Friday, 30 October 2009

Kleindeutschland - Little Germany

According to Asa Briggs (in Victorian Cities) Bradford's 19th. century trading community was more cosmopolitan than Leeds and by 1861 there were 65 foreign worsted merchants active in the city. The majority were of German origin and between 1855 and 1890 they developed an area of substantial warehouses and office blocks that became known as Little Germany. A compact area of land on a steeply sloping site close to the Cathedral to the east of the city centre was chosen for its proximity to the city’s main railway stations. Many of the buildings, which typically have 4 or 5 storeys, were designed by local architect, Eli Milnes (1830-1899). 85 of the original buildings survive, of which 55 are now listed. The entire district has been regenerated over the last decade with cleaning and restoration of all the major buildings. The density and mass of the development combined with the sloping site and the modified grid plan make for some interesting perspectives. There is a coherence about the layout and a consistency of scale and design details that give a Germanic feel to the district, despite being mostly designed by Yorkshire architects. Overcast and wet conditions contributed to the quality of the experience and the soft uniform light disclosed many details that on a sunny day would be concealed by shadows.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Along the Right-of-Way

In the September 1950 issue of Fortune magazine, Walker Evans published a portfolio of seven photographs (of which 4 were in colour) taken through the window of a moving train, under the title, Along the Right-of-Way. It’s a classic example of the extent to which Evans was permitted to explore his personal projects in the pages of America’s foremost business magazine. To view the Evans photo-essay, please follow this link to the Visual Telling of Stories. Evans was fascinated by the uncomposed and arbitrary images that resulted. The railroad tracks carved a channel through a largely unseen and unrecorded American vernacular. The mixture of banality and squalor was inspirational to Evans.

These photos were taken last week from a TGV en-route from Milan to Paris and form a modest tribute to Evans. The train emerges from the Tunnel de Fréjus in the French town of Modane and passes through some sublime Alpine scenery glimpsed through a rich variety of line-side clutter. The foreground is littered with signal gantries, overhead cable supports, footbridges and security fencing that passes for the most part in a motion blur. The middle ground consists of freight sidings, small factories, scrap-yards, cement works, car parks, auto-routes and re-cycling facilities all framed by the geologic splendour of the mountainous backdrop. Another layer of interest is supplied by the reflected light from within the train superimposed on the landscape view. The resulting images gain their narrative power from the random and artless quality of composition.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Past and Present: Le Cirque d’Hiver

Two views of the Cirque d’Hiver as seen from the rue des Filles du Calvaire outside the Métro station of the same name. The circus has been operated from October to March by the Bouglione family since 1934. The building appears little changed in the years since it was constructed in 1852, although a comparison with a photo taken in 2004 (click here to see) suggests an external makeover in recent times. It has been claimed that Seurat’s last great painting (Cirque, 1890-91) was based on Cirque d’Hiver but there is no critical agreement on this point with most authorities favouring the Cirque Médrano at the junction of bd. Rochechouart and rue des Martyrs as the initial inspiration.