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Touring Britain bit by bit with a pair of boots, a few bicycles, a lot of trains and a bag of lenses. I take pictures and then I write about them.

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Thu, 2 Sep 2010

Location: Arno's Vale Cemetery

Arno's Vale

In the 1830s, on the eve of the Victorian era and with maturing industrial and agricultural revolutions and a growing empire, Britain's urban population was booming. Around the country people were leaving the land for the historic port cities and industrial new towns; the mills and potteries and mines. And they kept dying, as people do. The old parish churchyards, designed for small and low density settlements, and already with several centuries beneath them, were overflowing. Literally: new burials were taking the plots of old; burials were stacking up; decaying flesh was somehow ending up in the water system, and diseases were spreading. In 1832, parliament passed laws to legalise encourage private cemeteries; not small churchyard burial grounds, next to people's houses and shops and wells, but great out-of-town parks. In London, the magnificent seven most famously Highgate Cemetery were created.

Angel

In Bristol, the population had doubled in the three decades since the turn of the century. Its dead suffering from the same issue of post mortem accommodation as those of every city, a shareholder company was formed in 1837 to establish the park cemetery at Arno's Vale, on the Bath Road, two miles south-east the city centre and on the then outskirts of the city. The gently sloping site was landscaped in the Arcadian style, with neo-classical mortuary chapels and entrance lodge by local architect Charles Underwood, and the first burials were made in 1839.

Tomb of Ram Mohan Roy

Nine years earlier, the Indian writer and reformist Raja Ram Mohan Roy had come to Britain as an ambassador from the Mughal Emperor. A lifelong campaigner against sati, the Hindu tradition of widows immolating themselves on their husbands' funeral pyres, Roy was seeking to influence British lawmakers who had the power to uphold or overthrow the Bengal governor's decree of 1829 outlawing the practice. He died of meningitis in Stapleton, then a village just beyond the northern limits of Bristol, where he was buried. Supporters and admirers felt that his basic resting place was suitable for such a great man, and in 1843 was moved to the new cemetery at Arno's Vale and reinterred in a Bengali-style "chatta" tomb, one of the most impressive and unique of the cemetery's listed monuments.

Arno's Vale

In total there are 25 Grade II* listed monuments statues, obelisks, mausolea, and war memorials alongside the four Grade II* listed buildings. A driveway leads between two entrance lodges, sweeps past the doric non-conformist chapel, past rows of obelisks and statues and up to the grand corinthian-style Anglican chapel, set on a rise to one side. Then, behind the grand buildings and monuments, paths wind away up through trees and denser fields of more modest memorials. And these densely filled plots were almost Arno's Vale's downfall: it got full, and at exactly the wrong moment.

Trees

In the mid-1980s, at the height of Thatcher's societyless Britain, plots were running low at Arno's Vale, and business was drying up. Still an independent company, the owners needed to make some efficiency savings, and downsize their workforce: the gravediggers and gardeners had no place left in this business. The cemetery began to be taken over by nature, and by vandals. But the owners did have a good idea for saving the company. They noticed that, while the burial trade was looking down for them, they did happen to have a valuable asset: 45 acres of almost pristine development site on a main road and only a mile from the main railway station. Attempts to build on the site were blocked with the help of campaign groups, but the buildings and monuments continued to decline until the owners finally packed in the business and locked up in 1998. Even, so they didn't let their assets go without a fight when the city council put in a compulsory purchase order for the neglected land and its crumbling listed buildings. Arno's Vale finally became public property in 2003. These pictures were taken in 2006, not long after the peak of the cemetery's gothic phase, when the buildings were boarded and monuments overgrown. Some vegetation clearance had already begun at this point, but most of the restoration work had yet to begin. Since then, all of the buildings have been repaired and reopened.

Arno's Vale

More pictures of Arno's Vale can be found in this gallery.


[Tag] Tags: arnos vale, bristol, cemeteries, gothic, photo essays, uk, urban decay, urban, westcountry


Sun, 4 Jul 2010

Victory Flashmob

Flashmob

The terrorists photographers gathered at New Scotland Yard today for a victory flashmob. (Not a protest those require a permission slip from the authorities these days.) They stood around outside (ironically, just in the shade, where it was difficult to get a nicely lit shot), talking and laughing, and intimidating the police with their threatening lenses. They were gloating.

Flashmob

Because on wednesday, the European Court of Human Rights refused the UK's application to appeal their finding in Gillan and Quinton v. UK, making binding the finding that anti-terrorism stop-and-search violates the right to respect for private life guaranteed by the Convention on Human Rights. A succession of home secretaries and police throughout the ranks have been complicit in systematic intimidation, invasion of privacy, and the hindrance of thousands of people going about their jobs and hobbies and daily life.

Flashmob

The government has been found guilty of great evil: a creepy authoritarian disregard for human rights and individual privacy. And now they have to stop being evil, and we can all move on. But lets not forget in all of this that they have also been guilty of great stupidity: the stubborn pursuit of absurd policies in the face of all evidence and reason. Five years ago on wednesday, real terrorists killed 56 people in this city. And in response to such a serious and real threat the government and police have been pursuing the ludicrous policy of harassing the likes of street photographers. That's stupid and evil.

Flashmob

(Pictures taken with the Sigma 10-20; edited with some difficulty in RawStudio and gIMP on my slow 2 yr old netbook, because I haven't gotten round to replacing the broken motherboard in the desktop.)


[Tag] Tags: bad policies, events, london, new scotland yard, photographer not a terrorist, photography, politics, protests, sigma1020, stop and search, uk, westminster


Mon, 14 Jun 2010

Grant Museum to close

chimp!

amphibians! snake!
fish! Australopithecus
Neanderthal snakes!

Matt Brown reports that the awesome Grant Museum of Zoology is to close on July 1st. The Grant Museum is a hidden gem. It's tiny, and shoved away somewhere deep within the labyrinths of UCL, between Totenham Court Road and Gower Street, near Goodge St tube. There are no signs. You might need a guide to find it.

But it's a fabulously old fashioned bit of academic natural history. Victorian, even. Skeletons and pickled specimens in huge old jars on tightly packed shelves. There's charismatic macrofauna stuffed into this small room, surrounded by smaller specimens, from the every-day to the long extinct. There's Thomas Henry Huxley's Tasmanian Tiger specimen, brutally hacked to pieces and stuffed in a small jar on a bottom shelf.

And it has the perfect light. A few small windows, partially obscured by the dense collections, and some old fashioned small, warm, bulbs.

The Grant Museum will reopen next year. But it will be in new, modern, enlarged premises. It's an active academic workspace; teaching and research require this progress. But it will be a shame if its unique charm is lost along the way. Catch it while you can -- weekday afternoons, 1-5pm, free entry, if you can find it.


[Tag] Tags: animals, grant museum of zoology, london, museums, uk


Sun, 13 Jun 2010

Law In Action: Owning Your Image

In this week's Law In Action, Joshua Rozenberg looks at an assortment of issues around the law and photography -- starting with the issue of interference in citizens' rights to pursue their hobby of street photography without harassment. The opening sequence is of Rozenberg and Grant Smith (of getting arrested fame) getting hassled by a building manager who confidently tells them that they can't photograph her building without permission (clarifying, "you can't film inside this building", prompting the wonderful reply, "oh, am I inside your building, then?"), and that they wouldn't be able to photograph the street without clearing the data protection requirements.

My own office's manager signs off every email (invariably marked "Urgent", and with "Urgent" in the all-caps subject line -- "Urgent: The south toilets are closed for maintenance, please use the north toilets"; "Urgent: Please don't leave tea-spoons in the sink"...) with her name and letters -- the impressive title of "Member of the British Institute of Facilities Managers". The Institute's website offers courses in facilities management. I guess office managers can learn how to confidently and intimidatingly bullshit about the law; how to confidently project an absurdly inflated sense of the importance of their role; and how to confidently look busy with all kinds of invented official business.

Why do so many office managers think it's acceptable to make up absurd lies that not only insultingly insinuate that practitioners of another profession are too incompetent to discover and understand what the law says about their profession, but lies that also lead them to incorrectly accuse those professionals of acting illegally? Those are pretty serious insults, and pretty serious allegations. Why do office managers think it's part of their role to go around making them? Why do they think it's useful to anybody that they tell these lies? And why do they think that an acceptable response to being challenged and educated about how these are lies is to call in the police?

Because the police are still telling them that it's useful for them to do so. And they still haven't provided the slightest credible evidence to support that position. The police are actively encouraging office managers to waste police time. To waste time and public money that could be spent keeping London's streets safe from criminals and terrorists.

The programme moves on to discuss the use of photography and filming in surveillance. Do listen again, while you can -- link expires Thursday. Grant Smith's photos from his encounter are here.


[Tag] Tags: bad policies, grant smith, jobsworths, law, london, media, office managers, photographer not a terrorist, photography, police, politics, radio 4, reviews, stop and search


Sun, 13 Jun 2010

Location: Moel-y-gest

There's a hill at Portmadog behind the Black Rock Sands, a moel, Moel-y-gest.

Black Rock Sands

A 200 metre grey and green granite lump.

Moel-y-gest

Paths weave through the lower slopes, past the grazing sheep and dairy cows.

Moel-y-gest

Converging, often merging into the heather and bracken, meandering through the rocky plug of the peak.

Moel-y-gest

Where you can finally stop for a rest on the iron age fort, above the estuary of the Afon Glaslyn.

Moel-y-gest

Look back.

Black Rock Sands

Peer down on Tremadog.

Tremadog

As the sun dips behind the true mountains of Snowdonia.

mountain!

And the evening clouds roll over the rippling ridge of Lleyn Peninsula and disperse out over the Irish Sea.

Lleyn

And the long summer grass shivers in the dying light.


[Tag] Tags: moel-y-gest, mountains, portmadog, rural, snowdonia, uk, wales


Thu, 10 Jun 2010

Location: Millennium Bridge

Ten years ago today, a new bridge across the Thames was opened in central London, between St Paul's Cathedral in The City and the recently opened Tate Modern and Globe Theatre attractions in Southwark's Bankside.

Millennium Bridge

The media loved it: another public project that perfectly fit their millennium story, the story of hugely expensive and over-budget government initiated construction projects providing absurd and unloved attractions. Like the Dome, or the "Millennium Wheel". Do you remember the ridiculed and ridiculous Millennium Wheel? Who thought a giant ferris wheel opposite parliament would be a good idea?

Millennium Bridge

After the big tent and the crazy carnival ride, the press thought they'd seen it all. And then, six months later, The Wobbly Bridge was opened, over-budget -- of course -- and late. And, due to an engineering oversight, the bridge rocked. The 100,000 people per day walking upon it caused synchronous lateral excitation: people stepped, the bridge swayed in time to the steps, the people stepped in time to the sways, the bridge swayed further. So two days later, the bridge closed again. It was two years before the problem was fully fixed.

Millennium Bridge

But none of the millennium projects ever did quite fit the farce invented by the newspapers. They succeeded in dampening enthusiasm somewhat for the Dome; but the ferris wheel proved so popular that it became it a permanent fixture, running near capacity every day for ten years. The bridge had its construction issues, but the story was quite the opposite of the badly managed public works project bailed out by the taxpayer: the bridge is built and maintained by Bridge House Trust -- the 700 year old owner of Thames Bridges that has so much investment income that it can afford to fulfil its charter of maintaining London river crossings while building new ones and giving away a surplus to charity.

Millennium Bridge

And the bridge has been a huge success with locals and tourists alike, perfectly placed between attractions, but also a convenient route between the transport hubs of the south bank and the employment hubs of the City. During rush hours it is saturated; tides flood across, several thousand people at a time. And its unique design has been a success: designed to keep a low profile and leave a clear view of the cathedral and the skyline, the short stocky concrete pillars and the gentle steel curves that cradle the deck are much loved.

Millennium Bridge

But the most important and most loved feature of the bridge -- another feature that was unique at the time that it opened -- is that it is a pedestrian-only bridge. The Millennium Bridge represents a wider welcome improvement in the central London environment: a fight back against the anti-social practice of bringing cars into the centre of the city, the reclaiming of street space for people, and generally making it easier and more pleasant for people to get around and to enjoy the city -- especially along the river. It's a job that is very far from being complete, but after the Millennium Bridge opened, the twin pedestrian Jubilee bridges were constructed between Embankment and the South Bank Centre; and there has been massive expansion to the riverside paths. Progress seems to have been slowing lately. It seems like a good time to remind people what a difference the Millennium Bridge made, and how much still needs to be done to fix the streets of central London.

Millennium Bridge

Where and when to shoot it? The obvious spot is on the south side, looking to St Paul's. The bridge deck divides at the south side, such that you can shoot the bridge deck and pedestrians, but also the river and piers beneath at the same time. You will notice that Sir Christopher Wren made a mistake in designing St Paul's: because it is not built perfectly perpendicular to the bridge, when one lines up the shot for symmetry, one finds that the dome of the cathedral appears slightly to the left of centre, rather than appearing exactly above the bridge piers. Other good spots to shoot are from the beaches on either bank at low tide, and also from the top of St Paul's, if you can get in sufficiently early in the morning or late in the afternoon to prevent shooting directly into the sun. The cafe balcony in Tate Modern also looks down on the bridge. The view from Southwark Bridge rarely makes exciting photos. Shooting on the bridge itself would be difficult during the weekday rush hours.

Millennium Bridge

[Tag] Tags: architecture, bridges, london, millennium bridge, photo essays, river thames, structures, uk, urban


Mon, 31 May 2010

This is Cincinnati

Mill Creek Valley

You've probably heard the name, but unless you're American, you won't really know where it is. It's in Ohio, the Mid-West, but it spills out into Kentucky and Indiana. It's where the Rust Belt meets the Bible Belt to the south, and the Prairies of the West. A city of two million sprawled over an area the size of London.

Danger! Pool Closed

I lived there, for a year, nearly five years ago. While I was there, I wanted to find out what the city was like, to document it through photography. I didn't set out to tell this specific story. I didn't seek out these specific places. They mostly found me, and right from the start. Still jetlagged, we walked up our street, West Clifton Avenue. It was the second day of August, not long after 8am, the heatwave had already set in for the day, and the senses were largely overpowered by the uncollected garbage. Pausing for water at the Starbucks at the top of the hill, two men with shotguns held up the savings-and-loans opposite, before being chased by a pistol-wielding cop down our street. Down the path we had been walking five minutes earlier.

Cincinnati Cincinnati

That was our neighbourhood, Clifton Heights. Somebody had put a lot of effort into it, once, laying out streets around the hillside, with parks on promontories overlooking the city. People had bought their own plots and filled them with huge three-story homes, each one unique, a mashup of American, German, and Italian architectural styles. That was a hundred years ago, though. Now the houses crumbled, the sidewalks cracked. People had paved over the gardens with parking lots, but now those were cracked and crumbling too, often pleasantly overgrown.

Cincinnati

Nobody cared for the neighbourhood by now. Not the students, whose near futures they knew did not belong there; or their neighbours, whose crack-den might get picked on, packed up, and moved on next time the mayor or police chief was under pressure to look busy. Not the Mexicans in the corner shop, who just wanted to blend in and not be noticed. Not the crazy people, the shell-shocked and schizophrenic, who wandered the streets unsupervised, day and night, stealing from the Mexicans, and sleeping in the doorway of the Catholic church, where the wind raced down the empty rubble-strewn plots along Calhoun and McMillan. This was a third-world neighbourhood, now; a neighbourhood that people didn't have time to care for, because it was already enough work just to survive. And everywhere there were third world neighbourhoods.

Smokestacks spewing black smoke...

This was a third-world city, a city full of crime and poverty, dereliction and shanty towns, houses not fit for habitation. Streets that looked like the poorer parts of South America and industry that looked like the decline of the Soviet Union. And its most starkly third-world feature of all was its corrupt, dysfunctional, divided, and deeply racist police force. In 2001, Cincinnati Police shot and killed 19 year old Timothy Thomas, father of a one-year old. Sorry, Police shot one unarmed black male. Sparking what were, at the time that I was there, America's most recent race riots.

Cincinnati

Cincinnati was a town of casual conversational racism and deadly daily racism. Each morning the newspaper reported on what the black male was up to. The police department erected memorials to their fallen in the war with the black male. It was normal to talk that way.

And it was a third-world city where the minimum wage was $2.80. an hour.

There were signs of the developed world, though. Shining high-rise office blocks downtown and shining high-tech laboratories in the hills; expensive hospitals, and most of all, expensive cars.

Cincinnati Cincinnati

Cincinnati is a third-world city because five great interstate freeways cut through its historic neighbourhoods to converge on the heart of the city, allowing its first-world residents to flee from any sign of poverty and decay out to shining white houses scattered in gated "communities" amongst the forests and farms and shopping malls, thirty miles from the bearded sixty-something black male who would shout and slur and stumble at them in the street, smashing bottles on the sidewalk; from the forty-something threadbare-suited black male who would stop them to beg for money, tell a half-plausible story claiming to be a pastor, a refugee from New Orleans; from the eighteen-year old black male who would punch them in the face for a dollar. The inhabitants of the first world don't need to see the crumbling houses, cracked side-walks, or corrupt police; the scruffy cinderblock churches that take the little money that communities have, the silent ivy-covered factories, the guy with the hot shotgun and bag of cash, fleeing the cops through the children's playground.

Cincinnati

From nine to five, Cincinnati pretends to be a first-world city, paying first-world wages and providing first-world services with a first-world infrastructure. When there's a ball-game on, the first-world rolls into downtown Cincinnati and hands over ten dollars a head. Downtown Cincinnati is an enclave of first-world skyscrapers and stadia, whose first-world workforce drive their trucks down first-world freeways, past the third-world neighbourhoods; third-world neighbourhoods that they can't see, that aren't their fault, aren't their problem anymore.

The car gave middle-class Americans the freedom to travel, to go where they want, to live wherever they like. The freedom to organise themselves, to segregate themselves, to flee to the suburbs and forget the problems of the aging city.

Cincinnati
Cincinnati Cincinnati Cincinnati Cincinnati Cincinnati
Cincinnati Cincinnati Cincinnati Cincinnati Cincinnati
Cincinnati Cincinnati Cincinnati Cincinnati Cincinnati

[Tag] Tags: abandoned, cincinnati, derelict, midwest, not the uk, ohio, photo essays, poverty, urban decay, urban, usa


Sun, 16 May 2010

15 May, 2004

I bought a cheap digital camera. The cheapest compact digital camera a first year student loan could buy. Must have been September 2003. I felt guilty at having spent over sixty pounds on a single luxury item, and even more at the schoolboy error of throwing out all of the packaging, receipt and warranty only for the screen to stop working by Christmas. So I told people that I'd bought it that way, second hand, for next to nothing. That made things seem better. Covering up the crime.

It was fine without the screen. That just meant that when the batteries ran out there was no way to re-set the date and time, or adjust the settings from the obviously sensible default of 1MP to the excitingly extravagant 3MP maximum. It still happily took appalling pictures of harshly lit and unflatteringly inebriated students around kitchen tables laid out with the cheapest bottles of own-brand vodka at parties that seemed fun at the time. What more did anyone need?

So one friday night in May, after weeks of ever later starts and ever later stops, and a few too many drinks mixed with red bull, something strange happened. Something that had never happened to a student before. The sun rose.

Bristol Bridge

It rose over the Bristol Bridge, where we would feed the ducks outside the halls of residence.

St Peter's Church

Over the bombed shell of St Peter's Church, in a once before the war bustling Bristol city centre. Now a scruffy corner of grass and seventies low-rise offices.

Castle Park

And the old Courage Brewery, since demolished.

Bristol Harbour

Where the floating harbour meanders around through the Castle Park.

St Peter's Church Valentine's Bridge

Over Valentine's Bridge.

Morning Train

And the first train from London.

And I started taking pictures of all the places all around. And didn't stop. Even though that cheap compact camera did, just two months later, before it had even passed its warranty.

More photos from 15 May 2004 in this flickr set.

Continue reading under the fold...


[Tag] Tags: bristol harbour, bristol, photo essays, photography, sunrise, uk, urban, westcountry


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