Friday, 22 June 2018

Past and Present No. 12: Hamburg Hochbahn

The postcard is captioned – Hamburg, Hafen mit Hochbahn. It dates from 1905-10 and shows a train departing from Landungsbrücken station. Over a century later the details have changed but the topography is easily recognisable. I took the contemporary photo on June 6th. and got as close as possible to the viewpoint of the postcard. To enable a closer comparison, the photo had to be cropped, which all but eliminated the latest addition to Hamburg’s river frontage. The uncropped original shows the elevated railway follows the same path but the skyline is now dominated by the Elbphilharmonie, designed by Herzog and De Meuron and completed in 2017. It’s a remarkable building – the glass walled wedge with pointy roof has been constructed on top of a brick built warehouse dating from 1963. There’s a public observation deck at the point where the two elements meet – as well as fascinating views over the port, it offers the visitor a chance to wander through some of the strange interiors where rippling curtains of curving glass confuse the eye.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Lübeck Signage

Lübeck is a port city with an illustrious past as the capital of the Hanseatic League for over 200 years. Today’s city is about the size of Plymouth, although, unlike Plymouth, the city opted to rebuild and restore its architectural treasures destroyed or damaged in the Second World War. The result is a rich heritage of beautifully restored buildings in streets that offer superb perspectives. Although easy on the eye there is a lingering flavour of a museum piece about much of the city. It’s somehow reassuring to look upward and observe that many of the celebrated Brick Gothic stepped gables are one-dimensional stage sets, held in place by all too visible ties. I always look for shop signs – as a place where a business can assert its individuality – and Lübeck was better supplied than average. The selection displayed here is a mix of the traditional and the generic with an occasional eccentricity.

Thursday, 31 May 2018

The Edge of the World

Penzance has the feeling of a town on the edge of Britain. With only the Atlantic Ocean to the west, the Great Western Railway’s westward expansion came to an abrupt stop here. A well established local independent bookshop chose its name accordingly. When we visited in March, new shop premises were in preparation and shop-fitters were installing the final section of fascia panelling. Which made for a nice pair of photos and served as an encouraging sign of defying conventional wisdom which holds the days of local high street bookselling are all but over.

Monday, 30 April 2018

Au Téléphone

The invention of the telephone enhanced opportunities for romantic communication. Suitors could mumble words of endearment directly into the ears of their intended over great distances. But as we see here, the postcard retained its value as a medium for brief expressions of undying affection and co-opted the image of the telephone as a nod to new technology. These examples are all from France and, with a few exceptions, date from the first decade of the last century. They come saturated in the visual clichés of seduction – come-hither smiles, sprays of flowers and simpering expressions. The male participants struggle to disguise their baser instincts with vapid grins and intensive grooming (in the traditional sense) while the children, representing the end point of the fledgling romance, appear implausibly winsome. For the females, animating their features into submissive expressions of interest required rather less of an effort. It may all seem ridiculously naive and repressed in the age of Tinder but this was once a powerful platform for building relationships. It’s not uncommon to find 5 or 6 amorous postcards dispatched to the same recipient in just a few days – today that would be called stalking behaviour.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Snow on the Road

A North American winter is not to be taken lightly – weather bombs and snowmageddon are routine events. Especially in the North East and Midwest where massive snowfalls are reported every year with breathless excitement. Digging the driveway out of waist high snow was a common task, often shared with the family as shown here. These ads from 1930 to 1965 show Madison Avenue promoting the virtues of winter-proofed cars to an audience that needed no reminder of the perils of driving in snow and ice. Sporty associations were most favoured with the majority of cars pictured against a backdrop of winter sports – a ski resort is just about the last place where the affluent will be reminded of the existence of the lower orders. The merits of such refinements as triple-turbine transmission, a Super Jetfire Engine, a Vibra-Tuned Ride and swivel hipped handling are extolled in the text. For the reader with a strong stomach the final ad (Goodbye Mr Winter) is an egregious example of the art of the copywriter at its most long winded.