One fascinating aspect of photography is how it can graphically show how a place alters over time. Urban change used to seem an incremental thing but now an entire landscape can be altered with alarming speed. In the early 1980s I opened my first studio in a redeveloped area behind King’s Cross and St Pancras stations. The building was right next to the railway so I learned to coordinate the long exposures of the large format camera with the pauses between the departing 125 trains as they accelerated northwards shaking the entire building in their wake. Occasionally in my spare time I wandered around the area knowing that it was undergoing big changes, but nobody could imagine the massive redevelopment that has been taking place recently. I returned 30 years later to find that the distinctive Victorian gasometers, the narrow sooty cobbled streets, shabby industrial units and reputation for seediness is now wiped clean to make way for a flagship urban regeneration project.
My next post will show what these areas look like 30 years on.
See more of these images on the Alamy website at:
Florence has had a new and coloured spotlight directed upon it. Dan Brown’s new Robert Langdon adventure through history, art and literature is boosting worldwide book sales but is also set to boost tourism in the Renaissance city. Readers seem to have an insatiable appetite to visit real places associated with fictional events and perhaps sometimes have difficulty distinguishing between the two. “Inferno” takes its cue from Dante’s “Divine Comedy” and gives it the same treatment of science, riddles, codes and symbols use in “The Da Vinci Code” all using the powerful backdrop of Florence to flavour the tale.
Dante himself was exiled from the city and threatened with execution at a time of fourteenth century political intrigue. He exacted literary revenge on his enemies by banishing them to an eternity of ghastly torture in rings of his apocalyptic Inferno. Here on earth and in the centre of the Piazza Signoria, real torture and execution took place with great frequency, particularly in the fifteenth century. Members of the Templar plot were executed here and many of the Pazzi conspirators were summarily hanged from the windows of the Palazzo Vecchio in 1478. In 1497 Savonarola and his followers carried out the famous Bonfire of the Vanities only to be hanged and burned on the same spot the following year. But perhaps these events were too long ago to impinge on the visitor’s imagination whereas fictional events seem more immediate.
Lots of things in life are unexplainable and the camera is a unique tool with its forensic ability to record these mysteries while appearing to provide incontestable evidence of the world’s strangeness. It is certain that many of our familiar surroundings will be obliterated by time, but perhaps we imagine this will happen at some Doomsday moment in the far future. But this very spot no longer exists, well not physically anyway although the Kodachrome remains: it has been eroded by the waves and the wind just as certainly as the characters who were part of the miracle have disappeared from the stage. This area is thought to have been occupied since 10,000 BC, bison and mammoths might well have wandered here long before a port was established around 100 BC trading in Italian wine and regularly crossing the channel to Brittany. It has sometimes been referred to as the site of the earliest urban settlement in England and a wealth of artifacts that have been found around here testify to the protracted activity that Hengistbury Head has witnessed. But it is all slipping away and will eventually disappear, along with the footprints of the bison, the shards of amphorae, the tarmac of the car park; the place will cease to exist in its current form although perhaps its spirit will continue.
My photographs are increasingly representations of thoughts rather than simple reflections of the external world. This volume contains verbal rather than optical images but they remain nevertheless derived from the same way of seeing. Many of the poems follow a visual cue, usually an actual photograph or a memory that might well have been recorded as an image; sometimes I find the two indistinguishable. Others refer to a moment of recognition, seeing something ordinary or incongruous in a different light, a different version of what it is. Whether with a camera or a pen, this is often only revealed by the concentrated gaze and prolonged investigation.
The registration number is probably now giving proud exclusivity to a Lexus owner but in 1977 (long before the seat belt laws) it was just a hand painted tag on this family’s old pick-up as they transported unwanted domestic contents across Dorset. Mother got to sit in a comfy armchair with a commanding view of the slowly passing hedges while father and son kept a wary eye on the traffic accumulating behind them. Another one from the depths of the archive.
I have been known to photograph strange things in my life and if anyone had walked into the gents public lavatory in Bude, Cornwall, in November 1983, they might well have thought something very odd was afoot. Does this image betray its time ? I think it does and although it may not look too different now (I don’t know) I’m sure it still smells the same, it is probably adorned with a very different vocabulary of graffiti. Does it say anything of Thatcher’s Britain, our Britain and the land of skins, poor spelling, the National Front and others who so eruditely illuminated these walls ? Possibly not, but it does remind me of a period which was not the most uplifting.
Exactly 30 years ago this weekend I photographed the Good Friday procession during Holy Week in San Roque in southwest Spain and the scene was as passionate and devout as one could imagine. Nazarenos carried processional candles or rough-hewn wooden crosses to show penance and between them were carried images of the Virgin Mary showing grief for the torture and killing of her Son. Men and boys wore the sinister nazareno penitential robes consisting of a tunic and a hood with conical tip, a capirote, used to conceal the face of the wearer. Historically, the capirote was a simple cone that flagellants would use, but it was also used during capital punishment and indirectly inspired the sinister Ku Klux Klan hoods that followed much later. Surrounding them were beautiful women of all ages wearing the traditional black and all about in the warm spring air hung the curious mixed scents of incense, orange blossom and frying calamares. The memory lives on.
Right in the centre of Umbria, the ‘green heart of Italy‘ the beautiful cosmopolitan city of Perugia is known for many things, not the least being its two universities, its important cultural and artistic heritage and its internationally famous festivals for chocolate and music, particularly jazz. The town dates back to Etruscan times and beyond and its maze of medieval streets and its wealth of architecture are enduring testaments to the town’s long standing importance.
To read the full feature, visit Italian Talks, the definitive portrait of Italy.