On how we love animals (except when we love how they taste)

While in France, I read the whole of The Square and the Tower, and then embarked upon The Ape that Understood the Universe.

In the latter book, the matter of how humans get all sentimental about animals is mentioned (pp. 59-60):

… Why do so many people take such delight in string at infant members of other species? It’s not as if, say, porcupines enjoy staring at baby chickens. As with porn, our love of these nonhuman animals is probably not an adaptation. More than likely, it’s spillover from psychological mechanisms designed for more human-centered purposes. There’s a certain cluster of traits that people everywhere find irresistibly cute. This includes big round eyes in the center of the face, a small nose, and plump, stubby limbs. Our affection for creatures with these features presumably evolved to motivate us to care for our own infants and toddlers. But the same features are found in many other infant mammals, and even in the adult members of some nonhuman species. As a result, we often feel affectionate and protective toward these individuals as well – not because it’s adaptive, but just because adaptations aren’t perfect. By the way, as you might already have
noticed, the spill over hypothesis doesn’t just explain our fondness for cute animal videos. It also hints at an explanation for a much older and more pervasive phenomenon: our habit of keeping pets.

Motivated I am sure by exactly this sort of fondness for animals myself, I have become more and more intrigued by this general human propensity. Which is why so many of my photos involve non-human creatures of one sort or another.

Here are some of the non-human creatures photos I photoed while in France recently:

Even the photos involving signs urging dog owners to clear up canine crap (photos 12, 14 and 17) are about our positive feelings towards animals, because the offending dogs are pets. And even the two plastic barrier things (photo 16) are “other creatures”, in the sense that we insist on seeing the faces of creatures where there are none, even though these particular non-creatures each have only one eye. Yes, we do love these creatures.

And yet, by way of a corrective, we also do these kinds of things to particularly tasty creatures, in this case to various mammals and to fishes:

Yum.

Sir Keith Park closer up

In an earlier posting here, I mentioned and included a photo of the statue of Sir Keith Park outside the Athenaeum. I like this statue, and I admire its subject. Here is another photo of that same statue, from closer up, that I photoed last October:

I am busy getting ready to give a talk about Modern Architecture this evening, so that’s probably it for today. Ancient Architecture, like that behind the above statue, will also be getting a mention. I am taking a book about Quinlan Terry with me, to wave at the audience, although I may forget to do this.

More trees (including the shadow of a tree)

This time trees of the regular sort, some even with leaves, in the vicinity of the Tate Gallery, the ancient one that’s a walk away from my home:

Lots of pollarding.

The last photo, with the tree shadow, is of the outside of the Tate Gallery itself.

Shadows are interesting for many reasons, one being that the camera registers them so much more clearly than the eye does. When a human looks at a scene, he/she makes a model of it inside his/her head. Eyes move about restlessly to build the model. Shadows are irrelevant for most purposes, so get screened out, so to speak. But when a camera looks at a shadow, it sees it and registers it. It’s eye stays in one place and looks just the once. If there is a shadow, the shadow remains. When the human looks at the photo, he/she can’t then look past it, to the scene itself. There is only the photo to be seen`dxz9

One of the skills of photography is learning to see things as a camera does, so that you can see photos worth photoing, which you would not see if you were merely looking the way a human does.

A decade of photos – one from each year

I originally got together these photos, one for each year of the decade now ending, with Samizdata in mind. But then I did a posting looking back at Christmas Day for there, with lots of photos, and another posting there with lots of photos felt a bit superfluous. So, here they are here.

Left below: February 2010 – Piccadilly Circus.
Right below:January 2011 – Beyond the Thames Barrier.

Left below: July 2012 – A South African gets ready to bowl against England at the Oval.

Right below: September 2013 – London Gateway takes shape.

Left below: March 2014 – Detlev Schlichter speaks about Austrian Economics.
Right below: July 2015 – Sunshine bounces off the Broadgate Tower and lands outside Tate Modern.

Left below: August 2016 – The Oval Pavilion (see above) as seen from the top of the Tate Modern Extension.
Right below: Also at the top of Tate Modern, a photoer photos the Shard through a ball.

Left below: April 2018 – The statue of Sir Keith Park outside the Athaeneum.
Right below: September 2019 – A model of Old London Bridge.

I didn’t spend a huge amount of time picking these photos out from the archives. Aside from trying to pick out photos that I hadn’t blogged before, I just had a rootle around until I found a nice one for each year. But a different day doing the rootling, and there’d have been ten entirely different photos. But I like these ones, and I hope you do too.

Natoor?

“Natoor” because the word is “Nature”, but in French.

Ever since I did a post here mentioning the plan for a Disneyland London, Twitter has been regularly Twittering me a picture of this new Disneyland building in Paris:

“Stay at Les Vlllages Nature.”

I like the look from above of this Thing, and I especially like how it would appear that you can walk to the top on the outside, Snøhetta style. But it doesn’t look very Natoor.

What I’ll be talking about on January 6th at Christian Michel’s

I just sent this blurb to Christian Michel, about the talk I’ll be giving at his place in the New Year:

The function of a bottle opener is relatively uncontroversial. It’s to open bottles! But nearer to the opposite end of the simplicity-to-complexity spectrum is architecture, and especially the sort of large and visible architecture that the most ambitious and showy architects yearn to design and build.

I don’t think that the modernist architect and polemicist Le Corbusier ever wrote about bottle openers, but he famously described the house as a “machine for living in”. But what does “living in” a house mean? A house can surely proclaim meanings, that being one of its functions. It can display a certain attitude to life, evoke an atmosphere and perhaps trigger happy memories of an earlier time. The ideal house communicates, both to those who live in it and to those who see it from outside. It says more things and different things to merely what it does and how its internal mechanisms function. It says what life is all about. A house is surely more than a mere dwelling, and something similar can be said about almost all buildings, certainly about the really good ones.

To the early modernists architectural ornament was a moral issue, a crime. They pointed to such things as grain silos, locomotives and early airplanes, and they said: architecture should be like that! It should be functional and it should look functional, rather than conceal its function behind a pompous public facade. Form should follow function, as a famous modernist slogan had it. (The truth is more that form follows fashion.)

To many Modernists, the whole idea of a functional “style” was a contradiction. It wasn’t a style; it was what happened when you turned your back on style and just let the building be what it is, with no artifice, with no “style”.

Yet now, the functional, er, way of doing architecture is often just as much of a facade for communicating meaning while concealing what goes on behind it as any traditionally ornamented architectural frontage.

There was also the fact that certain other modernist ideas, such as the idea of “going back to first principles” and of being “logical” about design rather than relying on outmoded tradition, lead, especially in the early years of modernism, to many modernist buildings not functioning very well. The “functional style” had a habit of not actually being very functional.

But, as modern architecture has become a tradition of its own, it has become more functional. And more stylish.

Saying all that may not take very long, but there’s plenty more I can say about this stuff, should I need more.

Scene and screen mystery

Also photoed on Christmas Day:

And there it was, a seemingly unattended screen, staring impassively at The Wheel. I took lots of photos, including many close-ups, but nobody identified themselves as being in charge of this thing. Was this some sort of experiment? Was I being photoed myself? Was I not being photoed, but was I supposed to guess, as I did, that I might be being photoed myself?

And look, the screen is broken. Recent?

Sometimes you never find out what you were truly photoing.

Bird and bird shadow

Charlie Waite hits the photographic spot for me hits the photographic spot for me:

(Again.)

Verticals. Horizontals. Excellent shadow. Symmetry. Beautiful blue and grey and white colours.

A commenter comments:

Any thoughts on cropping out the bird in flight altogether.

Question mark. Well, there’s nothing to stop you doing that if you’d like to. I tried it. Yes, quite nice.

I did a Charlie Waite twitter search. Reommended. Not the same as his mere twitter home.