Thursday, 13 November 2014

Fields of Battle - Lands of Peace

Just after Remembrance Day comes Fields of Battle—Lands of Peace 14-18  the work of photojournalist Michael St Maur Sheil.  Captured over a period of seven years, Michael’s photography combines a passion for history and landscape and presents a unique reflection on the transformation of the battlefields of the Great War into the landscape of modern Europe.

Here are just a few of his images

Lochnagar Crater is one of the iconic remnants of the Somme battlefield and just as in the war, one can really only appreciate its true scale from the air. Created by British tunnellers who dug a 600m (0.37 miles)tunnel to reach a point under the German lines where they then placed 50,000lbs of high explosive which was detonated on the 1st July 1916 creating a hole over 90m wide (295’) and 30m deep (98’).

The landscape of the Newfoundland Memorial Park, in Beaumont Hamel in France, with trenches, shell crater and wire pickets. Part of the Somme battlefield, the battle began on 1 July 1916 and ended in a muddy quagmire in mid-November (the Allies advanced only five miles (8km)). The Newfoundland Regiment, nearly 800 men, was virtually wiped out on the first day.


The pockmarked landscape of the Ouvrage du Thiamont battlefield close to Verdun, France still bearing the testimony of the savage ferocity of the fighting. In recent years Verdun has become a symbol of reconciliation between Germany and France – a fitting recognition that during the 10 month battle the opposing sides suffered over 700,000 casualties in total.


Butte de Vauquois, Argonne, France.
The Butte itself is a steep-sided hill which was the site of a village which was captured by the Germans in September 1914. Subsequently the French gained a foot-hold on the summit and both sides began a campaign of mining which lasted until February 1918. The furious mining and counter mining blew away the entire hill-top and today the small village lies at the foot of the hill. Underground there are approximately 17,000 metres of galleries, the deepest of which is 104m, and over 150 chambers and rooms. One of the mines planted here contained over 60 tons of high explosive and was the largest single mine explosion on the Western Front. The photograph above clearly shows the nature of the fighting: the curving line in the bottom centre of the frame is the German front line and the white edifice above that marks the French front line which at this point is about 40 metres distant.



St Symphorien Cemetery was established by the Germans after the Battle of Mons in August 1914 it contains both their own dead as well of those of their British adversaries. Indeed the first British soldier to be killed in combat, Pvt. John Parr is buried here and by an odd quirk of fate the last two Commonwealth soldiers to be killed in the war are buried here. Hainaut in Belgium was originally a potash mine but is now a cemetery of real beauty and tranquillity.

View from Cavernes des Dragons southwards over La Vallee Foulon towards French positions


From August 2014 to November 2018, sixty of Michael’s powerful images will be publicly exhibited around the UK and then internationally; bringing the centenary of the Great War to tens of millions of people in their own communities. You can find more information on the exhibition at fieldsofbattle1418.org.


Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Out of this world books

A collection sci-fi/adventure film books passed my desk today.
Pacific Rim : Man, Machines & Monsters chronicles the production of the film with stunning concept art, captivating photography, and cast and crew descriptions of the shoot.
When legions of monstrous creatures, known as Kaiju, start rising from the sea, a war begins that will take millions in lives and consume humanity’s resources for years. To combat the giant Kaiju, a special weapon is devised: massive robots, called Jaegers, that are piloted by an international crew of soldiers in the Pan Pacific Defense Corps. But even the Jaegers prove nearly defenseless in the face of the relentless Kaiju. On the verge of defeat, two unlikely heroes:- a washed-up former pilot and an untested trainee - team up to pilot a legendary but seemingly obsolete Jaeger on a mission to halt the mounting apocalypse. The book chronicles the production of the film with stunning concept art, captivating photography, and cast and crew descriptions of the shoot.

Terminator vault : the complete story behind the making of the ‘Terminator’ and ‘Terminator 2: Judgment day presented in a slip case it has a number of pockets of ephemera through its pages.
Born out of James Cameron's fever dream, the relentless Terminator has become a cinematic juggernaut. The original ground-breaking film, The Terminator, and its mighty sequel, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, not only assured the blockbuster career of their director but also turned their star, Arnold Schwarzenegger, into an icon. Movies about the dark side of humanity's love affair with technology, they redefined the boundaries between science fiction, horror and action, and set astonishing new standards for special effects.
The vault brings to light the stories behind the landmark films drawing on interviews with James Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger and other cast members. There are storyboards, rare photos of the miniatures, diagrams

George Lucas spent almost 10 years bringing his dream project to life: a ground-breaking space fantasy movie - a swashbuckling sci-fi saga inspired by vintage Flash Gordon serials, classic American westerns, and mythological heroes. Its original title: The Star Wars. The rest is history. Yet its production is a story as entertaining and exciting as the film itself. Now, recounted in the words of those who were there, it is finally being told, for the first time. During the years 1975 to 1978, over 50 interviews were conducted with key members of the cast and crew. Remarkably these interviews have sat, undisturbed, in the Lucasfilm Archives for three decades. Until now. The interviews are fresh, candid and - above all - more accurate than many other reported accounts.

Now linking Star War with the last book is Harrison Ford - he stars in both. Based on the best-selling novel, "Ender's Game" Jed Alger's Ender's Game : inside the world of an epic adventure tells the thrilling story of the fight to save the world from a devastating future. I remember reading "Enders Game" (which became the first of the Ender Wiggins series) years ago. In this official companion volume, the behind-the-scenes world of the film are brought into stunning focus. Packed with in-depth interviews, removable posters and army badges, stunning concept art, unparalleled access to the visual effects archives at Digital Domain, and countless full-colour images, this insightful insider's view of the making of "Ender's Game" will bring fans closer into the world of the movie, following cast and crew as it is brought to dazzling life.  
Like the films they portray these coffee-table books are bigger than life, bright and flashly, full of impossibilities, and a wonderful introduction to the films themselves.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Stick Shed on 101 heritage list



Major news, as local icon - the Murtoa Stick Shed - is being placed on the National Heritage List next to natural places such as the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and the Great Barrier Reef; other built heritage places - the Sydney Opera House, Port Arthur Historic Site, and Melbourne’s Royal Exhibition Building, and alongside our other local listing – the Grampians.

Australia's national heritage comprises exceptional natural and cultural places that contribute to Australia's national identity and encompasses those places that reveal the richness of Australia's extraordinarily diverse natural heritage.
The heritage listings defines critical moments in our development as a nation and reflects the achievements of Australians.
This is Australia’s highest heritage honour, The Stick Shed, becomes just the 101st place of Australian cultural significance to be National Heritage listed, giving recognition to its significant role in the history of Australia's wheat industry and the impact of the Second World War on the home-front.

The Stick Shed (The Marmalake No. 1 Grain Store) was born out of desperation and inspiration. Initially a temporary emergency building, it was erected during 1941 when the war prevented exporting the wheat harvest overseas. The Australian Wheat Board was left with a valuable resource but insufficient, adequate storage for it.
Work started in September 1941 on a building designed to hold over 3 million bushels (92,500 tonnes) of wheat. The design was based on the same angle a pile of wheat forms naturally. Nearly 600 unmilled hardwood poles were used to hold up the roof.
 
The Stick Shed under construction (PROV)
The wartime restrictions meant that only raw, local and recycled materials were available, labour and machinery were scarce. Builders had to rely on ingenuity to overcome problems and shortages, they adopted common bush techniques to brace the poles.
What the builders erected was an adequate storage facility which has outlived its intended lifespan, but they also unintentionally created a serene cathedral-like interior amongst its forest of poles. 
 

Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt said National Heritage listing meant the grain store was recognised as a significant part of Australia’s history and ensured it would be protected and celebrated for future generations.
The Stick Shed is open this weekend on Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 4pm, as part of Muroa's Big Weekend - don't miss Australia's 101st National Heritage Site.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

The decline of Detroit grandeur


Grandeur Lost: The Modern Ruins of Abandoned Detroit is another abandonment post from WebUrbanist
The now famous pic of William Livingstone house
Detroit is arguably one of the most fascinating modern cities in the world. This is thanks to the city’s unique balance between its former identity as a manufacturing mecca and its current state of sectional abandonment and renewal. It is neither deserted nor wholly occupied, but exists in tension between destruction, creation and everyday living. 
French photographers Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre saw the abandoned parts of this compelling urban landscape and documented it in their book The Ruins of Detroit.
United Artists Theatre - talk about decayed grandeur!
Despite the empty neighbourhoods, abandoned buildings and crumbling structures. The city balances its former glory, its current semi-abandoned status, with pockets of fresh new life and creative directions springing up from the ashes.
East Side Public Library
The city, so rich with history both industrial and individual, was once the fourth largest in the United States. It housed some of the country’s brightest engineers and most promising entrepreneurs. The city grew and its residents continued to expand their living areas into planned suburbs.
Atrium of the Farwell building
But the automobile industry which played such a large part of the city’s early days also proved part in its undoing. White middle-class residents used those cars to move out of the inner city and into their new suburbs. Segregation increased steadily until the violent race riot in 1967.

Following the riot, the city continued its rapid decline. The industry that built Detroit moved on to other locations. Inner-city residents fled their homes by the thousands. Every race and every economic class was affected by this exodus; the city simply bled away until it held less than half its former population.
Lee Plaza Hotel
Unlike almost any other place in the world, Detroit’s abandoned buildings and ruined structures are not isolated in one part of the city. Grand, well-kept buildings can exist just meters away from crumbling ruins. Inhabited and abandoned homes exist side by side in neighbourhoods.
The grandeur of the multi-storey Michigan Central Railway Station
What is so compelling about the images in The Ruins of Detroit is the seeming urgency of the city’s abandonment. In civic buildings, papers and boxes still occupy offices. In abandoned libraries, books continue to line the walls. Schools still hold desks and police stations are stuffed with forgotten and mouldering mug shots. Chairs are tipped over as though the former occupants of these buildings suddenly evacuated due to an emergency. No hope of salvaging the situation.
St Christopher House Public Library
Given the slow but steady decline of the city’s population, this urgency is baffling. Surely there was more than enough time to clean the buildings out, remove anything that could be reused or salvaged and clean the buildings up. But it seems that no one cared to take the time to do so.

This state of partial ruination is ephemeral – eventually it must give way to complete ruin or rebuilding. As witnessed in my Decaying Detroit post, the photographers’ goal was to capture Detroit’s current state of abandonment before fate tips one way or the other.
The East Methodist Church
Yet more photographs at the Weburbanist site.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Schools running wild

I was out and about on the weekend searching for school sites and, late in the afternoon, arrived at Rainbow East or the Hazeldene school site.
Back when the school was open 1908-1960 it was a wide open expanse with little to revive the outlook, and it is still much the same today - a concrete plinth in the corner of a crop paddock. What surprised me was the swathe of grape hyacinths in the gutter of the road verges. The hardy little bulbs still emerging after more than 50 years of abandonment.
Grape hyacinths and a few capeweed daisies
But it does make you think about the efforts of the past pupils and teachers who planted and cared them, often in difficult circumstances.
I've come across a number of bulbs that emerge each year, typically jonquils, belladonna lilies or nerines at abandoned schools and homes, and also more rarely the beautiful yellow Autumn crocus found at both Ellam (1927-1970s) and Sandsmere (1887-1951) school sites.
A clump of Autumn crocus at Ellam







As well as a number of perennial plants: these two were found at the older Tooan site (1882-1969) overlooking St Mary's Lake. 

The site is surrounded by sugar gums, a few pines, and a herbacous plant crowding the window, and clumps of jonquils and daffodils each spring. 

The newer Highway site has a mammoth flowering cacti.






 Usually you can guess at the location of a school by larger plants: sugar gums, pepper trees, and strangely - cactus/cacti.
Boyeo School has all three
The Watchupga (variously named Watchupga North East, Watchupga Railway Station, and then Watchupga) site is almost triffid-like, under attack from invading spiky cactus. The school has only been closed since 1972.

At the Miram North East school (which featured in “Mad as rabbits”, no relationship that I can see) it is a succulent that has been running amuck since 1933, constrained it would be a great pot-plant.
Miram North East school site
The Lake Hindmarsh marker surrounded by an overgrown garden
Then there are places like Wal Wal which are still a veritable park with a specimen palm, deciduous trees, roses (desperately in need of a trim) and small plants. The school closed in 1973.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Atomspheric gothic narrative

Alison Croggon's 'Dark Spring' is a gothic retelling of 'Wuthering Heights' but with the addition of the lore as divined by vindictive wizards and ruled by generations-long vendetta.
Lina (Catherine) is the enchanting but willful daughter of a village lord. She and her childhood companion, Damek (Heathcliff), have grown up privileged and spoiled, and they're devoted to each other to the point of obsession.
But Lina's violet eyes betray her for a witch, and witches are not tolerated in this brutally patriarchal society. Her rank protects her from persecution, but it cannot protect her from tragedy and heartbreak. And ultimately to the devastation that ensues as destructive longing unleashes Lina's wrath, and with it her forbidden power.
There are differences to the Bronte classic, Lina doesn't have a brother, but the consequences in this version are similar. I also found the narrator (Emily Bronte's Lockwood) here named Hammel, is just as reminiscent of Harker in Bram Stoker's 'Dracula', and the description of his journey  and arrival at the Northern Plateau beneath the Black Mountains parallels Harker's appearance, especially as he passes the stone towers and all the grave markers - a desolate landscape of cemeteries.
It is Alison's vivid depiction of the landscape which places you in the same Bronte-esk atmosphere, the Plateau could as easily be the moors, the bleak weather, the houses a dark brooding bastion, and its remoteness from civilisation.
Whether drawn by the romantic, the magical, or the gothic, readers will be irresistibly compelled by the passion of this tragic tale - even if you know the ending, you don't know the story.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Exploring with WebUrbanist

So much to see...so little time. The people at WebUrbanist have done it again, with 'Urban Exploration Tips, Tricks & Guides'.


Especially the link to '30 Websites & Online Forums for Adventurous Urban Explorers' as the title suggests, it is a list of online resources for would-be urban explorers around the world, from urbex forums to photo sites and more, dedicated to abandoned places and vehicles worth exploring.
Gull lightship (from Derelict London)
Too many to list here, my only objection is that there are some dead-links, still heaps to observe and read about. Just do as they suggest and bookmark it.
Always remembering as WebUrbanist put it - 'Urban exploration (also known as ‘building infiltration’) is a risky sport at best and an illegal one at worst. While WebUrbanist can’t endorse breaking the law there is fortunately no law against reporting on it and some forms of urban exploration are fortunately legal, for those interested in exploring this illicit urban sport'.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Drive-by reading

Twisted Sifter's 'Picture of the Day' - a garage door painted like a giant bookcase in the Los Angeles neighbourhood of Hollywood Hills.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Hold it right there

I've been neglecting Bibliophile for a while, so here are some artistic shots of everyday objects in unusual senarios.

Sound waves are seen in ethereal splashes of red, blue, green and yellow in Fabian Oefner’s ‘Dancing Colors’ series. The movement of the coloured pigments is the result of music pulsing through a speaker, which is wrapped in thin plastic and covered in powder. When the speaker is turned on, the plastic vibrates, shooting the pigment into the air.

This bizarre form is actually liquid droplet captured in motion with a high-speed flash, micro controller and a knack for precise timing. Artist León Dafónte Fernánde uses water, cream, milk or a combination, sometimes thickened with sugar gum or glucose, tinted with food colouring to get these unusual results

German photographer Markus Reugels achieves a very similar, blown-glass-like effect in his own high-speed water droplet photography. Again, the water is slightly thickened to make it just dense enough to dance in the most unexpected of ways. Reugels creates all of these various patterns by delaying the time and amount of droplets and taking the image at just the right moment.
 
Floto + Warner momentarily make elusive forms within coloured liquid seem three-dimensional and static. Getting these dramatic images just right is no easy task; many attempts are made to toss the fluid into the air so that it looks just right against the hills and desert of northern Nevada.
 Yes it is 'Frozen in motion' by WebUrbanist.