There has been lots of photo-reminiscing here lately, so here are some photos I took much more recently. Well, in May of this year anyway:
Yes, it’s the lion at the South Bank end of Westminster Bridge.
This South Bank Lion has quite a history, the strangest thing being that it used to be red. I was going to show you the “photo” of the lion when it was red that I found
here, until I realised it was faked with Photoshop. But that link is worth following.
The lion hasn’t always perched on the bridge. His first home was on top of the Lion Brewery, a booze factory once based on a site now occupied by the Royal Festival Hall.
I bet the brewery would have made a better concert hall than the accursed RFH.
This photo, on the other hand, of the lion with men and scaffolding is genuine:
The photograph above was kindly shared by Nick Redman of London Photos, whose grandfather (second on the left) was one of the scaffolders who helped move the lion from the soon-to-be-demolished brewery.
I can still remember the Great Leap Forward that the Panasonic Lumix FZ150 “bridge” camera was. For me if not for all of photoer-kind. For me, the best “bridge camera” I could have was my perfect camera. Tons of zoom, but no faffing about with different lenses to at once capture whatever sscene presented itself to me, near or far.
I went rootling through the photo-archives looking for some early photos I photoed with this wondrous new contrivance, looking at the first photo-expeditions I embarked upon, along the River, to the Victoria Docks, or just to Westminster Abbey and Bridge, to photo my fellow photoers, to pick out some photos that brought back the shock of pleasurable surprise I had when I first got my hands on it.
But then I realised I was looking in the wrong place. What I needed to see were not merely some “early” photos, photoed days or even weeks after I got this super-camera. What I wanted to see were the absolute first photos I took with this camera, on January 26th 2012.
And the very first one of all was this:
That scene, of my kitchen window and surroundings as seen from my swivel chair around which most of my life revolves, if you get my meaning. (It’s the chair that does the actual revolving.) I am happy to report that the big grey Thing, bottom left, which was for making ice, has been replaced by a slightly bigger black box, which also makes ice, and also looks after food of many other sorts, including in particular ice cream. Otherwise, nothing has changed.
On each side of the window are CD shelves, and the next few photos I photoed were all close-ups of CDs, edge on:
That was when it hit me, and I believe I can still remember this glorious moment. This was the camera I had been waiting for, all my life. The key point was not just that these were successful photos of distant details. I can tell from the numbering of these photos in the archive that there were no failures. None. All of my first dozen or so photos with this new camera came out fine, even the one of my pop music department, which was where it still is, way off to the left and way up near the ceiling.
Only the following day did I photo anything beyond my front door.
The first outdoor photo I photoed with my new FZ150 was this, dated January 27th, i.e. the following day, just before it got dark:
That’s looking across Vincent Square at the building activity in and around Victoria Street, which has been pretty much continuous, one place or another, for the last decade. Mmmmmm, cranes.
Since then, I have upgraded to the Panasonic Lumix FZ200 and then to the FZ330. But they are both really just the FZ150 with frills added. If my current camera, the FZ330 were to be snatched away from me, and I was given another FZ150 and told that this would be my last camera, I’d not be that bothered. Were I told that I would have to go back to the crappy camera I had before the FZ150, that would be a disaster. Soon after acquiring this FZ150, I wrote about it at some length for Samizdata. This confirms what, up until re-reading that, I had merely remembered. The FZ150 really was a huge step forward.
Hurrah for capitalism. It really is ridiculous that the world’s schools are now cranking out a whole new generation of nitwits, an appallingly significant proportion of whom seem genuinely to want to put a stop to this glorious process.
Every month for as long as I can remember, I’ve been buying paper copies of Gramophone and the BBC Music Magazine, “Music” being how the BBC refers to classical music.
All over my home, these magazines have accumulated in shelves and in heaps:
I haven’t had these magazines on order, because I don’t trust my neighbours not to let in burglars through the front door we all share, and because I like the exercise of actually walking to a shop and buying these magazines.
Which means that during the recent Plague, I’ve not been getting either of these magazines. The shops where I would have bought them have all been closed.
One of the many changes I am now contemplating in my life is: Not resuming buying these magazines. Are many people now contemplating a similar decision with regard to these or other such printed publications? Surely, they are. Are many people contemplating buying printed publications they do not now buy? I doubt this very much.
If “normal” ever returns, it will, for most of us, in big ways and in small ways, be a different normal, not least among those who publish the magazines like the ones in my photo. It’s not just the obvious ways in which we will remain nervous of the Plague returning, though that will definitely happen also. It’s that by being jolted into doing this for the first time, and not doing that any more, we are all now shedding old habits and being pushed towards acquiring different habits. I try to resist generalisations involving words like “we all now …”, but I really do think that the above generalisations are largely right. (You need only look at the recent numbers for postings here per month at this blog, on the left, to see this kind of thing happening to me and maybe therefore also for you.)
So, habits are being dropped, and acquired. And, are you, like me, and provoked by the above experiences, going beneath and beyond such changes of habit, and asking yourself: What other habits should I now decide to shed, and decide to acquire?
After all, and especially for the likes of me, life has just got shorter.
So I open up Guido Fawkes to see what political bullshit is happening (that posting being an example of Guido at his considerable best) and top right, there’s an advert for something along the lines of (it’s gone now so I cannot be exact) “3D renderings of 2D architectural plans”. Having long wondered about who does all those fake-photos, like the ones that I like to stick up here from time to time, such as the ones in this earlier posting here about a possible new City of London concert hall. (I wonder how that’s coming along.) So, I click on the advert, and find my way to Rendaro.
Here is a fake-photo example of their work:
What I would really like (Google?) would be an advert by an enterprise which which 3D prints 3D models from 2D architectural plans, and better still, somewhere I could go and take a personal look at such 3D models. And where I could photo them.
But meanwhile, these fake-photos are a fascinating fact about modern life, and especially modern architectural life. They mean that both architects and designers can see what they are cooking up even as they do their cooking (the design equivalent of sticking your finger in the stew and sucking it), and all manner of onlookers can look over the shoulders of the designers, and also see what’s being cooked up. People like me can see London’s Big Things coming, years before they’re actually built, while still having time for a life doing other things besides.
However, the very ease with which these 3D renderings can be churned out has the paradoxical consequence that, unless you are paying very careful attention (that is, unless paying such attention is your full-time (see above) job) you can never be sure what will actually end up getting built. I, for instance, constantly image-google for some London Big Thing that I happen to hear about which is in the planning permission pipeline, and I immediately get half a dozen different visual versions of it, each recording a particular stage that the design went through while they were trying to get decide what they wanted and then trying to get permission for it from the politicians.
Which means, strangely, that the only way that you can be sure how a new London Big Thing will actually end up looking is to go there and actually look at it when they’re actually building it, and see if there are any fake-photos of what they’re actually doing on the outside of the actual fence around the actual site. Failing that, you just have to wait and see. See, that is, the actual Thing itself.
Regulars here will know that I love to photo signs and notices. So evocative. So precise for defining a time, a place, a mood, or an official attitude. And never more so than right now:
Those are some signs I photoed yesterday, inside the entrance to Oval tube, and on the side of a bus. Right now, such verbals are commonplace. Soon, we must all hope, they’ll become an impossibly weird reminder of an impossibly weird time.
Here are three more that I photoed in April, of signs in shops windows:
On the left, the bog standard sign that happened in nearly every shop. We’re shut for the duration. Sorry. In the middle, the regular signage at the front of my local chemist, and on the door, a scrimmage of irregular signage, concerning this and that. And on the right, one of the signs saying: We’re still open. Come in. Buy stuff.
Finally, one of my favourites, from way back in March at the Wigmore Hall, at one of the last public events I attended, a performance of all the Beethoven String Trios, as I recall. Superb. We were up in the socially distanced seats at the top and back of the hall. Normally the Wigmore would have been packed out for a show like this, but this time, there were empty seats. If we’d known then blah blah, we’d surely not have gone.
They don’t allow photoing of performances, but at the beginning and at the end, you can photo away, so I photoed this, at the beginning:
And we obeyed. My impression, as I recall it, was that there was actually less coughing than usual.
A great souvenir sign, from pretty much the exact moment when it all suddenly kicked off and got serious.
Just over a year ago, in May of 2019, I was making my way from South Kensington Tube, up Exhibition Road past Imperial College, to the Royal College of Music, there to witness a performance which involved GodDaughter2. While making this journey, I encountered this strange creature:
I wonder what that was, I thought to myself from that moment on. Then, while rootling through the photo-archives, as I do, I encountered this taxi-with-advert photo, which seemed to feature the above creature:
Now I had some words to work with, so googling went from difficult to easy, and I began to learn about the One-Eyed Creature. He is one of the stars of a juvenile movie franchise, involving such things as One-Eyed Creatures, but also similar but Two-Eyed Creatures. Despicable Me. Also Despicable Me 2. At around that time, Despicable Me 3 was being plugged. Also there is a Bean Boozled connection, involving some sort of toy. Now that I know I could understand all this, I no longer feel any need actually to do this. How do I feel about having once cared? Despicable Me, that’s how.
I think a symptom of getting old is that you see more and more things that baffle you, and you don’t like the feeling. It’s not that we Oldies really do care about knowing trivia like this. What we care about is not knowing.
Soon after photoing this One-Eyed Creature, I photoed this couple:
I don’t feel quite so Despicable for being entertained by these two, but I still do somewhat. I found a few mentions of them on The Internet, in connection with Halloween. But this was May, so, no reason for them to be out and about in South Kensington. But then again, no reason for them not to be.
That’s Photo thirty-five in the top fifty architectural photos that were competing for this prize. It’s Eltz Castle and it’s actually not a nineteenth century rehash, done by that bloke who paid Wagner’s bills, however much it may look like that. (Blog and learn.)
Whatever. We need more of the spirit of King Ludwig II of Bavaria. Why can’t there be more edifices of this sort built, now? Why can’t most of us get at least some of the architecture we like, now? What’s the big problem?
Maybe these guys could do it. They seem perfectly willing to do either Ancientism or Modernism, depending only on who the customer is. Now there’s an idea.
The winning photo out of those fifty was a photo of a bridge I have already written about here, making points not dissimilar to those I make in this posting.
I’ve been dipping into Howard Goodall’s Big Bangs, which is a book (based on a BBC TV show), whose subtitle is “The Story of Five Discoveries That Changed Musical History”. I have started at the end, with Bang Number Five, which was when Edison recorded sound. Here’s what Goodall says about the impact of the nascent sound recording industry on the life and career of Enrico Caruso (pp. 218-220):
Enrico Caruso was one of seven children born to a working-class Neapolitan family living in the Via San Giovanello. He received his first singing instruction as a choirboy in a local church, and as a teenager he made a few lire every night singing favourite Neapolitan songs for the cafe customers on the harbour waterfront. He began work in a factory, but eventually he was able to turn professional with his outstanding voice. After a shaky debut in Naples – he vowed never to perform there again – he was invited to sing at the holiest of all opera’s shrines, La Scala, Milan. It was here in March 1902 that Fred Gaisberg, the Gramophone Company’s European representative, heard Caruso performing in Franchetti’s popular opera Germania. Gaisberg offered the young unknown a deal to record ten arias for £100; Caruso duly accepted the offer, to the horror of Gaisberg’s London office, which tried to forbid the spending of ‘this exorbitant sum’. Gaisberg, however, backed his hunch, using his own money. That April, in Suite 301 in the Grand Hotel, Milan, the ten records were cut, beginning with ‘Studenti, Udite’ from Germania. Gaisberg went on to recoup his investment thousands of times over – and the records earned his company a fortune.
Most of the ten masters made on that occasion remain in perfect condition to this day. After their release, Caruso’s fame spread dramatically throughout Europe and America. He made two recordings, in 1902 and 1907, of the aria ‘Vesti la giubba’, from Leoncavallo’s opera I Pagliacci, which between them sold over a million copies. I Pagliacci was at this time a relatively new opera (it was given its first stage performance in 1892), based on a recent real-life criminal case. It’s hard to find a modern equivalent for this – a modern opera being as commercially successful as I Pagliacci. Even the hit records released from the shows of Andrew Lloyd Webber are based on stories from the past (Evita is probably his most contemporary non-fiction subject). As for the work of contemporary ‘classical’ composers, the thought of Harrison Birtwistle writing an opera which included a million-selling song is, let’s face it, laughable.
Caruso was to the early gramophone what Frank Sinatra or Maria Callas were to the LP, what Elvis Presley and the Beatles were to the 45-rpm ‘single’, and what Dire Straits and George Michael were to the compact disc: the ‘software’ of the music that drew listeners to the ‘hardware’ of the machines and materials. He was the first recording megastar, as much a household name in his day as Charlie Chaplin, prodigal son of another medium also in its infancy. Caruso’s voice had a timbre and range that perfectly suited the limitations of the medium, it could soar and tremble with such strength and depth that the background hiss and the indistinct accompaniment were all but forgotten. To many people, hearing him scale the summits of high opera was both miraculous and moving and this was not just their first experience of the true potential of the gramophone but also a gateway to the whole classical repertoire.
Edison’s humble contraption was to become a universal gift with the popularity of Caruso, catapulting classical music out of the small, exclusive world it had hitherto known.
The Gramophone and Victor Companies were buoyed by Caruso’s success. What’s more, all the other top singers now wanted a piece of the action, hurriedly dropping their objections to the quality of the medium once they realised that it could make them rich. The female equivalent of Caruso was Nellie Melba, an Australian soprano with a peach of a voice, and a good head for business, who held out until she got £1,000 – and her own label in passionate mauve.
Yes: “Corona Time”. I just heard this phrase, from the all-the-rage-just-now Icelandic classical pianist Víkingur Ólafsson. He was being interviewed on Radio 3’s Music Matters, and talking about how he’ll be juggling his work during the next few months, in the face of the tornado of cancellations that he and others like him now face. Far fewer public performances and lots more time spent studying and practising, and recording.
A lot of people are about to have a lot of Corona Time in the next few months.
Some people are going to be more deranged than others. Basically, the more sociable you are, and the less solitary and virtual in the way you live, the worse it will be. I especially like this Babylon Bee title: