Today I did the longest walk I’ve done in a month. I could show you a photo from that, but honestly, it would be quite the effort, after all my earlier efforts.
So this, when I got home, was a very nice surprise. GD2S, whom regulars here may recognise from that acronym and who for the benefit of irregulars is a lady friend of mine, sent me this photo that she had photoed, of men at work, with a window pane sucker and a crane:
Manhandling big sheets of glass into place on the outside of buildings is central to what the latest architecture now is, as anyone who pays attention to these things will already know. Typically, these days, the outside of a building is covered in sheets of glass so big that getting them up inside the building would, as likely as not, be impossible. So, the skills you see being applied in the above photo are doubtless finely honed. Especially when you consider how expensive, in cash and confusion, a mistake would be.
Come to think of it, here is a photo I photoed late this very afternoon, illustrating the exact trend I’m talking about:
There, in one photo, is that trend. In the foreground, we see Architectural Modernism from the Concrete Monstrosity era, with its windows all of a manageable size and uniformity and frankly not looking that expensive. Lose one of those window panes and getting another wouldn’t have been much of a bother. But in the background, rising up in the new new iconic style, is One Blackfriars, entirely covered in sheets of no doubt fabulously expensive glass, each sheet a different size and shape, capable of resisting all that the weather can throw at it. I presume that a fabulously more elaborate version of what is to be seen in the first of these photos is how all that glass got itself into place.
But, as of now, I am too knackered to pursue the matter, and if I’m wrong, I’m wrong. Whatever the real story, I still very much like that first photo there. I don’t know where it was photoed Somewhere in London, with an iPhone, is all I can tell you.
I really like all the reflections in that photo, in the regular windows, and in the new window that’s just arriving.
I’ve written here a few times about London City Island, and how a sort of mini-Manhattan of unspectacular but decent looking apartment tower blocks have been built on it.
Well, here are a couple of aerial shots that show that having happened. Here is how things in that part of London were looking in 2005:
And here is the same view now:
This blog actually knows a couple of people who have regular jobs doing tech stuff, but who also in their spare time own and operate photo-drones, and who sometimes visit London. These two are really good photoers, even if they may not be quite your Real Photographers, in the sense of making their living photoing, all their working life. I wish I could tell you that it was one of them who did the above photos, but actually, these photos were done by Jason Hawkes, who is as Real a Real Photographer as you could ever wish to drool over the photos of. (Besides which, no drones in 2005.)
The above two photos are just one pair of before-and-now, 2005-and-2020, photos featured in this amazing Guardian collection of photos of London from the air, with commentary by Hawkes himself attached. All you can do here is scroll back and forth between one such pair, reduced in size to fit here. If that amused you at all, you really should click on the Guardian original, and then scroll down and click on each photo to get the other version. There are, by my count, thirteen of such photo-pairs.
Although this wondrous Guardian offering is a “mainstream media” story, there is no way that it could be shown in all its glory in a mere newspaper. Was any of this in the actual Guardian, the one done with paper and ink and sold in shops?
I was browsing through the photo-archives and I encountered this favourite photo from two years ago:
Makes a nice contrast with this photo recently posted here, and this one of the Royal Albert Hall. The point being, in those two photos, they got pretty much the effect they wanted, whereas with this earlier one, they got something a lot more interesting than they were going for.
Had I done an earlier posting featuring the above photo? That the photo had a name as well as a number in the archives suggested: yes. And so it proved.
Photos like this don’t date. If anything, after what they are of has vanished, they get better. Click on that link, and you’ll also see another photo of the same thing, done with a slightly wider angle, and including the entire crane that you can only seen the bottom of in the above photo.
To add to the collection. Although the second one here is maybe more urban gothic, because in it, a piece of innocent roof clutter looks more like some kind of science fiction monster:
Those were taken at the top of my block of flats, way back in 2006, just as I was starting to get the hang of this photography thing, both in the sense of what was worth photoing, and what would photo well.
I often read about how photos “communicated the excitement felt by” the photoer, and am typically skeptical. If the photoer was excited, it was because he was excited by the photos he’d taken. They made him excited rather than vice versa. Nevertheless I do recall being very excited by my first visit with a camera to that roof, which for a long time I was not able to get to, because the vital door was locked. And the above photos were taken on one of the earliest visits to this spot.
On the whole, the close-up roof clutter proved more diverting than the rather distant views of the tops of Big Things, with dreary vernacular boxes getting in the way in the foreground. The fun I get from photoing Things Big or Small is when they are combined and seen in new ways. But every time I go up to that roof now, everything looks pretty much as it always did. On account of everything being pretty much as it always was.
One of the last really successful photo-walkabouts I had in London was on May 30th of this year. I remember having two designated destinations, rather than just the one. There was where they are starting to build these Things, as noted in this posting, and then there were some statues, of Lord Dowding and Bomber Harris, back across the River, that I wanted to check out. As I duly did.
But before all that, I did lots of photoing in the victoria Street Parliament Square Westminster Bridge part of town where I so like to photo:
Those photos are not the ones I might normally have chosen. I would have gone for more information, and less artistic impression (which quite often involves suppressing mere information thereby isolating the mere effect and making it that little bit more effective). But the light that day was so strong, and doing such amusing things that my photo-selection is strongly skewed in the direction of lighting effects and away from mere facts about statues, buildings and the like. So: lots of reflections and lots of shadows and lots of silhouettes, all of which work especially well in very strong light, and lots of light illuminating those big sheets that scaffolders like to decorate their scaffolding with these days.
Originally the photo that caught my attention was photo 12, and the original plan was just to show that one. But I soon realised that there were lots more I also felt like showing you, so there they all are. I hope that at least some coming here will be entertained.
I only seriously noticed e-scooters this year. But whenever I seriously notice something, the pattern is usually that I have already noticed it, but rather less seriously.
So it was with e-scooters. Here are the two earliest photoings of these devices that I’ve so far been able to discover in the photo-archives.
This one was spotted and photoed by me in July of last year, in the vicinity of the Tate Gallery (ancient version):
And then, two weeks later, in August, there was this, beside Victoria Dock, out east:
A piece of up-and-coming technology being driven towards some ancient tech that is now only a sculpture. When I say ancient tech, I’m talking about the lower reaches of the old dock crane there, not the ship. The ship is still a real ship. Well, nearly. It’s now a hotel. But it could surely still travel, if business would be better elsewhere. And behind all that is the footbridge across the dock, a particular favourite of mine.
My next task is to discover what e-developments suddenly made e-scooters possible, during the last five years or so? Was it just that e-motors got smaller? Was it the batteries that made the difference? Once again, the Internet falls over itself to tell me how to buy an e-scooter, but is less forthcoming about why I am suddenly able buy such a thing at all.
My taxis-with-adverts enthusiasm is no more than an aesthetically driven hobby, the way my granny used to collect ornamental plates, or so I recall it. Watching what happens to and with e-scooters during the next few years will be to watch a little slice of transport history.
I’ve already done several photo-postings about that walk Alastair and I did, from Blackheath to the Dome. There was that posting that rhymed. There was a cat. There was that amazing photo of the River that Alastair did. There was Lord Nelson. Well, time for some photos taken at our Official Designated Destination. Our actual first thing we decided to visit which would supply me with plenty of photo-opportunities, after we had met up at Blackheath Station, was this:
Beyond the Point Hill sign is The Point. We got to that by walking up … well, here are a couple of maps. On the left, how to get from Blackheath Station to The Point. And on the right, why you would bother, the point of The Point being what you can see from The Point:
The point of this first photo is to explain why the photos that follow are the sort that you might not consider to be that great:
This was not the first photo I photoed from The Point, but it makes my point, which is that what you can see from The Point is most of it a really long way away. The photos that follow are all very zoomy.
For me the most striking Things to be seen were the Docklands Towers. There are now quite a lot of them, compared to how many there were when I vaguely recall last visiting this spot.
First, two views of the entire Docklands Cluster:
And next up, a couple of close-ups of this same cluster:
The light could have been better, but it was what it was.
I really like how Docklands is turning out. One or two of the towers there have a bit of distinction about them, especially One Park Drive. But the sum is greater than the parts, I think. This is because almost all these towers go straight up. There are no Gherkins, Cheesegraters, Scalpels, Walkie-Talkies or Cans of Ham. Just gravity following towers done in the most efficient way possible. And the result is a classic spontaneous order of skyscrapers, all done in the modern vernacular. Without gravity, there’d be little logic. But with gravity, and without the starchitectural urge to defy it, it is all starting to look rather impressive. I like the City, with all its weirdness and eccentricity, but I’m glad London also has a classic skyscraper cluster in the form of Docklands. It can only grow and only get more impressive.
I like the idea of people looking at photos of it, and saying: Where’s that? “London.” London? I’d never have guessed.
Off to the right, we can see the Dome:
The stuff to the left of the Dome is the muddle on the other side of the River, to the east of Docklands. The sooner that muddle gets gobbled up by the Docklands Tower Cluster the better. To the right of the Dome, south of it, on the Greenwich Peninsular, there’s already more stuff rising up, with more to come.
Off to the left, all the eccentricity of central London is duly on show, but even further away:
Let’s take closer-up looks at bits of that:
The photo on the right is a different photo. But the image on the left is a detail cropped out of the bigger and more panoramic shot. In that left hand shot you can clearly see the BT Tower in the distance there, as also One Blackfriars, looking very squat and far less elegant than it might have. For which, Alastair reminded me, we can thank Prince Charles.
And speaking of way in the distance, Alastair also helped with this next photo. Basically, he directed it and I just pushed the button, what with his eyesight now being so much better than mine:
Now that I’m home and looking at a screen twenty inches or so away from me, I can clearly see both The Wheel, and … the new Wembley Arch. I could dimly perceive the Wheel on the day, but the Wembley Arch I totally took on trust. Yet, there it is, way off in the distance on the right, being hovered over, like waiters, by two cranes.
And on the right, a new central London architectural eccentricity, in the form of that strange white triangle that is often to be seen now in photos of London from the south east. It looks like something you might click on to get video to play. But that’s the Scalpel.
So, there it is. That’s how the Big Things of London are/were looking during the Lockdown of 2020. Will London continue to develope, or will it pause for a decade? Or longer? We shall see. Or I will. I hope.
Memo to self: Go back there on a sunnier day. In a few weeks time, after it’s cooled down a bit.
Well I was in a grumpy mood the other day, calling my part of London boring. Today, after a bit of an absence from it, indoors, I visited my neighbourhood again, and found myself, eventually, to be in a much sunnier mood than I was when I did that earlier posting.
This was partly because the weather was much sunnier, and partly because my expedition began with a deeply annoying visit to a rather unfamiliar branch (which I hate) of my bank, which involved, first, pressing lots of stupid buttons on a damn machine which ended up failing to do what was asked of it, which meant that what I wanted ended up having to be done by hand, so to speak, by a bank employee behind a grill, but not before I had had to wait in a queue right behind a crazy person who was walking backwards and forwards along the line of the queue with no concern for social distancing. Sadly, he was just the sort of person you’d be concerned about, social distancing-wise, whether there was a plague happening or not. Retreating away from him at first didn’t work because he simply advanced further until standing inches away from me, before turning round and walking back to the person ahead of him in the queue and annoying her in a similar way. Eventually I just stood way off the line of his backwards-and-forwards pacing, hoping that he would stick to his straight line, which mercifully he did. I know this sounds cruel, but I didn’t say any of this to him at the time, and now I am just blowing off steam about it all. Anyway, he finally did his business (emptying a bank account of its last few pounds from what I heard (I bet they were glad to see the back of him too)) and he then left and I was then able to do all of my business. This took its time. The bank had “closed” at 2pm, just after I got there, but I didn’t get out until about half past.
The point of all that being that there is nothing like enduring an ordeal like this one, but then have it come to an end with all your purposes achieved, to put you in a good mood. And the photos I then photoed out in Victoria Street reflected my good mood, as well as involving reflections of the towers of Victoria Street in other towers of Victoria Street. Of the photos below, only the first one, of scaffolding angrily illuminated by the sun, which I could hardly ignore, were photoed before my ordeal by personal banking, and I actually think it shows:
The new towers of Victoria Street, on the north eastern side, from the Albert pub up to Victoria Station at the top end of the street, are an aesthetic shambles. I wouldn’t object if this shambles was the result of a complete indifference to “architecture” and pure concentration on having machines for working in. That would almost certainly have been highly picturesque, and aesthetically very well coordinated. But, these towers have all been architected as all hell, but each one with absolutely no thought to its neighbours, other than to get more architectural awards than the buildings by those other bastards. Each is shaped in the “iconic” style, but each iconic shape is utterly difference. The result is a total mess. (I am even now thinking of a posting about why it makes sense for modern architecture to be ugly (basically ugly architecture doesn’t suffer the nightmare of a preservation order being slapped upon it), but that’s for later.)
However, when I photoed this lumbering heard of miss-matched lumps today, such was the weather and such was my mood that even these things came out looking beautiful. Or, I think they did. The first one, the pointy one (62 Buckingham Gate) differs from the others in showing, I think, some real architectural distinction. But this can’t save the shambles that is Victoria Street now. The one thing that could savee Victoria Street now would be a huge fuck-off skyscraper, on top, say, of Victoria Station. (This would rescue Victoria Street in much the same way that the Shard rescues Guy’s Hospital.)
But that also is for that other posting about why ugly buildings are more advantageous than beautiful ones.
In the meantime, note the lorry with foundation reinforcements on it. The only reason you drive a lorry through the middle of London with foundation reinforcements on it is because you want to unload those reinforcements in London, so that some new foundations in London, perhaps for a big fuck-off skyscraper, can be contrived. So, what that lorry tells me is that London is still building biggish things. When I saw it, my mood became even sunnier.
I ended my wanderings with yet another view of Pavlova (she is also to be seen dancing up above the reinforcements lorry) in front of a crane, and a view of the flowers outside the front door of a pub in Wilton Road. And then I went home, tired but happy.
As you can tell, I then started thinking about those Victoria Street buildings and got angry again, but that was only later. Besides which, I also quite enjoyed that.
For a few days in June, the statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square was hidden in a box, to protect it from demonstrators.
And on June 17th, I checked it out:
I also discovered that two other statues had been thus encased.
Although strangely, what with him having been threatened, not Lincoln:
I especially treasure photos like this, of moments in London history that are very striking, yet temporary. (Another of my photo-clutches that I especially like having photoed for this reason is all the photos I photoed of this broken crane.)
I vividly recall photoing these statues-in-boxes photos, yet when I went looking for them this evening, I couldn’t find them on my hard disk. I eventually looked on the back-up SD card that I always carry with me in my jacket pocket for when I forget to insert the regular SD card that is usually in my camera, and there these photos were. Still on that SD card, not yet downloaded to the hard disc, yet all present and correct. And I experienced that particular happiness that happens when life extricates itself from extreme misery, and back only to the extreme imperfection that is life’s normal state.
I returned on June 21st. By which time these boxes had gone and all the statues were back on view.
Towers continue to soar upwards into the blue sky of London town:
But now, with The Plague, Lockdown, social distancing, blah blah, do cities have a future? Does London have a future?
Here’s detail of the tower on the right in the above photo, photoed by me a few days later on a much gloomier day:
There’s no getting away from it. Those are coffins. Did the architect know something that the rest of us didn’t? Are urban apartments death sentences? Is the age of urban social communion about to die in front of our horrified eyes?
For my elderly generation, well, maybe, for a short while. But cities are not going to stop happening, merely because a few oldies have died of a cough that was worse than the usual sort. History may be all about lots of people dying, but mere life is lived and will continue to be lived by those who do not die. In the short run, it will be interesting to see if London takes any sort of visible hit from The Plague. Will we finally see a London skyline bereft of construction cranes, after the current crop of projects have been finished, on a we’ve-started-so-we’ll-finish basis? Will all those eastern European construction workers be packed off back home to the country towns and villages from whence they came?
Temporarily, maybe, although even this I doubt. Permanently, not a chance. The advantages of city life are too great, too abundant, too transformative, too agglomerative.
Actually, disaster is a tried-and-tested technique for urban regeneration. Consider The Blitz. So much of the current dynamism of London can be traced back to those stressful times. The Blitz destroyed. And, by destroying, it created new opportunities. Paris is only now starting to recover from not having been bombed.
I am old enough to remember the Notting Hill Riots of the late fifties. After a short period of post-riot economic downturn, during which all the timid oldies who lived in Notting Hill fled in terror, young and adventurous types moved in, and the place has never looked back. They even made a movie about how it had become the kind of place a super-glamorous movie star would unwind in on her days off, and become acquainted with Hugh Grant.
I predict, although I may not live to see it, that The Plague will have a similar impact upon London as a whole. Many oldies will die or flee to the suburbs, to the Cotswolds or to the West Indies. At which point the young and vigorous and risk-embracing, with plenty of viral resistance or resilience or whatever it is that you need to not die of The Plague and any subsequent variations, will take the place over. In about five or six years from now, London will be buzzing again, and in a whole new way. (Preliminary detailed prediction: more colour.)
I actually, very probably, will live to see the beginnings of this. I may even be able to summon up the energy to photo some of it.