These photographs of Tower Bridge being constructed have been unveiled after a stash of hundred-year-old photos were found in a skip. The 50 sepia pictures, the most recent of which date back to 1892, reveal in incredible detail the ingenuity behind one of the capital’s most popular tourist destinations.
Regulars here, or for that matter there, will know that I have for many years now been at enthusiastic fan of the French historian and social scientist Emmanuel Todd. In recent years, this enthusiasm has at last started to become a bit more widespread.
Two of the world’s most important Todd-enthusiasts are now James C. Bennett and Michael J. Lotus. Quite a while ago now, they sent me an email flagging up a piece they had contributed to Hungarian Review, which contains some interesting biography about Todd, and about how his own particular family history contributed towards making him into the historian of the world that he later became.
Todd developed this grand theory, about how literacy triggers particular sorts of political upheavals in particular places, depending on Family Structure, and then when the political dust has settled fuels economic development, But what got Todd thinking about all this?
According to Bennett and Lotus, the starting point was: How Come The French Communists Are Doing So Badly And Never Seem To Do Any Better No Matter What They Try?
He was the product of an extended family of French Communist Party activists and journalists, and grew up hearing his father and relatives arguing around the kitchen table. Anglo-Americans had tended to regard the French Communist Party of that era as formidable, successful, and continually on the verge of seizing power. From the inside, Todd grew up hearing his family lament the eternal failure and futility of the Party. (He left the orthodox Communist movement quite early, and in fact was one of the first scholars to predict, in 1976, the coming collapse of the Soviet system.) For some reason, the Party was well established in certain regions, and completely without support in most others. The Socialists were dominant in others, and it was noticed that the same social classes would tend to support either Socialists or Communists, depending on the region, but never split between the two, and when they failed to support the one, would not switch to the other, preferring alternative parties. In other parts of France, neither party had a foothold, and the same social classes that supported either Socialists or Communists in their stronghold regions supported entirely different, and not particularly Marxist, parties. The reason for this split was constantly debated in Todd’s family circle, but no possible explanation seemed to hold water. It was a great mystery.
Once Todd began studies at Cambridge, and encountered what we are calling the Continuity School, he began developing a social analysis that perfectly predicted the voting patterns that had been such a mystery in his family’s kitchen debates. France is far from homogenous, and in fact is a patchwork of quite different cultures and family systems. When Todd saw the distribution of the various family systems of France, as established by inheritance rules and customs, he saw at once that both the Communist and Socialist electoral strongholds corresponded to the areas dominated by two distinct family systems. Where other systems prevailed, neither the Communists nor the Socialists could gain any real foothold.
You can see how Todd was perfectly primed to generalise the principle from France, and then England, to the entire world.
In the course of my Todd readings and meanderings, I probably was told (perhaps by Todd himself in his book about French politics (which I have long possessed (and which I see you can now get second hand for £2.81 (in English)))) that Todd had been raised by baffled and frustrated Communists. But I had not really taken it in.
From 1911, the year after its rebuilding to its present design by Frank Matcham, the Victoria Palace had a gilded statue of prima ballerina Anna Pavlova poised above it. This was owner Alfred Butt’s homage to the dancer he had spectacularly introduced to London.
The tribute was not appreciated by the superstitious ballerina, who would never look at her image as she passed the theatre, drawing the blinds in her car. The original statue was taken down for safety reasons in 1939 before the blitz and has completely disappeared. It is not known whether it is in someone’s garden or was turned to wartime military use, such as bullets.
The Victoria Palace moved into the new millennium with an adventurous building programme; enlarging the Foyer, WC facilities and increasing the dressing room space, whilst maintaining all the feel and character of a historic building.
In 2006, a replica of the original statue of Pavlova was reinstated to its original place above the cupola of the Victoria Palace and her gold-leafed figure once again gleams above us.
This is one of my favourite Big Thing Alignment shots, to be observed by emerging from Oval tube and walking north east along the A3. Do that, and you soon see Strata in the distance, and directly behind it, the Shard, thus:
These shots are two of many such that I took on June 25th 2012.
On the left: the heart of the matter. On the right: the context. Often, when you have a zoom lens, you show the zoomed shot, and neglect how it actually looked, along with all the other stuff you could see. When I say “you” I of course mean “I”.
I worked out that this shot might be there for the taking by looking at the map. Strata is at the Elephant and Castle, which is the big yellow roundabout in the middle of this map:
And the Shard is at London Bridge railway station, top right.
What this shows, I think, is another contribution made by technically rather poor photographers like me. We may not take our pictures that well, from the point of view of using the right cameras, lenses, f numbers, and general technical jiggery pokery. But we often take great shots, as in, we often take great shots rather badly. A technically better photographer might see this posting, and say to him or herself: Hey I like that shot. I’m going to go out there and do it again, properly, while crediting the person who first did the shot and thus showed me that the shot was gettable.
(Are Real Photographers reluctant to do this kind of copying-stroke-improving of amateur shots, for intellectual property (and hence money) reasons? Is there a sense in which, photographically speaking, I now “own” this view?)
A similar point could have been made in the course of this posting, which also included a map showing how that shot happened, and where to go to get it. That too was a great shot, done just about well enough to show what a great shot it might have been, but only just.