What does a photographer contribute

The obvious answer is of course a snapshot of time, a moment frozen for the future to reflect upon.  Now the future is pretty well a few seconds later in this day and age of immediate capture and post to one of the many sites that cater for such activities.

 

However when we step back in time we can clearly see that there was not an immediacy.  There was an extended process of capture and in the very early days that was in the order of many minutes, development of the negative, the rendering of the positive version and from there into production in a book or other form of print.

 

Clearly the process demanded a very careful attention to the art of photography.  The art being another aspect of the contribution of the photographer.  Sometimes denied by some areas of the art world but now generally accepted as an art form in its own right.

 

Harold Burdekin with his London Night clearly understood the two aspects of the photographers contribution so far mentioned.  His exquisite work, sadly not continued past the second world war as he was killed in 1944 by a V1 bomb falling on his home town of Reigate, leaves a definite gap in photography from the period around the second world war.  One could only imagine how he would have attempted a second version of London Night.  Would he have revisited the same locations to show the contrast or would he have sought new subjects.

So  in memory of Burdekin here are a few of his photographs not so commonly found on the web.  In this case I will not be showing my 2018 version.

 

 

 

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Hanging on

One of Burdekin’s photo’s was most likely taken from one of the many wharves that populated the Thames river throughout London.  When trying to locate the site for the image I concluded that it was taken or very close to what is now a restaurant.  Luck did not favour me for it was closed.

 

However there was an access ramp and a fence so by climbing up the fence and hanging on by one hand whilst I used the other I was able to get a shot.  I might add not a very good shot.  Its one of the few where I wish I was back in London with enough time to do it again, preferably in winter so that the tree scape and foggy atmosphere was close to the original and the restaurant was open.

 

So here it is:  Cleopatra’s needle.

 

 

No roof top access

Back in 1934 when Burdekin and Morrison under took their adventure with night time photography of London the spent some of that time on the roof tops. When in London one person I was talking to at St Helen’s Gate said they probably just climbed up th efire escapes prevalent at the time.  Now I was not going to risk climbing up fire escapes in London in current times as I did not want to incur the ire of the property owners nor the legal institutions of England.  So I was unable to replicate a number of the images from the original London Night.

 

So one had to make do with finding the approximate location on the ground.  Mostly that was possible except for one called Red Lion Passage.  I could work out where it most likely used to be but even on the maps I was using it was not marked.

 

There is one photo from the roof tops in Regent Street which I think is beautiful, but again access to the roof tops was impossible, also the building most likely the original location was under renovations making it even more impracticable to gain access. Imagine the OHS issues surrounding asking building site workers to sneak me up to the roof.

 

There was one place I could get to though, it was a bar on the roof on Strand.  They kindly let me go up with all my equipment and I was able to get an across the rooftop shot of St Pauls which I will share with you.  It’s not taken from the same location however it does highlight how much the sky line has changed.

 

 

Things change

One of the aims of my replication of London Night was to see what had changed after 84 years with World War interrupting a city on a large scale.  No obviously some things will have disappeared altogether as I have previously discussed when looking for some of the sites photographed by Harold Burdekin.

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Sites that still remain are numerous, however there are still changes.  one of those is the orientation of the Abraham Lincoln statue near Westminster Abbey.  It once faced directly at the side of the abbey but now looks over a square populated with statues of other famous people.

 

It took me a little while to locate it whilst walking around the area.  I asked one of the guards at Westminster Abbey and he wasn’t even aware of it existing.  In the end I managed to locate it and capture a photo.

 

Abraham Lincolnc

The perversity of John Morrison

Now don’t get me wrong I have a great deal of respect for the writing skill of John Morrison, the partner to Harold Burdekin in their brilliant book London Night.

 

However, how can a person write such gracious words such as,

“Night, M. Paul Morand has remarked with Gallic shrewdness, is not the negative of day.  It is commonly so regarded, an antithesis today, a direct and complete reversal of the ordered process preceding it: a darkness where there was light, a void where there was wholeness, a silence where there was sound, an hiatus, an interruption, a denial. How little true ! As reasonably, as truthfully argue that woman is the contradiction of man.”

 

and then go on to title a photograph “A City Street”,

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giving now clue as to its location, a blandness with its title, even mediocrity.  Perhaps Morrison did not label the photographs perhaps he left that to Burdekin.  One can’t be certain. But one can deduce that Morrisons style was all over many of the titles, such as “Cathedral of Commerce” and therefore responsible for the title in question.

 

So why would I rail against such a title, because it is a true title as it is a photo of a city street.  Did Morrison along with Burdekin surmise that one day an antipodean photographer would buy the book in a small country town 80 years later and decide that it would be fun to replicate in 2018.  Was this Morrison laughing from the grave?  I will never know.  What I do know was that I have never been able to locate where in London this city street resided.

Several months of pouring over the maps, google earth, asking the British Historian Society, A blogger that claimed knowledge of all London Pubs and the London Museum produced no results. So if anyone reading this blog does know please let me know.

 

In the end I found a poor substitute whilst roaming London:

extra1acs

 

 

 

Dark House

As I progressed with the project to replicate London Night I found that it was generating two conflicting emotions.  First was the admiration of Morrison’s literary skill, especially when one reads his introduction.  The second was bordering on anger as one tried to find those places that he chose to label  with the barest information.  One such image was titled Dark House.  The only clue being in the text was

“Do you know that by the riverside beyond London Bridge there are narrow alleys leading to ancient crooked houses that, by night, might well serve to inspire the creative genius of Rene Clair?”

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Once again to the map’s this time having discovered that the National Library Service of Scotland has beautifully detailed maps of London from circa 1895, i looked for an alley way that possibly resembled the appearance of the alley in the photo.  Not much luck with that however there was one called Dark House Lane which had some possibilities.

 

In the end it became one of those places that I was unable to locate so I was forced to substitute another location that had similar qualities.  Certainly a task as much of that old London had disappeared.  In the end purely by chance whilst visiting a site that was easy to find I stumbled across a little alley way that had  a Tudor style building, dark with just a light outside. This is it.

Dark HouseC

The search for Black Raven Alley

 

What an intriguing name was one of my first thoughts whilst looking through the book London Nights.  Later it was to become somewhat of a frustration as I embarked upon my journey to replicate the 1934 book by Burdekin and Morrison.

 

I of course first tried the ever faithful internet and to my dismay no result, Black Raven Alley didn’t seem to exist any more and didn’t seem to have much history other than the photographs that are freely available from Burdekin’s book.  I even went so far as to buy a copy of the 1930’s London Atlas. A disappointingly small book, A5 size if not smaller requiring one to use a magnifying glass to read the very fine print.  Its list of streets also didn’t have Black Raven Alley.  So back to the internet.

 

I found that there was a a set of London Fire Insurance maps that one could look over, a very time consuming pastime. Still no luck and by now its quite a few weeks into searching for just one street out of the many photographs I wanted to replicate.

 

Eventually, whilst doing another google search I stumbled across Spitalfieldslife.com and to my absolute delight there was a map showing Black Raven Alley.  Now I knew where it used to be so a quick visit to Google Earth revealed that the alley no longer existed, however the buildings that now existed followed the same street footprint as from 1934.  Therefore it was possible to do a photo showing how much has changed.

 

As you can see quite a lot has changed in this area.