I don’t know whether it’s the weather or my camera

I have a new camera, and I am not as happy as I would like to be about the photos I am photoing with it. They often seem vague and blurry, as if seen through a mist.

But then again, the humidity levels during the last week or two have been very high. Maybe the views have all looked as if seen through a mist because they were seen through a mist.

Here, for instance, is a photo of a favourite building of mine, the big decorated box that is the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, as seen from Westminjster Bridge, which is quite a way away:

But I got to work with my Photoshop clone, and beefed up the contrast, and darkened things a bit.

Thus:

Which looks a bit better. I’ve chased away some of the mist. The trees look greener. The details of the ROH’s exterior decoration are clearer.

I have a vague recollection of trying to reset my camera, so that it did things more darkly and more contrastingly. Maybe at that point, I contrived to do the opposite of what I thought I was doing.

But then again, not long after taking that photo, I took this one, of the giant 4 outside the Channel 4 headquarters building at the top end of Horseferry Road, a short walk away from where I live. I often go past it on my way home after an afternoon of wandering, and so it was that day, nearly a week ago now:

That looks bright enough and clear enough, doesn’t it? That’s without any zoom, i.e. space filled with blurriness. And without this weather making its presence felt, the picture doesn’t look like it needs any artificial editing attention. So maybe the camera is fine, and it has been the weather. And I just made the weather better.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

David Bowie dead – 2005 Ashes winners alive

Wandering along the Strand towards Embankment Tube, after Turandot had finished, I spied this sign on the inside of a shop window:

I had not realised that there are now David Bowie stamps. Apparently so. Ten in all. The ones above, and six more featuring LP covers.

You know what they mean, but the phrase “DAVID BOWIE LIVE” seems rather … jarring. What got Bowie onto these stamps now rather than any sooner, was that instead of being live, he is now dead (LINK TO THE OLD BLOG). Only dead people, or royals, can be on stamps, right?

Not quite. If you were an England cricketer playing in the 2005 Ashes that England won, you might also have become an honorary royal:

Scroll down here, for that picture, together with some rather sneering and very Australian references to Britain’s alleged lack of sporting prowess, which (says the Australian sneerer) explains why so many went crazy (LINK TO THE OLD BLOG) when those Ashes were won. And why the Post Office also went crazy and broke its own rule of us only being allowed, on stamps, to see dead people.

One Kemble Street and its roof clutter as seen from the ROH floating bar

The best thing about seeing Turandot at the R(oyal) O(pera) H(ouse) earlier in the week was definitely seeing Turandot. But almost as good was what I saw during one of the intervals.

So, do you remember this?

The “this” I am referring to is the disembodied rectangular box hovering up near the roof there. I copied and pasted the sanskrit my blogging system demands for that photo from this earlier ROH posting. To quote my earlier description in that earlier posting:

I especially like that disembodied clutch of drinkers, suspended up there as if in mid air, but actually in mid mirror.

All of which means that you don’t need to remember it, because I just told you again.

Well, during the interval in question, I found myself stretching my legs inside this aerial box. From it, I got views like this:

Which was all very fine, although I can’t really tell how good or bad this photo is, because I only have this terrible little replacement screen to look at it on.

But then, things got even more interesting. I looked through that big semi-circular window, and saw other interesting things. In particular I saw this:

That is one of London’s finer assemblages of roof clutter, made all the more magnificent by being anarchically perched, like a tiny shanty town, upon one of London biggest and blandest and most geometrically severe pieces of sculpted Big Thingness from the Concrete Monstrosity era. Namely: One Kemble Street, which used to be known by the much cooler name of Space House.

If you image google for One Kemble Street, you get a deluge of photos of One Kemble Street, but just about all of them are taken from below. It’s like they’re ashamed of that marvellous roof clutter. But why? It is magnificent.

Here is another view of part of this roof clutter:

That was taken in December 2014, on the same day I photoed the floating bar in the sky, in the first photo, above.

Memo to self: check it out again, and try to photo the whole thing, in nice weather like that.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

How Michael Tanner both misunderstands and understands Turandot

Yesterday I attended a Royal Opera House Covent Garden dress rehearsal, of Puccini’s Turandot. Never having seen Turandot on stage before, I learned a lot. The singing was pretty good, especially the choral singing, but maybe I say “especially” about that because I generally prefer choral singing to “operatic” solo singing. The staging looked appropriately splendid and exotic.

But the best fun of all was, afterwards, finding this bizarre piece of writing by Michael Tanner, for the Spectator. What is bizarre is that Tanner disapproves of the characters and he disapproves of the “happy ending” at the end of Turandot, like some myopic Victorian moralist objecting to King Lear because of what sort of people they are and because of what happens at the end of that.

Turandot is obviously a very wicked and tyrannical ice-queen type of a woman. But Calaf earns Tanner’s special condemnation. This is because Calaf, being from Asia in olden times rather than the Home Counties of England now, prefers conquest, sexual and political, to the love of a good woman. He is going to subjugate Turandot, sexually and politically, or die trying, and damn the consequences. But in Michael Tanner’s world tenors are not supposed to think and behave like that. Their job is to embody virtue, not watch while the slave girl who has been in love with Calaf throughout the opera is tortured and then commits suicide to spare herself more torture. After which Calaf carries right on with subjugating Turandot. But the fact that Calaf is not the sort of person whom Tanner would want marrying his sister is rather beside the point. Or to put the same point a quite other way, it is exactly the point. It isn’t just the setting of Turandot that is exotic. These are profoundly different sorts of people to those that Michael Tanner, or for that matter I, approve of.

This is like denouncing the Ring Cycle because Wotan is a god rather than a geography teacher, or because the dragons in the Ring Cycle do not behave like hedgehogs.

Calaf was also criticised by Tanner for standing still and just singing, instead of doing lots of “acting” in the modern style. But Calaf’s whole character is that of a would-be ultra-masculine tyrant. And tyrants instinctively exude power and strength, for instance by standing still in a very masculine chest-out pose, and singing very sonorously, rather than by doing lots of fidgety acting. It is their underlings and victims who do all the acting, by re-acting to people like Calaf.

However, it often happens that critics who denounce works of art in rather ridiculous ways nevertheless understand them very well, and often a lot better than the people who say that they like them. They absolutely get what the artist was doing. It’s just that they don’t happen to like it. I recommend Tanner’s piece as a way of understand how very different Calaf and Turandot are from their equivalents in, say, La Boheme.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

When what I think it is determines how ugly or beautiful I feel it to be

I am intrigued by how political opinions influence aesthetic feelings. Can you think that something is beautiful merely because it is the way that you think, in a political sort of way, that it ought to be? I say: yes.

I have been experiencing an illustration of this tendency recently. And the effect was thrown into sharp relief by the fact that I changed my idea of what the thing was, and that changed how I felt about it aesthetically. Although the thing itself hadn’t changed at all, I immediately found myself liking the look of it better. I had felt it to be ugly. Now, although I wouldn’t call this thing very beautiful, I don’t see it as ugly any more.

This is the thing that I had been regarding as ugly, It is to be seen across the road from Victoria Station:

The ugliness of it is in its non-symmetry, and in the utterly irrational and incoherent contrast between the rectangular block in the middle of it and the curvey bits on the top and at one end. Why would you make a thing looking like that?

The best way to see how ugly this thing is (or was), is to look at it from above. Here is the google satellite version:

But then what should have been obvious to me all along became obvious. The rectangular block wasn’t designed into the building we are looking at. It had been there all along. The curvey bits had merely been added to the rectangular block, at one end and on the top. This building wasn’t all one design. It was a doubling up of designs:

There you see a photo, which I took in 2009, of this thing while they were doing it. It doesn’t prove that it was done in two entirely distinct stages, of which this is merely the second stage, but it seems to suggest that. The new building activity seems to concern the curvey bits on the top. The scaffolding next to the rectangular bits looks much more like the kind of scaffolding you put up when you are merely revamping an already existing building. And that, I am almost sure, is what is happening there, to the rectangular bits.

What I now see when I look at this ungainly thing is that rather than it being a very ugly piece of one-off design, I now see it as a charmingly quaint urban agglomerative confluence of constrasting styles, such as London contains a hundred examples of, and hurrah for London. London itself, as a whole, is just such a multiple design confluence. Old meets new, and both live to tell the tale. Or in this case new meets newer. This weird-looking building is a two-off design, you might say. It is a two-off design, and it looks exactly the sort of way a two-off design ought to look.

If I am wrong about it being a two-off design and I learn that actually it was all designed at once, I’ll probably go back to thinking it ugly.

Here are some more pictures of it that I have taken since then, from various angles:

That picture, to my eye, makes it look downright beautiful. As does this next one, taken looking into the evening sun from the top of Westminster Cathedral, even more so:

But now, the plot thickens, or maybe that should be: the plot gets thinner, back to its original state.

My internet searching skills are very primitive. I have just had yet another go at finding out what this odd building is called, at any rate by those who own it or who are in the business of renting it out. And I have finally managed to learn that they call it “The Peak”. Heaven knows why. It doesn’t look like much of a peak.

Anyway, knowing this, I eventually found my way to this description of The Peak. And what do you know? (More precisely: What the hell do I know?) It would appear that this ungainly thing was what I had originally assumed it to be: a one-off design. The whole thing was built all in one go. So what had seemed obvious to me was not even true, let alone obvious.

The Sheppard Robson designed building adjoins the Apollo Theatre and replaces two existing structures. The Vauxhall Bridge Road and Wilton Road elevations incorporate robust Portland stone-clad columns and spandrels with intricately designed glass solar shading louvres between.

The louvres provide a dynamic visual effect to the building both during the day and at night. The prow of the building facing Victoria Street is curved, following the site boundary, and an arcade has been provided at street level to substantially increase the pavement width along one of the busiest pedestrian thoroughfares in central London.

So, what will I now feel about this building? Will I go back to feeling that it is ugly?

This will not be a decision. It will simply be a fact, which I will discover by introspection. How do I now feel? As of now: not sure. My mind may decide that, because it had, for a while, been deceived by this building, and dislike it more than ever before. But, I am starting to suspect that, having found beauty in this object, even though this finding was based on an error, my mind will be reluctant to surrender this happy feeling.

Incidentally, I have already posted here a photo of the roof of this building, and in particular of the crane that sprouts out of that roof to clean the windows. I’m talking about the last of the three photos in this posting.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Window cleaning cranes in Victoria

I find myself becoming ever more entertained by those cranes at the top of buildings, for cleaning windows. The ones that look like this:

Is it a crane? Is it roof clutter? It’s both!

The above photo was taken in March. And then, in April, this month, I took this next photo, because, although not by itself very significant, it really adds to the story being told above:

I did a bit of cropping on both these, to make them more identical, in all but the essential difference they illustrate.

For you see (which you now do), this particular window cleaning crane has the trick of disappearing into the (very visible) roof of its building like it’s not even there.

One moment: roof clutter, of the most obtrusive sort. Next thing you know: roof clutter gone.

There is another such window cleaning crane, very near to the above window cleaning crane, in fact just across the road from it, on the big ugly building with the curved roof, from which a window cleaning crane with a curved bit of roof on it occasionally emerges. And in February, I chanced upon this window cleaning crane in action:

From form emerges function. Function functions. Then function disappears back into form, like nothing had happened.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

My comment on the Six Nations so far

I am hopeless at drawing, as you can see.

But having been watching the Six Nations rugby tournament for the last few weeks, and having in particular been listening to the various television commentators, I feel the need to offer you all this attempt at a cartoon.

Anyone who wants to copy this, or indeed copy it and improve the graphics, is most welcome. I am surely not the first to have thought of this particular observation.

(There was a bit of fiddling about with the presentation of this, on account of my software not actually showing me exactly how a posting like this will look. Sorry about that.)

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

240 Blackfriars behind some reinforced concrete that is being demolished

I love the various visual effects you sometimes get when a piece of reinforced concrete is being destroyed and when it puts up a fight. I can’t say that it always does this, because you wouldn’t see anything when it is routed into oblivion in the space of a few hours, would you? But when it does fight for its life, it can be quite a sight. These effects are particularly worthy of being photographically immortalised because however long the fight lasts, it will still end, and pretty soon.

And, I find that the more I see of 240 Blackfriars, from near and from far, the more I like it.

So, here is today’s photo, taken today:

I took this while on my way from Waterloo to Tate Modern and its Extension viewing gallery, which I am visiting a lot these days, before the Let Them Get Net Curtains row causes the place to be closed or at least severely curtailed.

240 Blackfriars is the work, I have just learned, of Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, whom I have now started to learn more about. I never heard of them until now.

Preliminary findings: I think that 240 Blackfriars will probably turn out to be my favourite of their buildings so far. And: they make a lot of use of colour, which I favour, but which can often look very tacky and Seventies-ish if you don’t do it right.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Recent taxis with adverts photos

Yes, I’ve been continuing to photo taxis with adverts. Here are half a dozen of the most recent such snaps.

First up, further proof, if you need it, that the internet has not abolished television. People still like to be passively entertained, surprise surprise. But the internet is in the process of swallowing television, so that they end up being the same thing:

Next, become an accountant! Note how they include the word “taxi” in the advertised website, presumably to see whether advertising on taxis is worth it. Note to LSBF: I have no plans to become an accountant.

Note also the Big Things picture of London, something I always like to show pictures of here, and note also how out of date this picture is. No Cheesegrater, for a start:

Next up, a taxi advertising a book. I do not remember seeing this before, although I’m sure it has happened before:

Next, Discover America. I thought it already had been:

Visit a beach. I didn’t crop this photo at all, because I like how I tracked the taxi and its advert, and got the background all blurry, and I want you to see all that blurriness. Nice contrast between that and the bright colours of the advert. A little bit of summer in the grey old February of London:

Finally, a snap I took last night, in the Earls Court area. And now we’re back in the exciting world of accountancy, this time in the form of its Beautiful accounting software:

As you can see, it was pitch dark by the time I took this. But give my Lumix FZ200 even a sliver of artificial light and something solid to focus on, and it does okay, I think. A decade ago, that photo would have been an unusable mess.

I am finding that taxi advertising changes very fast these days. All of the above photos, apart from the one with the beaches, was of an advert I had not noticed before.

Which means that in future years, these taxi photos will have period value, because the adverts will have changed over and over again with the passing of only a handful of years.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog