the table full of glasses, with the tattooed arm.) Nothing says jollification to come like a table full of full glasses, especially if the sun is shining all over them. And once the punters get their hands on the bubbly, that makes for more good photos, because the bubbles make automatic focussing work so very well.
Yes, looking at those boat trip photos again this morning, I could see that there was plenty there, in among the vastly greater number of duds.
Some jobs you have to get entirely right, like waterproofing a submarine or making an oil refinery safe. One serious mistake and it all goes pop.
Other jobs have to be done mostly right, but not entirely. Seven or eight out of ten will suffice. Nine out of ten will more than suffice. Trying to get ten out of ten is just tiresome.
But photoing a party with a digital camera is one of those jobs (I’m guessing that selling stuff might be another) where if you get one out of ten then you’ve done fine. The marginal cost of digital photography being zero, I actually mean, of course, one hundred out of a thousand, the more exact number of shots I took last night being nearer to 850. Last night all I could see was the 750 pieces of junk. I remembered what those duff shots were supposed to be, but which they were not. This morning I took another look, and saw that the news was not all bad. In other words: it was absolutely fine.
Today I extracted those one hundred good ones into a separate file, stuck them on an SD card and took the card around to the ASI. They liked them, and up onto Facebook went about thirty of them. Lots of the photos here were taken by me, and lots of them were not. I am proud to have helped. I even got a name check.
I was also lucky to be there. “TNG” stands, I believe, for The Next Generation. That hasn’t been me for quite a while.
What seems, judging by the pride of place that the ASI awarded it at Facebook, to have been my shot of the night came right at the beginning, in the form of a group shot of a bunch of the guests assembling, and talking with Madsen Pirie, the one in the blue striped jacket with his back to us.
However, in order to avoid any suggestion that this Next Generation consists only of males, here are a couple more shots that I took immediately after that one, also involving those same rather striking shadows.
More to come. Quite a few more, I hope.
Earlier this evening I attended the Adam Smith Institute boat trip drinks party. Excellent. I took about a million pictures, of which disturbingly few looked much use when I got home. I had a lot more fun taking them than I had looking at them later the same evening. But maybe this is just another example of the rule that you should always take a day or two before looking at a huge clutch of photos that you had fun taking. That way you see them as they are rather than as not as good at you remember them.
The main thing that struck me was how much better the pictures of buildings on the banks of the river were compared to the pictures of people in the boat on the river.
I liked this one, though:
And oh look, it’s a selfie. Tomorrow I’m going to try to pick out the ones that might be of some use to the ASI. I just hope that, in the cold light of day, there are few that qualify. If that’s so, then it doesn’t matter how terrible all the rest are.
Incoming from 6k, about a dramatic Big Things photo that he came across, via a Facebook friend. There is also a blog posting at his place about it, and about how I might like it, which indeed I do.
I’ve done what he suggested and have thinned it for here:
He has the whole thing, and here it is even bigger. Very dramatic, I think you will agree.
6k entitles his posting “Waterloo sunset”. This is a fine Kinks song, but sunsets are defined by where you are when you see them, and this photo was taken from the other side from Waterloo of the Big Things of the City of London, which is what these Big Things are. He has most of them identified, but his big omission (no criticism intended - he is, after all, now 6k miles away) is the tallest one, in the middle. This is the Cheesegrater.
My first thought was that this view might have been taken from the spot I visited last January, when I took these Big Thing photos.
But that isn’t right. However, some other photos I took that day that do point at the approximate spot where the above sunset photo was, I think, taken from.
Photos like this one, also thinned:
6k’s sunset photo was taken from somewhere in among those houses on the other side of the river, with the Shard sticking up behind, on the left of my photo.
Here is a slice of Google Map which shows were everyone is:
I was where it says “ME”. The Big Things of the City are where it says “BIG THINGS”, and 6k’s anonymous photographer was standing somewhere very approximately where I have put “?”. The spot I chose for “?” is something called Stave Hill Ecological Park, which sounds very promising, what with it maybe being a hill. I have never been there and I must check it out. But, that’s only my guess. The photographer could have been quite a bit further south and/or west. Don’t know.
But there is more. While going through the photos I took last January, comparing them with 6k’s sunset photo, I came across this one, which I have again thinned:
Again, click to get the bigger version.
Now, in the middle there, unmistakably (with three unmistakable holes in its top), is the Strata.
But, and I only spotted this today, almost directly behind it is the equally unmistakable Spraycan, unmistakable because in the dark, that is how the Spraycan is always lit up.
Here is a close up of the two of them:
The Strata is at the Elephant and Castle, and the Spraycan is way over in Vauxhall. Beyond Waterloo, in other words. Once again, I hit google maps, to check on the alignment of these two favourite Big Things, and it all fits. By and by, I shall return to that same spot, to take more and better versions of this photo.
Like I always say, my camera has better eyesight than I have. On days like that one, it almost invariably sees far more than I see.