Thursday, 27 July 2017

Praha všedního dne – Everyday Prague 1959

This is a selection of Prague photographs from the 1950s, published in 1959 with the title Praha všedního dne (Everyday Prague). Erich Einhorn (1928-2006) was the photographer and on this evidence, a highly accomplished and unusually observant practitioner. The images show a high level awareness of European, American and Soviet photo-traditions, plus an instinct for prowling the streets and seizing the moment. From 1955, Einhorn was employed as a photo-journalist on the newly founded newspaper, Večerní Praha which suggests the photos in this book were taken as part of, or alongside, his day-job. Elevated viewpoints alternate with street level shots. There’s an acute sensitivity to the potential of shadows as compositional elements and some straightforward Pictorialism, relieved by an eye for the incongruous. The layout of the book is carefully considered with pairings chosen for their complementary characteristics. Double page spreads are used sparingly but effectively. Einhorn’s other photobooks include travelogues (Prague Castle, Spas of West Bohemia) as well as additional urban studies of Prague and Moscow.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Past and Present No. 10: Henrichenburg Schiffshebewerk

This innovative boat lift on the Dortmund to Ems Canal was constructed in 1899. Connecting the inland port of Dortmund with the North Sea involved a change of levels in the Waltrop area – the lift eliminated the need for a long and slow series of locks. Kaiser Wilhelm performed the opening ceremony in August 1899 – commemorated by belligerent Prussian Eagles that glare down from the heights at both ends of the lift. The lift took just 2 minutes to raise or lower a vessel but the whole operation took 45 minutes. The average number of daily operations was 40. It was retired in 1962 when an electrically operated replacement was commissioned nearby. The abandoned lift remained in a derelict condition until 1995 when it was restored as part of the Ruhrgebiet Route Industriekultur – an ambitious programme of repurposing redundant industrial relics as heritage attractions.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Paris with Chocolat-Menier

A postcard trip around Paris with Chocolat-Menier, France’s best known chocolate brand. There’s a Menier-related feature smuggled into every example of these promotional items. It might be a poster, a delivery vehicle, an illuminated sign or a Morris column. The views are usually conventional tourist hotspots with an occasional diversion to lesser attractions such as the cattle market at La Villette or Place Daumesnil. They are hand-painted in a casual brushy style with a taste for dramatic weather effects and night skies. Over a hundred were issued in the series which expanded to include les Environs de Paris. For a description of a visit to the Usine Menier at Noisiel, please follow this link.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Once Upon a Time in Dortmund

Zeche Zollern is a carefully preserved industrial site to the north of Dortmund that has the distinction of being Europe’s only Art Nouveau/Jugendstil colliery. Stepping from the train at Dortmund-Bövinghausen, I myopically missed all the directional signage and set off in the wrong direction. My walk took me round all four sides of a large rectangle until arriving back where I started. This time the signs were unmistakeable and the rest of the journey, uneventful. Flags, bunting and banners announced my destination, which is more than I usually expect. And the sounds of fairground organs and steam engine whistles suggested an event was underway.

Inside the colliery site was a flurry of activity graced with top hats, fishnet tights, goggles, compasses and pocket watches. An ancient steam road roller and a brace of traction engines were on hand accompanied by the hiss of escaping steam. Stilt walkers and penny farthing cyclists meandered around the site. Recently returned big-game hunters, grouse-shooters and polar explorers mingled with the crowd. Dr. Marrax prepared to bamboozle his audience with a miracle cure – assisted by some mandrake root and assorted paraphernalia. Carousels were in full swing and the Flea Circus was open for business.

Steampunk is one of many minority cults that came into existence without me really noticing – to me it looks like a marriage between Gothic and High Victorian Heavy Engineering. It seems remarkably unthreatening and congenial and, to my knowledge, there are no records of Steampunk hate crimes or civil disorder. The choice of venue for a Steampunk gathering, titled “Once Upon a Time”, was perfect – no better place than a cluster of over-elaborate post-industrial relics.

Zeche Zollern was a prestige project from its inception in1898. Prominent Berlin architect, Bruno Möhring (1863-1929) was engaged and produced an opulent Jugendstil styled series of surface buildings. Most famously the Machine Hall with its stained glass entrance that originally included a Hector Guimard-style aedicule (now lost). The colliery was closed in 1966 and narrowly avoided demolition. Since then it has been extensively restored as a historic industrial relic and a site for cultural events. It was the industrial relic that attracted my interest and the Steampunk event was initially an unwanted distraction. My preference is for minimal human presence in my photographs but, bowing to the inevitable, I tried my hand at documentary photography with mixed results as seen here.