Made In..

Half term often lures the Lestarets back up north to see our other types and last weekend was no different. On Sunday morning though, Mrs. Lestaret talked me into a trip into the city centre for a spot of shopping, to which I agreed on the condition that I did not have to go shopping. So off we went, me with my camera and Mrs. Lestaret with our eldest daughter Uppercase and the credit card. I don’t know who came out the best in that deal, but judging by the size and amount of Primark bags in the boot on the way home, I guess it would depend on whose angle you judged it from…

I had to park (No, I chose to – there are cheaper places to park in town, but I figured that this was worth the extra dosh. What? Did I really say that?) in ‘The Cheesegrater’ – a great brute of a concrete multistory, clad in angled aluminium panels. It has divided opinion in Sheffield but has won many architectural awards. I love it because it is so out of character with its surroundings. I like cities that reflect their cultural heritage, but tend to find that many of them end up as a pastiche of their former selves. I believe towns and cities should reflect each of their ages – that includes the odd 1960’s and 70’s concrete abortions too – it’s how we measure ourselves in our own era. Take the ‘Hole in the Road’ (Castle Square) for instance; a mini shopping area built into the subways under a major road junction, open to the elements in the centre, and on a slope, so when it rained the subways became impassable. (Many thought the stench of urine made it impassable, but that’s another story!) It even had a fish tank built into one of the walls and there were at least 10 tramps living in the darkest corners of the subways at any one time. Heralded as a breakthrough in urban planning when built, it is, alas, no more. The march of progress slows for no-one, so it will probably be no surprise that it has been filled in and now is a tram stop. Yes, a tram stop. Not a hover-tram, a laser guided particle re-aligning tram, or indeed, any other type of tram except one of those old fashioned things that run on rails and are powered by overhead cables. Ah, progress. But I digress. I just hope that we don’t get rid of all the character from our urban centres, just because they aren’t fashionable anymore.

Anyway, the cheesegrater is a remarkable building from any angle, and as I wandered towards the Winter Gardens and the Millenuim Galleries I spied another photo opportunity in front of one of half a dozen or so shiny metals balls gushing over with water. You can see the arch of the Winter gardens in the reflection if you squint funny.

I thought I’d try a self-portrait too. This wasn’t taken in the water distorted reflection on one of those metal balls, I do actually look as deformed as this!

I spent a diverting half hour in the Ruskin Gallery and was gladdened by this sign. You don’t get that much. I was taking another photograph of some etchings when I was politely accosted by a terribly friendly security bod and informed that, although I was allowed to molest several of the major artworks, I was not allowed to photograph them. I know, I know, I know the rules, but, well… I begged my apologies and continued to the Lovebytes exhibition next door.

There were some interesting exhibits, but the one that attracted the most attention was the Body Paint digital wall by Mehmet Akten. Its colours and textures changed depending on your movement and proximity, so encouraged normally rational, exhibition going people to do things like toss their hats across the room and so on. Wouldn’t catch me doing anything like that. I did take a sneeky picture though. Once more, the ever-so-friendly security bod apologised and reminded me of the no photography policy in the galleries. More apologies followed and went our separate ways, both happy in the understanding that we both clearly understood the policy.

Another piece I was drawn to was a dining table, set out with plain white crockery. A digital projector, directly overhead displayed varous patterns onto each of the plates, bowls and tureens. Whilst I stood there in quiet contemplation, an error window appeared in the centre of the table:

It was a temptation too great to resist. I thought I had been discreet, snapping off the lens cap as I unzipped my jacket and switching the LCD screen to the viewfinder so I didn’t display any tell-tale light. Well, my unbearably polite and apologetic personal security technician was digitally beamed into my vicinity, where clearly under some sort of ‘three strikes and you’re out’ policy, I was excorted to the doors and asked not to return, but reminded that that did not include the gift shop, where his colleagues would gladly divest me of lots of money for very little in return. I obliged on the first bit and found myself back outside in a crisp Northern light.

OK I deserved it. I’m not after sympathy or anything. Just recalling the moment is all. Ah well.

I was looking at the Winter Garden structure and admiring the tiny but elegant  brace that holds up the central wooden arches. On the left, not as elegant, but pleasingly similar is a supporting strut from a neighbouring building. On the right, a bloody ashtray. Come on people! I know we’ve banished smokers to the elements, but should we station them in front of all our lovely new (or old for that matter) buildings? Ok, I was feeling a little abashed as I (ahem) left the galleries and I, like everyone else I suppose, would have left without noticing this. It did begin to cloud my other observations of my old home town.

A walk around the town hall and I came upon this old police box – I had forgotten about this! But whose bright idea was it to paint it that colour? Did an old mental institution find some left over tins of ‘1970’s Mental Hospital Green’ and donated them to our cash strapped Bobbies? Bloody Hell! You’d think that there was at least one bright spark in the Force who would say, you know, if we paint it dark blue like the Tardis, we could use this as a good PR tool. But no. Some Dilbert will have answered the phone and said “Oh yes? From the 1970’s you say? It is that vile and bilious shade of green isn’t it? Oh splendid! Send it ’round!” Like I said, I wasn’t in the greatest of moods.

I did feel like dialling 0 for Assistance though, but thought better of it…

I did get back into the swing of things a bit later though. I found this little corner around the back of Union Street. I love how the upper storeys of buildings get forgotten behind the shiny plastic facades and plate glass of the shops beneath…

And whilst waiting for Mrs. Lestaret and Uppercase to return I spied a section of ghostly graphics from a different era. Sandwiched between the plastic facades and plate glass (I know, point made!) and further disguised amongst the bus stops and street signs was the partially obsured legend “& Co.” I liked that. It made me forget my earlier mood. I returned home a much more happy chappy…

And yes, I decided to play about with the settings on my camera, and push things a little further in PhotoShop. B&W is still cool…

Additional bit – I was just about to post this entry and came across this blog on my tag surfer that reference this post on the AIGA website. Not exactly related, but I thought it had some relevance here…


6 thoughts on “Made In..

  1. I laughed out loud upon reading about the college lecturer’s ejection from an art gallery. Still punk at heart eh.

    I myself got told off at the Fletcher exhibition on tuesday for ‘leaning on the cabinets’ in order to get a close look at the works inside.

    I find fewer things more irritating in life than the people who enforce petty rules. Petty rules themselves are irritating, but I reserve a special hatred for those who enforce with blind devotion such superfluity.

  2. It’s rare I drive into town, so I’m yet to experience the inside of the new car park. I must come up with an excuse to visit, as I find multi-storey car parks fascinating. I’m not sure there is on earth a more unnatural, inhuman environment to be found.

    I can recommend Simon Henley’s book ‘The Architecture Of Parking’ for anyone equally sad as I.

    Maintaining the theme of this thread I should mention that I was once ejected from the Arundel Gate multi-storey when on a photography mission as a student. Upon my calm questioning, health and safety was the spurious reason managed by the huffy hi-vis official, after much confused hesitation.

    I left baffled by his preparedness to enforce rules he himself couldn’t justify, as he returned to his fibreglass cubicle and Daily Sport.

    Having said all this, perhaps no-photography rules in galleries might have some merit. On Tuesday I shared a portion of my time at the Fletcher exhibition with a minibus full of design students, and from what I could gather it seemed their idea of visiting such a gallery consisted of simply taking a hasty picture of each display and accompanying synopsis plate beside before hurriedly moving on.

    I didn’t know what to find more shocking – the speed with which they completed their laps of the gallery, or the disdainful and dismissive stance they appeared to adopt while doing so.

    In fact I could have taken offense had I myself not spent the last ten years of my career suffering as a result of my similarly shameful (if not so digitally-enhanced) ignorance when I was their age.

    1. Stu – we all raced around the exhibitions – it’s what we do when we are students. One of my current students managed to do the entire Ed Ruscha at the Hayward Gallery in less than five minutes!

      I think thats why we lecturers like to give students info up front and let them do exhibitions at their pace; it allows us to enjoy it without at out own pace whilst they spend several hours spending their dosh on tat in the gift shop!

      As for the no photography policy – that’s all b*****ks – what they want is for everyone to buy the catalogue for £35 or a postcard for £3. It’s all to do with legalities and commerce and it p****s me off, especially when you pay to get in. I would rather pay for entry and take my own images than get in free and ‘have’ to buy a record of my visit. What I focus in on is usually not in the books, and of interest to me – it’s why I go to exhibitions in the first place.

      Still, once a punk, always a punk, eh? Even at 41, I still enjoy a little mischief now and again!

  3. A great piece of writing.
    Insights, humour, man against petty rules (sketching is ok), history, architecture. My favourite bit is the two struts – very little ted / big ted. You are the Johnathan Meades of typography.
    Let’s have one on Kings Lynne!

    1. A photographic tour of the delights of King’s Lynn is on the cards Trevor – I’m waiting for the weather to pick up a bit first – I want to shoot a couple of the historic old parts of town as well as a few run down bits when the weeds are all out in bloom! Watch this space!

      Jonathan Meades is a real hero of mine – to be commented upon in the same paragraph, never mind compared to, is a rare treat, nay honour! Thankyou Trevor. I will sleep well in my skin tonight…

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