Images from the crypt

As I mentioned in a previous post the crypt of the Chapel Royal of StPeter ad Vincula, is an oddly practical space. Ive posted a few photographs of the Crypt below, a selection of images that first caught my eye, this of course does not mean they are final images, I may go back to re-photograph an image again if I think its worth exploring further. Or I may decide that the photograph doesnt work and abandon it all together.

Also I’d like to add that these are scans from the negative rather than finished prints.

Click on the image to open a larger version.

 

 

 

 

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New Images from the Salt Tower

I finally have some scans of the films I exposed over the last couple of visits to the Tower. Here are a selection of images taken in the upper areas of the Salt Tower, I will post more images from other areas over the next day or so (please excuse me for being brief, but I’m suffering from a horrible cold). Click on the image to go to a larger version

Don’t worry, the bat was made of rubber.

Influences #1

On friday while I was at the Tower, Alex Drago and I recorded a conversation about the project and my thoughts on how it was going for a future podcast. We hope to make this available to you soon.

One of the questions that came up was about my influences. This is the most asked question for any creative person and its a good one, because it offers the audience an insight into the makers development in their chosen medium. 

One of the people I refer to when I am asked about my influences is the British Photographer Raymond Moore (1920 – 1987). Moore was an important and respected artist in British Photography, but oddly his work is often overlooked (in recent collections and exhibitions) and is also hard to find due to the small numbers of books produced. If you Google Raymond Moore you will find a fine collection of essays and images collated by Roy Hammans on the Weeping Ash  Website. There is a listing of Moore’s work on the British Council website but sadly (and as if to illustrate my point) no images have been uploaded.

Raymond Moore’s ‘Every So Often‘ is a book I come back to again and again, the images are very subtle, beautifully seen and inescapably British (I find it hard to put my finger on why, which is probably why I still enjoy them so much).

 

Raymond Moore

Raymond Moore

Photos from the Grace and favour archive

I know you’re all wanting to see some of Chris’s work on this blog, and it will come shortly, but he’s run into a slight technical problem and will be operating at full speed shortly.  In the meantime, I have a special treat for you… and there are photos involved.

When I first started at HRP I worked at Hampton Court Palace and spent a few happy hours in the HRP photo archive looking for suitable images to go on the walls of the new Clore Learning Centre.  I was immediately drawn to the grace and favour archive which is made up of images from many different sources.

Once Hampton Court ceased being a royal residence it was split up into a series of apartments for ‘grace-and-favour’ residents who were granted rent-free apartments because of the great service they had given to the nation.  You can read more about the scheme here, but below are a few images from the archive.

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Copyright Historic Royal Palaces.

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Copyright Historic Royal Palaces.

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Copyright Historic Royal Palaces.

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Grace and favour residents on a roof at Hampton Court Palace. Copyright Historic Royal Palaces.

Grace and favour residents on a roof at Hampton Court Palace. Copyright Historic Royal Palaces.

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Copyright Historic Royal Palaces

Grace and favour residents on the roof of the Great Hall at Hampton Court Palace. Copyright Historic Royal Palaces

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Copyright Historic Royal Palaces.

Copyright Historic Royal Palaces.

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images and history, part three

In the last post I touched on some history paintings and their subjective nature, but this time it’s photography that I want to focus on, it is Chris’s chosen medium after all. So I thought I’d start this post with a photo of Marilyn Monroe.

Associated Press promo of Marilyn Monroe for the Seven Year Itch

Associated Press promo photo of Marilyn Monroe for the Seven Year Itch

This was the first image that came up when I did a google image search for ‘Marilyn Monroe’ and it’s the kind of image that most people would have in mind when discussing Monroe. According to the official Monroe site here, Marilyn is remembered as

more than just a move star or glamour queen. A global sensation in her lifetime, Marilyn’s popularity has extended beyond star status to icon. Today, the name “Marilyn Monror” is synonymous with beauty, sensuality and effervesence.

And judging by the number of images floating around that are similar to this one, you’d have to be hard-pushed to think anything different. Except I do. Look at this photograph of Monroe by Richard Avedon.

Marilyn Monroe by Richard Avedon

Marilyn Monroe by Richard Avedon (1957)

This is one of my favourite photographs, simply because I think it depicts Norma Jeane and not Marilyn Monroe, it’s Marilyn when she comes down from the performance of being Marilyn, and that is insightful enough in and of itself, but taken together with Monroe’s own words, it offers another perspective on her life;

I knew I belonged to the public and to the world, not because I was talented or even beautiful, but because I had never belonged to anything or anyone else.

But how does this relate to history and the Tower? It’s probably never been said before, but the Tower of London works in the same way as Marilyn Monroe. Here’s the first photo I found of the Tower on google images;

The first image of the Tower of London from Google Images

The Tower of London the way visitors like to see it

It’s the image of the Tower visitors want to see, the fortress by the river, hard to miss and very much ‘in yer face’, as was intended when it was built.  Chris’s project at the Tower is quite different, it’s very much about exploring the site over multiple visits, to see what lies after the one-off visitor experience that takes in the White Tower, Yeoman Warders, ravens, etc.  In exactly the same way as Richard Avdeon offered insight into one icon, Chris will be offering insight into another icon that belongs to the world, the Tower of London.

The Claude Glass

Since my first day at the Tower of London I have been struck by the way many of the visitors walk around with their digital camera/video up in front of them for what seems like the duration of their visit. I also see this on my usual walk from London Bridge train station, along the River Thames and over Tower Bridge to get to the Tower. I become aware of the hundreds of people framing images of themselves and each other with Tower Bridge in the background. It reminds me of this image by Martin Parr

 

 

I also remembered learning about the Claude Glass while at college and it seems strangely similar. The Claude Glass was made popular in the 18th Century as an intelligent and tasteful way for travellers to veiw the landscape. Thomas West gave these instructions on its use:

“The person using it ought always to turn his back to the object that he views”

This seems quite funny, but in some way also echoes the way people seperate themselves from the experience of a place by walking around looking at the LCD screen of their video camera.

 

A Claude Glass from the V&A Museum

A Claude Glass from the V&A Museum

 

 

 

 

 

Ghostly Goings-On

Its almost 1am Monday morning, I had been in bed trying to sleep, but that didn’t seem to be happening, so I decided to get up and write an entry on the blog, mainly because thinking about it was probably the cause of my sleeplessness. I’m sat at my desk with some tea, listening to ‘Autumn Chorus‘ and thinking back over the photographs I have taken this week but have yet to see. I know that many of you are keen to see more pictures (and more often), such are the expectations on the production of images in our digital age. More pictures will come, but for the moment, like me, you will have to wait. 

On Thursday I was given access to the crypt of the Chapel Royal of StPeter ad Vincula, the crypt is an oddly practical space with (as I have come to expect in the Tower) a palimpsestic veneer of different eras of the buildings history.

On Friday I visited the upper floors of the Salt Tower. I was let in and soon lost  track of time while I made my photographs. The upper floors are closed to the public, but the lower areas are very busy indeed. While I worked I could here the conversations below in all kinds of languages and accents, I wondered if my footsteps on the floor boards would be mistaken for those of the ghosts of previous occupants. There are stories of the upper areas of this Tower being haunted and the Yeoman Warders have some interesting tales of eerie goings on. I didn’t feel any ghostly presence during my short ‘sentence’ but I wouldn’t want to go there at night (apparently the ghostly goings-on only go on at night)

images and history, part two

Quite why images have such a powerful hold on us is a subject that is far beyond the scope of this post, but for some reason when we see things we give them considerably more credibility than perhaps we should, so I’d like to pick up on a few paintings that highlight how subjective images really are when interpreting history.

Jacques-Louis David’s most famous work The Death of Marat (1793) portrays the moment after his assassination by Charlotte Corday and is revolutionary in more ways than one.  David’s immortalisation of the victim as a (Christian) martyr is interesting not only because Marat was far from sainthood, having executed many innocents as enemies of the state, but also because it was David’s choice to portray Marat in such a manner.

The Death of Marat by Jacques-Louis David

The Death of Marat by Jacques-Louis David (1793)

David’s friendship and allegiance to Marat, as well as his own political convictions, is evident in this image, and yet events would conspire against them, as both Marat (posthumously) and David (before his death in 1825) would fall from grace because of their political persuasions.  By 1860 when Paul-Jacques-Aimé Baudry painted Charlotte Corday the public perception of Marat was clearly very different, yet even now it is David’s powerful image of the ‘martyr’ we recall when Marat is discussed, a supreme example of an artist with singular talent inspired by his own political convictions.

Charlotte Corday by

Charlotte Corday by Paul-Jacques-Aimé Baudry (1860)

Baudry’s interpretation of that event was influenced by the 19th century history painting movement.  This form of academic painting would see the retelling of many of the Tower’s events, capturing their mood at the expense of historic fact.  A couple of examples will suffice.

The Execution of Lady Jane Grey by Paul Delaroche (1833)

The Execution of Lady Jane Grey by Paul Delaroche (1833)

Delaroche’s The Execution of Lady Jane Grey focuses on the tragedy of the whole Grey saga, her dress signifying her innocence and the walls representing her imprisonment.  That the execution took place outside and Grey’s last words would suggest she faced her ordeal with significantly more dignity than is represented here are unimportant for Delaroche’s ends, as he embraces the moral high ground.

The Princes in the Tower by Millais

The Two Princes Edward and Richard in the Tower by Millais (1878)

The story of the princes in the Tower has long fascinated Tower visitors, largely because we’ll never know what happened to them, but Millais chooses to focus on the emotional austerity of the events, interpreted through Victorian preoccupations with the welfare of children.  The painting suggests that the princes were kept in a dungeon (there actually aren’t any at the Tower) while in reality the boys enjoyed the considerable comforts associated with their status during their imprisonment.  The shadowed figure coming down the stairs also leaves little to the imagination, but whether they were actually murdered is something we will never know.  But why let any of that get in the way of a good painting?

Having used this image with young people to explore the story of the princes it’s interesting to see how it has informed their understanding of the events in question.  They are shocked to discover how unreliable the image is as evidence, but it’s also interesting to see how they interpret the painting through their own cultural framework.  A colleague told me that one student asked if the painting was of the first gay people kept at the Tower, a conclusion she arrived at based on the princes’ effeminate looks.

And while we may smirk at such a thought process, it is a very real problem we deal with when relying on images as historic evidence, and in the next post I’ll take a look at how this relates to photography and the Tower.

Images and history, part one

Several years ago I was dragged to see the rather mediocre U-571, a submarine film (is that a genre?) set in World War 2, in which the fantastically white-toothed Matthew McConaughey leads a US Navy sub to hunt down the Nazi submarine U-571 and steal the Enigma machine.  As you’d expect, after wading through much tribulation Engima is captured and U-571 is sunk.  Medals all round… huzzah!  The rest is, as they say, history.

The fantastically white-teethed Matthew McConaughey

Matthew McConaughey: successful living through better dentistry

Except the history lesson was only just starting, as the filmmakers were about to learn (and much to their detriment).  Responding to the concerns of their constituents with a conscience somewhat attuned to historic fact, MPs raised questions in the House of Commons about the movie’s accuracy.  U-571 did exist but was never captured, it was actually sunk off the coast of Ireland by the Royal Australian Air Force with all hands lost.  Of the fifteen Enigma machines captured during the war, the British had captured thirteen, while the Canadians and Americans had one a piece, the Americans capturing theirs in 1944 when the Enigma code had long since been broken.  The movie was considered by many as an affront to the Royal Navy and all those involved in the Enigma project, especially as the film’s producers did little to point out that the movie was a complete fabrication.

Bill Clinton got involved, writing (to Tony Blair presumably) and stating that the movie was a work of fiction, which I’m sure was meant as a gesture of goodwill, but this was the reason for the complaint in the first place.  But what else could he do?  Slap the wrists of those irresponsible filmmakers and tell them to stick to proven historical fact next time?  Hollywood would be bankrupt in a fortnight.

U-571.  Not exactly THX-1138

U-571. Not exactly Das Boot or The Cruel Sea, but it did have Jon Bon Jovi in it.

Given the overall quality of U-571, it’s probably safe to assume that the studio responsible for U-571 had blockbuster entertainment and profit in mind, and this was justification enough, in their minds at least, for the Americanisation of the movie.  Nevertheless, as a result of U-571 there will be more than a handful who think that Enigma was an American triumph.  The power of the image!

But this tale of woe leads to an interesting dicussion about how images help to manufacture our reading of history.  Obviously, as the Tower of London is one of the most photographed places in Britain, it begs the question about how our perceptions of this place and its history have been altered by the images created about it, both past and present, and this is something I’ll pick up in part two of this post.

Alone in the Crowd

Recently I have been working in areas of the Tower that are off limits to the public, I have been left alone with my thoughts and my camera. Looking back over some of my earlier photographs I can see that this is a recurring theme and that I am drawn to quieter, more secluded spaces, even in the middle of London I would be attracted to the hidden areas of the urban landscape (as seen here).

When I first came to the Tower I had yet to gain security clearance and was only given access to the areas open to paying visitors. I started to explore the various buildings that make up the Tower of London and I began to find myself caught in the crowds, not just physically but also mentally, I began to move with the throng and realised I wasn’t really looking at anything that wasn’t located directly in front of me. I was caught in the ‘visitor experience’  – after my first visit I struggled with how I was going to photograph such a place, a place full of people, which is a symbol of itself – a symbol that is photographed by millions of people every year.

For the first time while making photographs, I began to listen to my MP3 player. I walked around the open spaces and buildings with the other visitors, the minimal, contemporary classical music helped separate my thoughts from the crowd, generally calm me down and helped me get in to a more receptive state of mind.

One of the composers I listen to a lot is Max Richter. I discovered his work through Radio 3’s Late Junction – a program that has introduced me to a lot of new, eclectic music. I listened to Max Richter a lot when I lived in London 3 or 4 years ago and found that it really suited sitting on buses watching London pass by. In some ways it often felt that it hieghtened my awareness of the experience of the capital city, making everything seem filmic and poetic.

I have also been listening to the work of Olafur Arnalds  – a very recent discovery.

While making photographs in the Byward Tower, and more recently Thomas More’s Cell (both of which are restricted areas where I was working alone) I worked without the MP3 player – there was no need, in fact even the most subtle music would have seemed intrusive.

I would be interested to know if there is anything you listen to that seems to heighten the experience of the world around you, as I’m sure I’m not alone.