Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Edwin Smith

Discovered this photographer on the weekend. I am now trying to find a copy of any of his books to buy. I love the photos, the detail in the landscape and architecture scenes is incredible. There is a real sense of depth, which can be hard to achieve, so many photos of gardens and landscapes end up looking flattened out. The more intimate photos are also beautiful, the contrasts of shadows cast on skin or snow.

Forgive my photos of photos but you get the idea!

And a few better images via the V&A website:

Edwin, Smith, Bealin Cros Twyford, Ireland, 1965
Edwin Smith, Castle Ward, Co. Down, Ireland, 1965

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Elizabethan garden labyrinth spotted in luftwaffe spy photo

A German spy photograph of a ruined house in Northamptonshire surrounded by oddly marked fields, has revealed a secret unguessed at by the Luftwaffe cameraman: such important evidence of a lost Tudor garden that the site has been awarded Grade I status by English Heritage, ranking it among the most important gardens in Europe.
The garden's grass ring marks, shown clearly by the aerial, monochrome, photograph, are 120 metres across and almost certainly mark a Tudor labyrinth tracing in symbolic form the religious faith of its creator – a faith that finally cost the man his family fortune and his son's life, after the latter was exposed as one of the Gunpowder plotters.
In 1944 the photographer was probably disappointed with his efforts: the house and garden of Lyveden New Bield, near Oundle, and now owned by the National Trust, were undoubtedly peculiar but could have had no military significance.
The Luftwaffe images are now part of the US national archive, kept in Maryland, and were only studied closely when the National Trust ordered copies in the past six months.
The full story is here 

This is very interesting. Aerial archaeology is quite a big thing but I have never read much about it in relation to garden archaeology, I guess partly because only very large and obvious designs would be visible, more subtle plantings would be harder if not impossible to see. Aerial photos are an interesting source for the study of gardens. I have been using the ones on Google Earth and Google Maps to look for historical garden sites. This may sound odd but often I actually have very little idea about the modern state of a seventeenth or eighteenth-century garden just from primary and secondary sources. Less famous gardens are often only referred to in passing and may only be illustrated with an old engraving rather than a modern photo.  I'll try and find some of the comparisons I put together for a post tomorrow.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Teatro Olimpico Vicenza

Something short and sweet tonight. I just had this photo up to add to my thesis catalogue. Some of you probably know it - the Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza, Italy. Designed by Andrea Palladio and  then completed by Vincenzo Scamozzi. It is unusual for its survival, theatres usually have terribly short life spans, especially before the advent of electric light when the combination of many many candles and a lot of flammable wood and paper meant they tended to burn down. It is also unique as an example of an attempt to recreate an ancient Roman theatre. It was built for the humanist Accademia Olimpica in Vicenza who wished to perform plays in it after the style of ancient Rome, both revivals of ancient plays as well as new plays written in the same style. It is very closely based on antique examples with the semi circular seats (the cavea) the permanent scenery (scaenae) with its screen of columns and sculptures (columnatio). The streets are very much based on 16th scenery, though we do know that Roman theatres did have some kind of scenery behind the columnatio. By the time it was completed in the 1580s the interest in reviving ancient plays was on the wane and instead most theatrical productions were using a theatre in a style that is still very familiar today, with  a semi-circular auditorium, a single proscenium arch and scenery on some kind of moveable machines and a backdrop. You can still watch plays and operas in this theatre, I have never been there at the right time of year though.
The illusion is quite amazing and one always wants to wander up the street to see just how short it really is.


So I decided to sign up for this in a  fit of procrastination, which is possibly unwise as I am trying to finish my PhD and I will soon have mountain of marking. My plan is that if I have this to do when I need a break from either of the above things it  will help focus me. That's the theory. I posted twice yesterday and will post something later today. I am currently working on my image catalogue for my thesis so expect a lot of musings on images from that.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Snapshot East Melbourne

I posted this on Walking Melbourne and ended up writing some thoughts about what style it is and I thought I would re-post them here. It is an interesting little building, quite different to most of the 1930s apartment blocks in East Melbourne.
Called Bradoc House it was built in 1933 and is on George St between Simpson St and Hoddle St.

The info from the East Melbourne Historical Society http://emhs.org.au/history/buildings/ea ... adoc_house says it is Tudor-Byzantine with Spanish influence, but well, that just sounds a bit silly to me. I guess the white and dark colours is a bit Tudor, but is is also Spanish Colonial. I have no idea why Byzantine, I guess maybe the tower could be and the way the forms are massed together, and it has some hints at crenelations, but once again this all could come from a Spanish colonial influence as well. If anything it makes me think more of Romanesque style than Byzantine. Personally rather than Tudor-Byzantine I would say it has Spanish Colonial and Arts and Crafts influences. I don't think there are really hard and fast descriptions for 20th century architectural styles, especially in periods that experimented with a lot of revival styles. What do others think?

Snapshot Adelaide

A small terrace house in North Adelaide in the late afternoon sun. I was particularly taken by the patterns made by the shadow cast by the porch supports (no idea what the proper term for these would be...)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Snapshot Adelaide - Colonial Mutual Life Building

I have quite a few photos from Adelaide to post. It has a pretty amazing array of older buildings from the classically inspired galleries and libraries on the North Terrace to small bluestone houses. The most noticeable and celebrated buildings tend to be nineteenth century, however, I found a large number of twentieth century buildings that also caught my eye.

This is the Colonial Mutual Life building on  King William St. It was apparently built in 1934 and became the city's tallest building until 1969. In a relatively low rise city like Adelaide it still towers above many buildings. I'm not sure exactly what you would call the style, I have seen it referred to as neo gothic, and certainly you can see the paired arched windows with delicate columns that are taken directly from gothic architecture. It has a relatively minimalistic use of decoration in comparison to most buildings that I would think of as neo gothic. Perhaps neo gothic filtered through the more streamlined aesthetic of art deco? The small columns look like twisted columns from a distance, but up close you can see that they are actually decorated with a very art deco zigzag pattern. The capitals are also very art deco, with the usual gothic style flowers or leaves reduced to simply geometric shapes and lines. 

The building appeared to be empty, though apparently it does have heritage protection (and hopefully that counts for more in Adelaide than it sometimes does in Melbourne!) This site suggests there were plans for it to become a hotel, but it also says that it will be completed by 2009 and it clearly isn't.

Some close up details of the delicate decoration, which does get a little lost in the mass of of the very large facade.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Melbourne Bike Share

I thought I would share my thoughts on this scheme, slightly off topic, but this is a blog that is partly about Melbourne so I guess it fits. Here is the bike I borrowed the other day with my vegies from the Vic Market securely stowed in the front, that little basket is better than it looks.

When I heard about Melbourne Bike Share starting up I was pretty excited as I really like riding around Melbourne, but since having my bike stolen I haven't been able to. I could buy a new bike but I have absolutely zero room inside to store it and I am reluctant to store one outside again after the last theft. Plus the block of flats I live often receives grumpy body corporate letters from lawyers stating that we are not allowed to keep anything in 'common areas', despite the fact that the area surrounding the flats is basically concrete and a few tidily stored bikes would hardly be a problem... but that is a separate issue.
My point is that I am probably an ideal candidate for this bike share stuff. I live close enough to a couple of bike stations, about a 5 minute walk. I don't have my own bike and much of what I do, uni, meeting friends, shopping, is located near other bike racks.

I am still getting my head around which routes to take, which roads have bike lanes, where the bike lanes suddenly vanish, and so on. So far I have been using it to ride to Melbourne Uni where I work/study, I usually walk so this cuts my travel time from about 35-40 mins to 15-20 mins, which is great. There really is no way for me to get to uni on a tram or bus that would be quicker than walking, so riding is ideal. I have also used it to ride to the Vic Market, and that took about 10 minutes instead of 25, and from Melbourne Uni into the city, which took about the same time as a tram but was a lot more fun.

I have some days when I ride in and then have other things on in the evening and don't ride home, so the flexibility of not worrying about how to get my own bike home works well. The little basket with an elastic works quite well as long as your bag is sturdy/big enough, the other day my bag was a pretty empty and almost too small to secure - but they basically work well. As you can see in my picture I secured my market shopping nicely. The seats are easy enough to move up and down, though I have noticed some bikes getting a bit stiff, or being completely stuck - so double check it can be adjusted before you hire it. They are quite easy to ride, they are the style where you can sit up straight, which is my preference. I'm not concerned about riding fast and there are not too many hills, and certainly no really difficult ones, on the routes I take. They are quite heavy and noticeably less maneuverable compared to most other bikes I have ridden, but for short trips they are fine. I am a bit concerned about riding at night, they do have a light but it seems very weak? Also it would be good if they had a bell on them (unless I have missed it).Also it would be useful to be able to get a small fold up map of where all the stations are.

I took out an annual subscription so hiring the bike is pretty easy, I just stick my key in and it beeps and releases the bike. Then you give it a good shove into the stand when it is returned and it beeps again. I had one issue the other week where a bike I returned locked in but for some reason didn't register as returned and my key was blocked, however, the bike share people sorted it out and were very helpful so that was great.

There has been a lot of talk about this scheme, and mostly about what is wrong with it, and there are some things wrong. I also feel that it has been marketed very badly, I keep thinking of opportunities for them to promote it, yet I have seen virtually no promotion of it.

More stations - I guess this is something that is dependent on it growing in popularity but it does seem to me that the area covered is a bit limited. There are some places in the city with several stations within metres of each other, whereas other areas are completely missed. I think the area covered is only about 5 square kilometres, which isn't much. Also many stations are located along tram lines. For me the motivator in subscribing was the ride to uni, the route is badly served by public transport as nothing goes there directly, I would have to catch a tram in the opposite direction and then catch another tram, or walk halfway and catch a bus. Things that take longer than walking. I feel that more stations that allowed people to take routes across Melbourne that don't have direct tram or bus lines would be really sensible. I would love to see some in Fitzroy, some in South Yarra near the Domain Rd shops, some in Richmond, even Prahran - and these are just the places I tend to frequent, I'm sure other people would like to see them in other suburbs. It seems to me at the moment some stations are positioned in places that councils or tourist marketers (is that a phrase??) like to think everyone wants to be in Melbourne (i.e. Docklands, Southbank etc), rather than where many people are actually going. Also getting between inner city suburbs in Melbourne on PT can be a bit of a joke, especially on weekends, I often end up walking rather than waiting for trams. A bike would be a great way of getting round this.

Marketing - Why does the website not link correctly to twitter or facebook? Both icons simply prompt you to promote the Bike Share website via your own twitter/facebook account. I actually had no idea they had a twitter account until a friend tweeted at them. Not only is it silly not to link directly to their own accounts, but icons that automatically 'promote' something via your own facebook/twitter account without explaining that this is what they will do are frustrating and a bit sneaky.

Why is Melb Bike Share not involved with 'Ride to Work Day'? [UPDATE - I just noticed that on their website they are affiliated w RTWD, but I can't really find out how exactly] Surely they could give out some free day passes to people who register with Ride to Work but don't have their own bike. I think they need to get people on the bikes as much as possible, even just for one trip, to break the ice. There are quite a lot of racks at Melbourne Uni, so I wonder why they don't promote it more with the students, who could even use them for getting across campus. I have had to trek between Tin Alley and the Law School in the past, and it is a good 10-15 minute walk.

I also feel they should take on the bad press, maybe have a blog on their website where the post media coverage, both good and bad and actually respond to the bad, how they are tackling it etc.

Cost - I think the annual subscription that I took out is very reasonable, $50 for a year. The daily and weekly rates are also pretty good, they are aimed at short trips and I think this is fine. However, I think one huge barrier for daily and even weekly users is the ridiculously high security deposit of $300. I read somewhere that this is not refunded till the next working day, and I could imagine even longer if used over the weekend depending on your own bank. As someone who does not use a credit card I simply don't have this in my debit account to be put aside. I know people who wouldn't have this space on their credit cards. Or imagine a family wanting to use them, you could end up having to put down $1200+ in security deposits! Or you might be a tourist on a budget, or worried that if there was an error and you have left Melbourne it might be tricky to get your money back. A definite deterrent. This actually put me off using the scheme until I was ready to take out an annual subscription. I understand the need for a security deposit for the bikes but the other schemes I have looked up, like the one in London, simply take credit/or debit card details and charge you after it is clear the bike has not been returned. So if you use the scheme correctly then you only have to lay out the actual cost for daily/weekly rental and other usage costs you incur.

Helmets - I know this is the big thing in most discussions. I do feel though that talk about the scheme has been a bit hijacked by people who want to ditch helmet laws, and as most of these seem like super keen bikers, with their own bikes, are they really worried about the scheme? I do I get the problem, honestly I do. Especially for tourists the need to have a helmet will be a huge barrier, who travels with a helmet? Who would want to buy one just for the day? But it seems the government won't shift so rather than everyone getting up in arms about it I would prefer to see how Melb Bike Share, the RACV, the city council and whoever else is involved will try and find a work around it. They at least need some rental helmets, if not at all stations maybe at the more touristy locations like Fed Square. Also what about those dinky fold up ones they had in The Age a while back? Those would be perfect. 

Personally the helmet thing is not a huge barrier for me. I had a few bad falls as a teen and my preference is always to wear a helmet. Also, for me the helmet is not the only thing I have to consider, I need to make sure I wear the right shoes, have a bag that can go in the basket or won't fall off as I ride, not wear the wrong kind of skirt and so on. But, still there will be times when I will think 'damn if I only I didn't need a helmet, I would jump on a bike', specially for the trips that are down very safe streets.

Has anyone else used it? Any other opinions?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Open Gardens, Eltham

I haven't been to an open garden in ages. I love them, I love poking around other people's gardens, usually feeling envious because I don't have a garden (although I did hear an auctioneer yesterday describing my nearby Fitzroy gardens as Melbourne's answer to Central Park or the Luxembourg Gardens, slightly hyperbolic but having them nearby does sometimes feel like having a huge backyard that someone else looks after).

Now I am tempted to visit more of them. I am a bit transport challenged on account of not having a car but I noticed there is one in Domain Rd, South Yarra next weekend so I might schlep to that. You can find a short list of upcoming gardens on the website - http://www.opengarden.org.au/index.html
I do find ti odd that the only full list is in the book, which you have to buy. Considering we pay to go into the gardens I feel this is a bit unnecessary. I wonder if it is a deliberate decision to try and sell the book or whether they just haven't thought to have a full online list. Also I would prefer to be able to buy (maybe at a cheaper price) a pdf of the book, as it is essentially useless after the season has finished.

The two gardens I visited yesterday were the Adams and Ford gardens. They are adjacent blocks in Eltham. The landscape design of both was mainly the work of Gordon Ford. He bought the land in 1945, it used to be an orchard. Ford used to work with Ellis Stones, who created much of the stone work for the gardens designed by Edna Walling. You can see some aspects that have been derived from Edna Walling's designs but overall the garden has an even softer structure. The stone work is mostly aiming to look natural, or is almost invisible beneath plantings. My first impression of the Ford garden was that it was quite open and almost sparsely planted, you can easily see through to the garden to the neighbouring houses. The short write up did say that a lot of plants, including trees, had been lost over the last few, hot, summers. That said, as we explored the garden I kept discovering new small spaces that were hidden behind the house or behind thicker plantings. The main feature was a large pool of water fed by a small rocky waterfall. Above this I discovered some large stepping stones across a pool, which apparently used to be the only way to reach the house from the street.

Photos of the Ford Garden.

 The lower pool.

A view of the pond from the opposite direction.
The stepping stone entrance.

The Waterfall

 The house, mud brick of course, what else would you expect in Eltham?!

One of the small spaces that I 'discovered'. I can imagine myself drinking tea/gin and tonics here in the sun and reading.

A narrow path, I like a lot of height in a  a garden and paths that are very enclosed so that when you emerge in a new space it feels like a surprise. It makes wandering around a garden seem like more of an adventure and I think this is a god example of how it can be done on a smallish scale.


Head in a pot, maybe to remind the children to behave, or something.

The photos below are of the second garden, which was more-or-less designed by the same person from the late seventies. The house in particular has the look of a certain era about it, but not in a bad, dated way.

This is the more recent swimming pool and rock garden. Pretty impressive and a nice way to have a swimming pool, which actually adds to the look of the garden rather than detracts. Though I bet it would be a pain to clean with all those eucalypts around.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Felice Varini

Some of my students told me about this artist during our classes about optical illusions. I would love to see one 'in the flesh' as I feel a photo can't quite do them justice. Indeed, me and the students had to look for a while to find a photo taken 'off centre', which then allowed us to realise just how ingenious the works are (I'm not sure whether to call them paintings or maybe urban sculptures?). In a photo taken from the right angle where it all slots into place we are liable to not even realise what is going on. It simply looks like a photo that has had flat shapes drawn on top of it, it is only when we shift our point of view away from the ideal viewing point that we realise that a selection of three-dimensional objects have been painted in such a way that they create the illusion of a two-dimensional shape. This goes against what we tend to expect from illusionistic art, or art that employs single viewing points. more usually they give the illusion that a flat surface, like a canvas or a wall, has depth. Perhaps Varini is having fun inverting this expectation. 
    He is also playing with the visual cues (both leared and innate) that we use to detect depth and form.When viewed in a photo and I would imagine from the correct view point it is virtually impossible to not see the two-dimensional shape created by Varini, it is very hard for us to try and tell our brains to instead see a series of three-dimensional forms that have been painted the same colour. Yet as soon as we shift from the point the shape shatters in many small pieces. This 'breaking' of the illusion is also important, an done reason why photos of the work are problematic, if we do not realise the trick the artist has played we may never appreciate his skill.

APAC Nevers No. 1, 1986

Deux cercles via la rectangle, 1994

Rettangoli gialli concentrici senza angoli al suolo, 1997

All images from http://www.varini.org/

This youtube video goes some way to capturing the experience of moving toward and past the ideal viewing point.

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