Archive for the ‘photography’ category

Southern stories

August 2, 2014

I have always been interested in the American Civil War. It was a conflict which, in many ways, introduced the industrial warfare that became so deadly in the 20th century. It was for example the first conflict in which a submarine was used successfully in a military engagement. It introduced elements of military strategy and tactics that would be copied and developed in later wars. It saw death and destruction and scorched earth measures – in particular Sherman’s ‘March to the Sea‘ along the Savannah River. But its significance extends far beyond the military events of the 1860s. The war was also a political battleground on which civilisation and culture and rights were contested. There are, I believe, few wars in history that had a greater impact on the world. It ultimately heralded and facilitated the rise of the American era in world affairs.

But it was also a human story. The Civil War gave starring roles to huge personalities such as Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant. But more importantly, it is the canvas on which the stories of thousands upon thousands of ‘ordinary’ people were painted, people who struggled to understand and make sense of the changing environment in which they lived. The most interesting places in which to retrace these stories is now the American South. And that is one of the reasons why I like travelling to the southern states.

This year, for ten days I took a vacation with my family near Augusta in Georgia. Known to many people as a golfing destination, Augusta is a town steeped in history. There are two buildings that, on this visit, attracted my attention in particular. The first was the Redcliffe plantation house, just across the state line in South Carolina. The 19th century house was built for John Henry Hammond, a major politician who became known in particular for his advocacy of slavery. He declared that ‘in all social systems there must be a class to do the menial duties.’ In a speech to the US Senate in 1858 he declared that nobody would wage war against the South because ‘cotton is king’. Quite apart from his political views, Hammond was an unpleasant and somewhat cruel man in almost every aspect of his life.

The plantation house, below, is now a museum, and some of the slave cabins have also been preserved.

redcliffe

The second building is in Augusta itself, the Confederate Powderworks. This was built in 1861 to provide a facility in which to manufacture gunpowder for the Confederate army. It was located here because the Savannah River provided convenient transport access. The chimney of the factory, preserved officially as a ‘Confederate Memorial’, has the following inscription on its side:

‘This Obelisk Chimney — sole remnant of the extensive Powder Works here erected under the auspices of the Confederate Government — is by the Confederate Survivors’ Association of Augusta, with the consent of the City Council, conserved in Honor of a fallen Nation, and inscribed to the memory of those who died in the Southern Armies during the War Between the States.’

confedfactory

The complexity and harshness of elements of the Southern culture is also well illustrated in the painting below, entitled ‘The Price of Blood’, by 19th century American artist Thomas Satterwhite Noble that can be seen in the ‘Southern Stories’ section of Augusta’s art gallery. What it depicts is described as follows:

‘This painting … depicts a gentleman farmer transacting the fate of his own bi-racial son. The richly dressed man stares fixedly at the viewer while the sale is conducted. His son, the barefooted young man on the left, appears to be resolved to his fate. Though connected by blood, they are clearly separated by race and all that that difference implies.’

thepriceofblood-agustagallery

The photograph of the painting was taken by me (without flash) with permission from the gallery staff.

But today’s South, while tending to nurture politicians with rightwing views, isn’t just the place that once hosted slavery. It has its own way of life and its own culture, which even though I usually disagree with the local politics has some attraction for me. Perhaps it’s illustrated by this song, Southern State of Mind, sung by black singer Darius Rucker.

Tales of a city

June 21, 2014

We often hear that London (and its surrounding area) unbalances the island of Britain, and in particular its economy. Perhaps it does. However, London is also one of the really great metropolitan centres of the world, and it is possible to lose oneself in its sights and sounds and the great energy of its people and its culture. I don’t get to do this often, but I always enjoy it when I do.

Here are some fairly random sights from a recent visit. First, we have the view from the London Docklands Light Railway, on its way from London City Airport to Tower Gateway. I have, as you will see, done some editing on this photo to turn it from a fairly ordinary scene into a kind of fantasy.

Docklands

Docklands

Here is a dwarf’s eye view of Big Ben clock tower, followed by one of Westminster Abbey.

The Palace of Westminster clock tower, containing Big Ben

The Palace of Westminster clock tower, containing Big Ben

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey

And here are two London icons, albeit in one case in modernised form. The wonderful telephone box designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, alongside a modern version of London’s traditional Routemaster bus.

London icons

London icons

The style of these photos reflects my sense of London as a place of dreams. There are other cities that I love, not least Edinburgh and my own Aberdeen, and of course Dublin, and Paris, and Berlin, and Vienna, and New York – but London is drawn on such a wide canvas that it manages to be, in some ways, the whole world.

Another Newcastle

May 14, 2014

Readers of this blog will know that I am a supporter of Newcastle United FC, with all the ups and downs associated with that particular interest.

Newcastle is of course more than a football club. The city is interesting in all sorts of ways. Earlier this month my son and I visited the city to watch the last home game of the season in St James’ Park. To our surprise and delight Newcastle actually won the game. But I also used the opportunity to take some photos in the city, and these are below. On this occasion I had forgotten to bring any of my cameras, so what you see below was taken with my iPhone.

Hotel Beehive

Hotel Beehive

Newcastle Cathedral

Newcastle Cathedral

Newcastle alleyway

Newcastle alleyway

Central Arcade

Central Arcade

Reading time

April 27, 2014

On a Sunday, if I have no other commitments, I like to spend some time reading. And maybe taking photographs.

reading

Trinity College Dublin

April 5, 2014

Having been rather critical of the proposal to change the name of Ireland’s oldest university, I thought I might balance that with a photo I took recently. This shows TCD’s chapel on the north side of the Front Square.

Trinity College chapel

Trinity College chapel

Books

March 22, 2014

Aa some readers of this blog will have gathered, I am a technophile. I love gadgets, and in particular am fully immersed in the digital world. I read my newspapers on the iPad, and I have goodness knows how many ebooks and electronically stored documents and reports. But I have not completely left the analogue world, nor will I. So for example, whenever I read, in ebook form, a book I really like, then I buy it in hard copy, indeed preferably hardback if available. And in my family home in Ireland, I have a very large collection of contemporary and vintage books, several thousand by now.

I love books. I like the look, the feel, the smell. In older books, I love the knowledge of the procession of people who have read them through the ages. I also own some books printed in the 19th century or earlier that were never read – the pages were still joined together until I cut them. I love the sense that these leather bound volumes were prepared by some craftspeople 200 years ago to be read by me now, for the first time.

So here you can see a small selection of my books from one particular shelf: 19th century travel guides. They are a particular pleasure to read, and in this case, as you can see, they were much used long before I got to them. They are the inherited appreciation of the world we can visit.

travel guides

travel guides

City sights

February 28, 2014

This is really a photograph of the back of an Aberdeen street. It was taken earlier this week from Union Terrace. The trees in the foreground are in Union Terrace Gardens (the subject of much dispute and debate in Aberdeen), and beyond them you see the backs of various buildings located in the pedestrianised Belmont Street. This street was in fact a later addition to the original city, and contains a number of impressive historic buildings and churches. On the left of this photo is the back of the original Trades Hall, now an arts cinema. The church to the right is now (as are many former churches in Aberdeen) a nightclub.

Aberdeen: the view from Union Terrace

Aberdeen: the view from Union Terrace

Monument

January 26, 2014

In Scotland I live within sight of a monument called the Prop of Ythsie (pronounced ‘Icy’, with perhaps a hint of ‘th’ between the ‘I’ and ‘c’). It is part of the Haddo Estate, owned by Lord Aberdeen, and the Estate’s website describes it as follows:

‘It was built by the tenantry of Haddo in memory of the 4th Earl of Aberdeen, paying tribute to the extensive improvement works he carried out on the Estate for the local residents.’

The 4th Earl was a very significant historical figure; he was the British Prime Minister between 1852 and 1855, presiding over a cabinet with some extraordinary personalities. It included the later Prime Minister William Gladstone, who regarded Lord Aberdeen as a mentor and close friend.

Having long been interested in Victorian British politics (and literature), it rather tickles me that I can see the monument from my house. You can see it below, in a photo I took a week or so ago. It is already on a hill, but if you climb to the top of the monument (which you can) you get the most spectacular views of Aberdeenshire, including some of the Cairngorms.

propofythsie2-jan14

For those who might be interested, the place where I live (Ythsie) is just outside the beautifully designed (and preserved) village of Tarves (or Tarbhais, its original Gaelic name). Also in the neighbourhood are the remains of Tolquhon Castle, and the South Ythsie stone circle. It is an area full of history, and of some great beauty.

City pavements

December 20, 2013

I haven’t posted any photographs for a while, so here are two that showing one of my favourite photographic themes: paved streets. Both were taken in September of this year.

The first photo is of Correction Wynd in Aberdeen, just as it crosses under Union Street.

Correction Wynd

Correction Wynd

The second is in Temple Bar, Dublin.

Temple Bar

Temple Bar

 

A little bit of Scotland

September 29, 2013

Although I have now been in the North-East of Scotland for well over two years, I am still on a journey of discovery. Today a friend took us to see some fishing villages on the coast between Elgin and Fraserburgh. This stretch of coastline includes the location for the 1980s movie Local Hero, Pennan. But the place I found most wonderful of all was the the tiny village of Crovie – a gem that has been left largely untouched by modern development, although what were once fishermen’s cottages are now largely holiday homes, though beautifully maintained.

crovie1

For readers of this blog who do not know Scotland’s North-East, it is well worth a visit.


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