Saturday, March 26, 2011

Lounging on the Lawn (July 11, 2009)

Relaxing in summer on the lawn of Oxford's University Church of St. Mary's, near the Radcliffe Camera. The church also has a café/restaurant (the Vaults and Gardens Cafe) with very good food!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Washington Monuments (March 12-13, 2011).

On my recent trip to Washington, D.C., I took so many pictures that I couldn't resist posting another series right after the first one. Here is a series showing some of my favourite pictures from the monuments and memorials I saw.

Above: The Lincoln Memorial (1922) at dusk on a Saturday evening. From the front Lincoln's statue is visible even from a distance, a bright white spot seen through the pillars.

Above: At the Lincoln Memorial, Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address is carved into the wall on the right-hand side when you walk into the building.

Above: The larger-than-life statue of Lincoln dominates the facade and interior of the Memorial.

Above: Washington Monument in the distance at nightfall, across the Reflecting Pool; taken from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. I was keen to stand here and take a photo for obvious reasons :-D

: WWII Memorial, looking eerie at night-time. This memorial opened much more recently than I'd thought, in 2004. The design and architecture certainly reflect the period the Memorial is evoking/"remembering".

Above: Shadows looking ghostly on the WWII Memorial at night--an unintentional portrait/self-portrait.

: Washington Monument at night. It's slightly out of focus, but I really wanted this shot. The Monument itself was difficult and not very interesting to shoot, but I loved the effect of the lights as other people walked around its base, taking souvenir pictures of each other. Because of the low light I had to try hard to keep the camera stable without flash.

Sometimes a very famous place or thing is made more interesting when you photograph it from a position that takes the focus away from what's familiarly grandiose, or brings something mundane to it, in this case teenagers horsing around after dusk on a warm Saturday night at the park.

Above: These statues are part of the Korean War Veterans' Memorial (1995), West Potomac Park.

Above: Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial (in progress).

Above: Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial (1997). Sculpture by George Segal depicting a soup kitchen/breadline in the Great Depression. I am a big fan of Segal's work and didn't realise these sculptures were by him as well; I just didn't make the connection, I suppose, though in some ways it was obvious.

Above: Pillars in the FDR Memorial; covered with impressions, including braille. This memorial was truly a contrast to all the others we saw. I was excited to see it, because of its unusual design involving four "rooms" representing Roosevelt's four presidential terms, evoking significant events such as the Great Depression and World War II.

It struck me that the difference between this and the other monuments we saw was like the difference between an art piece and a temple; no imposing facade, no towering statue here, no overwhelming physical evocation of authority other than what stone words could offer (and almost everything famous in Washington has a few famous words carved into it--they love the time-binding medium and all it evokes!). I also loved the inclusion of waterfalls, an interesting contrast to the permanence of the stone and to the formality of the pools and waterworks in the World War II Memorial.

Above: Roosevelt's statue, still much larger than life, feels smaller and more accessible than Lincoln's or Jefferson's. This isn't just because he's seated (in a wheelchair, under that cloak), since Lincoln is seated as well and yet he towers over the crowds on a pedestal. It's mostly because of posture and affect and the fact that's he's on the ground, on the level with his visitors (and his dog, Fala).

I could tell I wasn't going to be able to get a picture of him without others in the frame (though there was polite turn-taking happening). So instead I decided it would be a part of his "portrait" that these people wanted so keenly to be photographed with him.

I thought the use of Roosevelt's 12 years in office as a "time/frame" for depicting other important events in U.S. history--economic disaster and war, significantly--was very effective. The inclusion of representations of "ordinary" people, as well as the statue of Eleanor Roosevelt, made it more complex and moving.

: Jefferson Memorial (1943) photographed from near the FDR Memorial. I think the Greek influence is very clear here, as with the Lincoln Memorial.

Above: Jefferson Memorial, interior. To me this looks very Neo-Classical, like a painting by J. L. David containing Jefferson instead of Napolean. And it's again very much like a temple. When you're standing inside, a cool breeze blows off the water bringing the scent of the pines that surround the structure. That under-stated aroma, the crisp freshness of the air, those things contribute to the effect of solitude and contemplation just as much as the tall, tapering columns, the clean white stone and the stark, neat rows of lettering on the walls.

Above: Vietnam Veterans' Memorial Wall (designed by Maya Lin), with Washington Monument reflected. This was a very difficult monument to photograph for a number of reasons. Because of its size and unusual construction, only a panorama would capture the entire piece. Because the black stone is polished to a high sheen, one works with a double image when shooting in daylight and barely any image at all at night (I first saw the Memorial after dark). In particular one needs to be ready to include people in the photos, because it's very tricky to get any shot of this piece without someone else either standing in front of it or reflected back in it, or both.

And lastly, aside from the technical challenges, this Memorial seemed to bear an emotional load that was somehow much heftier than what any of the other monuments conveyed. Perhaps it's the very simplicity of the concept--a black wall, covered with the names of the dead in order of their deaths, representing not only the irreparable mass of lives but also the timespan of the dying, extending in the middle to a towering height and then tapering off mournfully at each end with the impossibly small names and deaths of the first and the last to die.

It's hard to photograph this because of the feeling of improper voyeurism one experiences, picturing these names, real names not symbols of "freedom" and "democracy", and real people reaching out to press their fingers to the graven stone as if the letters carried a trace borne of their permanence. It's almost impossible not to feel the deep ache left by this gash in the ground.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Georgetown (March 10 to 13, 2011)

Last weekend I was fortunate enough to be able to visit Washington, D.C., for an academic conference (the Georgetown University Roundtable, or GURT). Naturally I was keen to take photos--Georgetown is a pretty picturesque place.

Above: First evening in Georgetown, out for a nice walk to find dinner.

Above: A lovely refurbished house near the university. I remember first seeing large older brick houses when on a trip from New Zealand to Canada, and I've always loved them, particularly those with funky windows and trim like this one.

Above: Something I learned about Americans is that they are obsessed with cupcakes. This line-up is for a very popular cupcake shop. There were also some girls trying to take a photo in front of it, one of those staged pictures where everyone jumps into the air at once. But they were having a really hard time getting the shot due to passing cars, lack of coordination, etc. Eventually they managed to pull it off.

Above: A nice Gothic night-time shot of Georgetown University.

Above: Plenty of original or original-looking detailing on houses in the area, including many old-style wooden front doors.

Above: Lots of lovely townhouses with wrought iron stairs and windows. I think this is part of why Georgetown reminded me of Montreal.

Above: Martin's Tavern. This is a great little pub with excellent food, where John F. Kennedy had a single booth right by the front door; in fact there's a strong history of presidential patronage there. I had the Shepherd's Pie and it was delicious.

Above: Bridge at 26th and M Streets. I had to cross this bridge to get from the hotel to the section of M Street where all the restaurants could be found.

Above: This place (at the corner of 30th and M Streets) made me laugh with its subtitle, "King of Falafel and Cheese Steaks". I didn't really know what a cheese steak was until I looked it up. Turns out I'd actually tried it before, though under a different name. Amusing, since I'd previously had this image of something more like a ham steak but made of cheese.

Above: Beautiful wrought-iron on a window near the university.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Hamilton Health Sciences (February 28, 2011)

It was definitely a good night for photos last Monday. While I was walking to the bus stop by McMaster Health Sciences, I decided to take some pictures of the hospital. As I've mentioned before in this blog, I love the extremes created by night-time lighting and the unfamiliarity they imbue.

This green was a really eerie colour. "The X-Files" is one of my favourite TV shows, and this picture reminds me of something from one of those government test sites where alien foetuses are suspended in rows of dimly-lit glass tanks.

Something ghostly about this. It's probably an elevator shaft and/or a stairwell, but the effect is again altered by the pale fuzzed glow from what looks like bright florescent light, pushing up against the glass. It reminds me of driving though Hamilton's east end late at night, seeing the industrial areas lit up bright and somehow completely different, mysterious and enthralling, nothing like the grey jumble revealed in daylight.

I thought this one (above) looked like a spine--a very cybernetic, exoskeletal spine.

The hospital towering like some industrial monstrosity from a Terry Gilliam movie--slabs of concrete that have that weathered staining around the edges, dim yellow light in the windows and the brightness above. I think it's the visibility of what appear to be structural bits of metal, that makes those elevator shafts seem so nakedly mechanical.

I really wanted to show the way that hanging stringy stuff, whatever it was, was lit up like a cobweb by the blue-green light next to it; and I wanted the tree shadow in there as well. The darkness with this combination of different kinds of artificial light, inside and outside, and the glass walls--those things are all adding to the effect. The orange glow in the foreground is partly cast by the lamp near the road where I'm standing.

I liked how it was hard to see anything on the wall around those windows. And you can't see anything inside, either; just this suggestion of activity signalled by the different kinds of light in each room and by the positions of the window shades.

Again with the eerie green light. Strange for that to be coming from a hospital--I suppose that's what I find a bit creepy about it. The fact that the place looks like a big industrial compound, and that I have a bad impression of hospitals being factories where doctors treat patients like objects to be processed.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

McMaster Ice Pond (February 28, 2011)

Some images of the campus I took last night on the way home from McMaster University. The buildings you can see are mostly Engineering-related.

We had a bit of a thaw over a couple of days, so a lot of snow and ice melted, forming some very waterlogged ground in the green space at the centre of the campus. I became interested in the way the light was shining off the water (which was rapidly turning to ice) in the gathering darkness.

Christchurch (2001, 2010)

A week ago Christchurch, New Zealand, was hit by the second massive earthquake in under six months. By now most people have had a look at the news coverage, which at this point it mostly about the rising count of the dead and the tireless efforts, both by locals and from international contributors, to sort out the mess and help people start getting on with their lives.

I'm fortunate not to have had any family or friends in Christchurch at the time of the quake. Still I'm sending out my best wishes and hopes for those who were affected by this (including friends of friends).

Above: One of Christchurch's little throwbacks to the "Old Country"--an Avon River with little boats ready for punting, close to the downtown centre.

I couldn't watch the videos, because it was like seeing my worst childhood nightmare come true. I still remember the Civil Defense pamphlets and the earthquake drills in school (get under the desk, get under the doorway). Kiwis know they walk on unstable ground--we know what we live with, but it's still a terrible shock when this happens (not for 80 years has New Zealand seen this kind of damage). I remember as a child waking in the middle of the night to the steady vibration of tremors and waiting to see if it would stop; I was lucky and it always did.

Above: Inside at the Botanical Gardens. Aside for the obvious and awful loss of human lives, I shudder to think what irreparable damage may have been done to structures like these and to the overall cultural infrastructure of the city, which will probably be the last thing to regenerate. So many historic buildings, which in New Zealand is actually a pretty rare thing in an urban area.

City centre, Cathedral Square. I expect the building you see here is no longer standing.

Above: Christchurch's iconic Cathedral in the centre of downtown. The spire at left crumbled and collapsed during the earthquake. Rescuers have been unable to enter the Cathedral so far, given the instability of the walls, but they believe about 20 people to have been inside when the spire came down. This is the most recognisable building in the city, so its collapse has a symbolic weight beyond the physical damage.

Above: A bit of a classic sight--the Wizard of New Zealand in Cathedral Square (I took this in January, 2001). He survived the earthquake and is now leaving Christchurch, since his public stage has been destroyed.

Above: Dandelion fountains near City Hall. For some reason these always remind me of my childhood in the 1980s, though I don't recall whether we had any the same in the area where I grew up. I had seen many pictures of them though, and I was pleased to take photos of my own (this was February, 2010).

Arts centre, across from the Canterbury Museum (February, 2010). Not much hope that these old buildings have survived.

I remember going into this quad to look around while waiting to meet up with a friend by the Botanical Gardens across the street. A man was letting his little son run around the place. His son, who was still quite young (under five I think), had developmental problems--possibly Down's Syndrome, I can't quite recall. We got into a discussion about politics, class, education and funding of the school system; I remember asking him about the decile rankings of schools. It was surprisingly easy conversation between two people who'd only met five minutes before. I remember thinking how much I liked the frankness and friendliness of the people and the place--not just Christchurch but the whole country--it was one small memorable moment among many in that action-packed trip, but it stood out.

I hope he and his family are OK.