Posts Tagged ‘architecture’

Varnishing Day, Royal Academy, Summer 2015

June 4, 2015

On Monday the 1st of June I participated in an age old tradition that gives artists the chance to ‘retouch and varnish their pictures after they have been hung’ before the opening of the Summer Exhibition, attended by over 200,000 people during its opening time. Today there is little left to do, especially when your image is a framed inkjet hung on the wall beyond reach. The real purpose of the day is to meet fellow artists, section curators, admire your image on the wall of the venerable Royal Academy and witness the prize giving to the best in show, judged by the Academy. This is the first time I have had an image in the exhibition, and what an honour it is to be received into this instituion.

The day starts with a loose assembly of non-member artists, Royal Academy staff in hi-vis jackets and two policemen on bicycles in the courtyard of the RA. I waited in the courtyard, chatting with a fellow artist, and spied David Hockney in a grey suit, striding through the space, puffing on a cigarette.
Soon after 11.15am we walked through the gates on to Piccadilly, the traffic commanded to stop by either of the bicycled policemen. We were led out by the clerics from St. James’s church and a steel band, this procession of about 300 people walked eastwards along Piccadilly until we reached St. James’s. Filing through the north door of the church, negotiating the metal access ramp to the church, the band played us in with ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’.
After a sweet service for artists, and with a poetry reading by Ian Ritchie, architectural curator, who appended some of his own poetry to the reading, the vicar reflected on art and the Holy Trinity.
Departing the church, shaking hands with the vicar we crossed Piccadilly in a more ramshackle fashion than earlier, and then dispersed into the RA to sample wine and antipasti and enjoy the exhibition, spotting our various works through the gallery. A hum of excitement filled the air as fellow artists described where their work was hanging and considered how many previous shows they had exhibited in.
Prizes were declared by Christopher Le Brun, President of the RA, with the Grand Award for Architecture presented to Peter Barber, for his scheme at Mount Pleasant, titled Coldbath Town, by Bahadir Kayan of Turkish Ceramics

Architecture Room at the RA

Architecture Room at the RA

Christopher Le Brun, Peter Barber and Bahadir Kayan

Christopher Le Brun, Peter Barber and Bahadir Kayan

Bahadir Kayan and Ian Ritchie

Bahadir Kayan and Ian Ritchie

Photographer Andy Earl and Ian Ritchie

Photographer Andy Earl and Ian Ritchie

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The event was a lovely celebration of an achievement I am immensely proud of, and so too all the other exhibitors. I was able to show my work to clients and friends who attended the event, and I now eagerly await the private view on Friday.

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No Ordinary Park has Extraordinary Rules

October 1, 2014

No Ordinary Park

Did you know that London’s newest public park is actually private property? I discovered this on a sunny late September morning when I went to photograph the art installation Newton’s Cottage, a timber frame sheered in two halves by the Carpenters Road lock in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. It is one of the recent art installations that have been commissioned for the Olympic Legacy Park. I live in Hackney, so the park has become an enjoyable place to cycle, a tranquil place to walk, and a wonderful place to swim in Zaha Hadid’s fabulous Aquatic Centre. For me taking photographs in the park is part of the enjoyment I would expect to get from this 560 acre parkland, with wildflower areas, waterside paths, climbing frames, cycle paths (although flawed), and a major road that bisects the park and speeds traffic to Westfield.

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Two cyclists approach on the left as I photographed Newton’s Cottage.

I set up my tripod and framed a shot of the installation about 9am. A few cyclists and a runner passed overhead on the pedestrian bridges, but there were few people around, so I enjoyed the tranquillity of the water, catching the reflections of the installation on the mirror panelled soffit of the bridge. I admired the gift that had been made available to London, and considered the future value of that legacy.
Two cyclists approached, one dressed in a hi-vi was a security guard from the park, the other a uniformed police officer. I bid them good morning. Their response was measured. I asked if I had done something wrong. I was told that this was private property and I needed a permit to take photographs with a tripod. I said that I thought the park was public property, as it is part of the Olympic legacy that London benefited from. The police officer informed me that it is owned by London Legacy Development Corporation, a private company, and one of the byelaws prohibits commercial photography. I pressed him as to who owned the company and he was uncertain, suggesting it was run privately for the Mayor of London. At which point he decided that was enough talk about the rights of public access to private spaces, and I could be removed by the park security if I continued to take photographs. The security officer said it was possible to obtain permission from LLDC via the website. He indicated that the ban on professional photography was to protect commercial interest. There was little point in extending what was an exchange based on ‘we don’t make the rules, just enforce them’. We said our goodbyes and I found a board with the byelaws printed on it, issued by London Borough of Tower Hamlets, but with no reference to photography. Dogs, fireworks and vehicular usage were addressed, but not photography. A visit to the security office, through the gate marked ‘Authorised Persons Only’. I enquired as to where the byelaws were that displayed that prohibited photography. A uniformed guard said that no notice is on display yet, and that is ‘…something we are addressing’. I asked what was the reason for prohibiting professionals from taking photographs. ‘We like to know who is taking photos in the park, as any images have to be approved by the LLDC media office. They can issue permits for photography and are very helpful. Once you have a permit, you’re able to take photographs.’ There was an indication that this was to stop hostile reconnaissance, which is absurd given that the whole site is on Google maps and it contains two architectural significant structures that draw tourists and architectural enthusiasts alike.
I can’t argue with the civil approach and manner of the security guard, nor the polite but determined way I was directed to the website, but I am infuriated that our new public park is not public, but private.
If you want to take photographs at the park, you need to give the London Legacy Development Corporation 5 days notice.

Constructing Worlds – Architectural Photography at the Barbican

September 29, 2014

Constructing Worlds: Photography and Architecture in the Modern Age.

Any attempt to construct a world will always leave us questioning the inclusion of certain elements and the exclusion of other parts. So it is with Constructing Worlds, now at the Barbican. In this exhibition a pared down sample of 18 photographers is used to support the notion that architecture is ‘…both the protagonist and the silent witness…’ Through the selected works, the exhibition attempts to go beyond documentation of the built environment to an understanding of our constructed environment. An exhibition at The Photographers Gallery in 1991, Site Work, attempted a far wider overview of photography and architecture since early Modernism. By selecting a smaller number of contributors, the Barbican exhibition enables one to make direct comparisons both between the work produced by a single photographer and between the photographers over time.
It is fascinating to note the construction of Julius Shulman’s image in Case Study House #22, as previously unseen images are on show that inform the careful placement of models and lighting in the finished image. Thomas Struth’s images of street scenes, with the camera placed in the middle of the street, reveal the scenes as very distinct locations, successfully capturing the essence of place, whether it is the confusion of a street scene in China, ordered low rise terraces in England or a rigidly structured horizontal block in Switzerland.
Photographic interpretations of a constructed space vary through time as they do through the eyes of different photographers, working in the same period. Luisa Lambri’s slivers of light through a window of a Frank Lloyd Wright house, which lead the viewer to know more about the window, compare with Héléne Binet’s shafts of light which draw attention to the shadows in her images. These images without people, emphasise structural elements. Iwaan Baan’s celebratory images of life in the unfinished towerblock, Torre David in Venezuela depict a resilience and adaption of the surroundings, squatted and used as a place to live and work, rather than stand as an unfinished office block. Guy Tillim’s images depict the stark ruins of failed Modernist dreams in post-colonial Central Africa. Any people in the photographs look as bleak and as unhappy as the environment that they inhabit.
Bas Princen’s ‘Five Cities’ series are photographs of areas on the periphery of Istanbul, Amman, Beirut, Cairo or Dubai. They depict the harsher realities of life in poorer cities. A development of apartments in Amman on the edge of a quarry look set to crumble into the abyss; in Cairo a part of the city is covered in plastic garbage bags, this being the resource the residents use to survive.
Nadav Kander’s monumental images of the monumental Three Gorges Dam show everyday life; a picnic or washing a motorbike in the shadow of part of this huge civil engineering project. The images have an intimacy in their calmness, and the figures are clearly identifiable despite being as dwarfed by the structures in the images.
Although photography has been the promotional tool of architectural ideas, it also shows us the social consequences of the built environment, starting with Walker Evan’s images from the 1930’s of sharecroppers and vernacular architecture of Southern America, and Berenice Abbott’s images of cosmopolitan New York on the verge of significant architectural change, through to Simon Norfolk’s images of the effects of war on architecture and communities.
No other medium is able to render these effects so succinctly and dramatically, providing us with a readily accessible compendium of ideas.