Tag Archives: graffiti

From the Lowry to Manchester — A February Canal Walk

We started at the Lowry on Saturday — arriving in Media City. My partner argues it should be pronounced Mediacity, which does better reflect how shiny it is, how empty and windswept yet expensive, how soulless though it has gone a half-hearted length trying for soul. A few families gave it some life, some heart. But it feels alien from the vantage point of the estates that lie near it:

Salford to Manchester Canal Walk

And honestly, how dared they name the outlet mall after one of my favourite painters known for his incredible street scenes full of workers, children, dogs and cats, sympathetic views of all of us with all of our deformities and sadnesses and tired loneliness showing. Against a great backdrop of factories. One of the great painters of the working classes, the misfits, the outcasts. What I found most poignant was that he painted what would soon be lost. Preserved memories of a city being demolished around him. Like St Simon’s church here:

Street Scene (St Simon’s Church)

And now here he is in the ruins of the lively docks. I wish I had seen his pictures in the old Salford Art Gallery. First public library in the whole of the UK. I could see why some were upset when they moved them, though inside the new gallery the space is lovely. But honestly, the mall.

But this post isn’t about Lowry, not this one. (For more on Lowry you should read Mark Bould’s amazing post here.) It’s about some of the landscapes and the factories as they appear now.  Nothing at Mediacity called for a photograph somehow, not even by its ugliness. It’s just bland despite its bling, built for consumption and status. Uncomfortable. Cold.

I love water, and yet the water along these old Salford Quays was nowhere inviting or picturesque until we left the regenerated area behind us. I loved the canal, however, the vibrance of the graffiti down alongside it. The exuberance of colour and character. Educational too, as I learned all about David Icke and his belief that we were being invaded by lizard people from outer space. Then there was the kid who walked past us with a backpack disguised as Captain America’s shield.

Happiness.

But regeneration was everywhere — in the great banks of painfully plain boxy buildings that could be either offices or ‘luxury’ apartments, in the old factories still beautiful and tastefully renovated, but swallowed up by the cheap new build. In the still empty lots strewn with rubbish and the poverty looking even dingier. This regeneration sat strange and isolated alongside the asphalted motorway, the wreckage of earlier decades that tore down neighbourhoods to build roads of great size funneling speeding cars past with a roaring and a coughing of fumes. Much of this walk was experienced as the city planners’ great fuck you to the pedestrian. I wondered who had thought a sign welcoming the driver to Manchester in a desolate traffic circle might be a good idea, especially alongside the changing neon sign that carried advertisements for Sky News followed by a notice in small font that the city was working to end homelessness.

Seems like there are more people sleeping rough every evening I walk through the streets.

Still we found pockets of awesomeness, a sense of the past. A reminder that more existed in life, in our humanity.

Everywhere these contrasts. Click any photo below and it will take you to a slide show…

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Bristol Wanderings, Autumn

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Katowice: City of the Unseen

I loved Katowice. You will not be surprised after I confess my love of street art, of contrast, of things that are not pinned down in their disinfected cleanliness and their frozen historicities and false fronts but that are in various stages of subsiding or becoming. I find these places full of possibility. Palimpsests of all that has been, visible in crumblings and peeling paint, all that could be in the fanciful newness and bright colour, growth made possible through the crumbling itself. Above all an opportunity for imagination.

Katowice

The strange feeling that something, something had happened here behind this door.

Katowice

The how-on-earth of a caravan behind another door of faded magnificence:

Katowice

The courtyards that lie behind each arch — spaces full of corners, the unseen. Spaces allowed to retain a fullness of mystery and hints of green spaces.

Katowice

It is mystery, perhaps, that I loved most. Not knowing what lies around those corners. Modern constructions leave no spaces unseen like this, never frame space so beautifully, never encourage. exploration in this way, and definitely do not age with such fascination.

Katowice

Unless, of course, modern constructions are built in contrast to the older forms. Then they startle, provide difference. I confess I quite love these towers, their geometries, their thoughtfulness in granting all tenants views and light. I only wish they were a little closer, instead of isolating residents away from the movement and life of the city.

Katowice

Here too, just as in its deeply contrasted satellites Nikiszowiec and Giszowiec, the central mines hovers above and between buildings, filling the view with the memory of the coal that helped bring it to life.

Katowice

Katowice

There is also the great wide center, full of people, buildings representing a different kind of glass-and-steel modernity contrasting with these older streets, and a working public transportation system. I actually like this center as it sits in contrast to other things. I imagine, however, it might be a bit arctic in winter.

Katowice

Beauty and humour abounds here, and it is vibrant with life.

Katowice

Katowice

Katowice

Katowice

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A little more of the art & design that I loved:

Katowice

Katowice

Katowice

Katowice

Katowice

Katowice

This place illustrates many of the principles of creating fascinating human city-scapes explored by people like Cullen and Alexander, I only wish we had had a little more time to explore this city.

Katowice

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Paris Detournements

For all the efforts of Haussman to strip much of the mystery away from Paris, getting rid of narrow crooked streets and old buildings, protest through art could be found everywhere. Especially once we learned better where to look (mostly up — if I had another day in Paris, I would follow the little octopi things wherever they led).

Perhaps so many exist because of Haussman, because of beautiful uniformity.

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A meditation on bridges

Bridges.I love them.

I heard a fascinating lecture by David Gilbert (London Holloway University of London) the other day, on London’s Hungerford Bridge. Also known as the Charing Cross bridge…it was a look at the symbolic significance of the prosaic, not the splashy and fanciful architectural feat. In fact, Hungerford was long considered the eyesore of London, there’s an amazing little illustration from Punch magazine showing a devil staring at the bridge titled ‘The Spirit of Ugliness’. The name of the talk in fact, but I don’t want to steal the thunder. Here is an image of it as it is today, the prosaic and ugly metal railway bridge now hidden by the pedestrian walkways:

It is beautiful. And even its ugliness was painted many times, its metal disappearing into the mist of the Thames…

What I loved most about the lecture was how it made me think. Bridges are fundamental elements to the city, but often unsung (with the exception of those towering examples of technical steel and beauty, or history). They are spaces of connections, flows, and movement, as opposed to walls which contain. They are a kind of unique public space, a meeting place of difference, they have constantly changing rhythms depending on the time of day, and they open up vistas of the city in ways nothing else does. And I’ve always loved bridges, so I went to my flickr page to pull photos and meditate on this love.

Apparently I primarily love what is found under bridges. How extraordinary.

Perhaps it’s the years in LA where bridges are somehow none of these things, but have been distorted and twisted into something entirely different. Here many of them are built so that you can never cross them on foot. It is true that you can cross one or two of the bridges that span the river, but that is the division between East and West, one of the hardest LA divisions to step across in every sense. For most bridges, their function is to move as many cars as possible as quickly as possible through a landscape controlled and despised by its occupants.

Here poverty and resistance send people under the bridges. Into spaces that fill you with rage at what can be done to a city, spaces that give you that undeniably pleasant feeling of mixed tragedy, beauty and danger, that thrill of the photographer that I always try to keep a close watch on…

These bridges built over the pulverized skeletons of a destroyed community, and supporting freeways that divide L.A. into its terrifying sections of racial segregation and despair, it is underneath them that new communities grow, communities that break your heart

And the beauty?

Where everyday resistance has taken them back, reclaimed them, like Chicano Park in San Diego

And this

And so even when I lived in Glasgow I seemed to keep my eyes down, though the view was untouched by pain

Maybe I shall think about trying to photograph what is on top of bridges, and what can be seen looking outwards…without ceasing to spend time underneath.

Frida Kahlo on the streets of LA

Frida Kahlo is an amazing figure, and has become an icon of feminism and revolution… so a quick review? Born in 1907 as Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderon in Coyoacan on the outskirts of Mexico City, she was  3 when the Mexican Revolution  broke out. She suffered from polio, and then had her body almost entirely broken  in an collision between trolley and a bus. She wrote “Feet, what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?” Yet she lived her life in almost constant pain, of body and I think mind, you can see it in her paintings…

frida-kahlo

She married muralist Diego Rivera, and they had an incredibly stormy marriage of passion and mutual infidelity, with Frida a lover of both men and women. Of him she said “There have been two great accidents in my life. One was the trolley, and the other was Diego. Diego was by far the worst.” Their politics were radical, and I think almost everyone knows that Trotsky stayed with them after he left Europe for Mexico. They are a couple found everywhere on LA’s streets

The above is off of Glendale just round the corner from my house, one of Diego Rivera’s most inconographic images alongside Frida’s… her face.

Frida Kahlo

During her lifetime, Frida was too often known simply as Diego Rivera’s wife, but she has come into her own, and her face is found everywhere.

Frida Kahlo

I found these three images of her in one day of biking the city to a distant meeting and back, the above is on Venice Blvd, and below on Pico (though the city has painted over almost all of the graf on Pico…sadness! Still, I’m glad they left this one)

Frida Kahlo

My favourite I think. It is nice to look up and suddenly see her…there are many more of course. And the quote I’d like to leave off with, having known the feeling?

“They are so damn ‘intellectual’ and rotten that I can’t stand them anymore….I [would] rather sit on the floor in the market of Toluca and sell tortillas, than have anything to do with those ‘artistic’ bitches of Paris.” [on Andre Breton and the European surrealists]

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Under the bridge, same L.A. river

I’m still impossibly sad. So this is reflecting on past glories. We headed east from Frogtown on Monday. Frogtown will get its very own post because it’s such an amazing place, but today it is the river. A piece of it, because there was too much.

Here is one of the most fascinating and strangely beautiful places I’ve encountered in L.A., and one that actually scared me. You are always being watched here. And no one can hear you scream.

But enough of the melodramatics, I respectfully took no pictures of the watchers, so let me show you the amazing and incredible bridge.

This is the outside, but it has unguessed depths, and that’s where you are being watched from. More of my people with nowhere else to go but the depths and darkness.

The ground is littered with spray cans and strange sculptures of rocks and wood piled high on top of each other. The world of graf artists and those seeking some kind of home coming together.

And the cars, I don’t know how they got down here, or when.

I love twisted pieces of rusted metal, I find them…beautiful. I think beautiful is the right word. But it’s a dark, jagged, decaying beauty of sharp lines and curves and deep shadows.

And the combination of rusted twisted metal, architecture, nature, and graffiti? Stunning.

The graffiti was incredible, I have to go back. You could spend days I imagine, documenting some of the tags, and a sunny day would be better. But I love rivers as much as dark places, and the river has nothing of the bridge’s enclosed creepiness, with all of the characters.

The view looking out from the caves was incredible too, if you like mazes of concrete and bridges and freeways

I do.

And to turn this place into a home? Someone had tied up things all along the fence. If I were a believer I would say this was brujeria, a witchcraft protection or warning, a wrapping of potent charms in black plastic bundled with flowers and wrapped in yellow cord and shoelace.

I’m not much of a believer at any rate. This guy was just fun.

From here we headed further east, even though that required cutting cross country. But more on that later…

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Los Angeles River, part 1

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful river delta.

And now it is LA. The river flooded its (natural) banks and mocked the mighty city for the last time in 1938. The flood killed good citizens (must have been white and wealthy given the kerfuffle that followed) and led to the recall of a corrupt mayor (I have to look into that story a bit more, sounds like a good one…). Many would say that building a massive city in the middle of a flood plain is just not a good idea. But the army corps of engineers decided to take the river on, and I do believe they won.

It is now a long line of cement wells, a giant drainage ditch running from the San Fernando Valley to San Pedro. And it is still beautiful, but a different sort of beauty. There are remnants of natural beauty of course, birds still abound here, there are islands of trees and long grasses. But it is all full of garbage, and the beauty rather heartbreaking in its proximity to ugliness.

Still, it’s a nice place to sit, relax, think about what once was, with all the comfort of home.

And the graffiti, the graffiti is incredible. It’s enough to make you love concrete and wide open fucked up spaces…And I do love this place

On Sunday we headed west from Frogtown, down towards the zoo and Burbank. Above are the old pylons that carried the red cars, another memory of LA’s catastrophic environmental policies…we scrapped them all in return for freeways. Who needs good public transportation anyway? Or a river. Still, the youth have reclaimed them and turned them into something very cool and particularly their own. And while I don’t care much for clowns, these two were pretty spectacular.

And I suppose biking down a path that runs directly beside a very busy freeway isn’t the best possible thing for your lungs, but the views are pretty sweet…

We biked, and hauled our bikes under the bridges when we had too, some of the most interesting stuff is down there anyway, I love this one

And I also love the fact that someone has a sense of humor

The “heroin addicts can’t spell” definitely made me laugh, as did “what if my parents saw me?” just to the left of it. And I love stencils, especially ones that make you pause for a minute and think…I love this one

The bridges are a riot of color underneath, a mix of art and gang graffiti and tags and stupid shit, all on top of each other. Everything is covered. Here’s a taste of it, along with a glimpse of our hot rides…

But it’s also the dark side of LA, the place where people live who have nowhere else to go. Sets me raging of course, that we live in one of the wealthiest cities in the world and yet cannot take care of our people. Ah capitalism… In fact, for all of our bridges, we don’t have enough of them to serve as shelters for the 70,000+ homeless in LA County. Though they are the shelter that exists, especially when it rains. The number of available beds does not even cover a fraction of the need. People live on the islands in the middle in blanket forts like the ones I made when I was a kid, and here…and what they leave behind them is always tragic, makes this sort of adventure smell much worse than it should, and is sometimes humorous. Often all of them at the same time.

A belt, a pair of boxers, and…er…it really pays not to look too closely at these things.

Love and hate, I love and hate this place as always. I would recommend you take a look, but definitely not alone.

The Dinosaurs of Toronto

The wind bites like fall, the buses throw up whirls and swirls of dead leaves reaching above me as they pass in the street, my black wool coat is warm and my scarf snug about my neck. I forgot how much I love fall. How I love the chill of it, the change and trembling in the air, the tingle in my cheeks, and the feel of snuggling under the warm cloud of a down comforter. I got into Toronto last night and met up with Dawn after her writing class, we went to eat and then walked the long way back to the streetcar, through Kensington market which was lovely…empty but lovely. And great graffiti, which is always enough to warm my heart if narrow streets, cool pubs, tiny little neighborhood stores, coffee houses and such were not enough.

I spent the night feeling like a small woodland creature curled up in a little nest between the radiator and some shelves, an old mattress bundled with extra blankets and a sleeping bag on top for softness, with a sheet on top of it all, and then me, and then…I said it already I think, a warm cloud of downy warmth. And I slept deliciously, glad that I am too long for the couch.

Woke up late…for Toronto. Early for L.A. Spent the morning chatting over coffee and omelet with Dawn into early afternoon, and then headed out into the fall…I had a bit of work to do, a bit of wandering to do, so I mixed both and enjoyed myself thoroughly. I still have to take some good city photographs, but here is one from outside the Royal Ontario Museum which is where I ended up.

I used another friend’s card to sneak in…the woman asked me for id and I said I didn’t have any (!), she looked at me funny, I thought I’d probably have to cut and run, but then she said she could look me up. I was imagining my friend’s picture coming up and seriously thought of cutting and running. Then she asked my address and I confidently gave it to her, I suppose the right street allayed her fears? She said oh dear we have the address wrong, upon which I pulled the little card where I had it written down out of my back pocket and confirmed that no, I was the one who had it wrong. Upon which she handed me an entrance ticket. She was beautiful. Because I don’t think I really pulled it off, but i am staring incipient poverty in the face and that ticket was golden.

And I didn’t even know it, but they have the most marvelous collection of dinosaur skeletons I’ve seen in ages, bits of originals, some casts, but all around extraordinary. They had a 90 foot Barosaurus, one of only two in the world, it has a hugely long razor thin tail that some believe they cracked like a whip. I believe it, I think that makes them much more interesting:

They had an original triceratops skull, a stegasauros, a tiny little compsognathus in a glass case…my dad used to tell us stories about compsognathi when I was little, one day you’ll be reading about them too in the adventures of Osa and Aggie (and me, Michael, Daniel and Tristram. And some of it is even true). They had this enormous fish thing with sharp pointy teeth

and this amazing knobble headed dinosaur that I tragically did not record the sumptuous latin name of:

It’s perhaps my favourite photo of the day. And possibly my favourite dinosaur. And I don’t even know his name. But they also had a rare type of hadrosaur…this one is crested and looks like it pranced about rather joyously and is called a parasuarolophus walkeri. The name rolls of the tongue. and looked very cool

And finally the stuff of nightmares…highly recognizable and always strikes fear into the very heart of me, the one, the only, Tyrannasaurus Rex

But pictures can’t do him justice really. He towers over you, his teeth are huge, even the bare bones of him are big and ravenously hulking. I’ve actually had family discussions about whether T-Rex or Allosaurus was scarier…some say allosaurus was smarter. As if we know. Still, this is the one that scares me.

Other things that scare me are lifesize painted representations of people and animals…like the mechanical cartoon figures at Chuck E Cheese and Disneyland’s Splash Mountain, and apparently Chinese wooden temple statues beginning from the 13th century. Fear is too strong a word perhaps, I’d prefer to think of it simply as a deep unease. But one of them had real human hair as his long beard. Painted statues are really popular in Catholic Churches as well, and the blood is never skimped on, and in fact I remember the crypt of a church in Bahia with mummified bishops still wearing their sacramental robes sat upright and staring down at you. Fear is not to strong a word for that experience, I suppose this “deep unease” has been building for some time. There was also a large section of stuffed birds…creepy, definitely creepy. I really wonder who first thought it was a good idea to kill something alive and beautiful and stuff it.

Anyway, that’s enough proof of my nerdiness for one evening. After the museum I had dinner with dawn and then we went out and did some more work and had some quiet drinking with a tasty piece of Canadian apple crumble which apparently includes dates and raisins and is a wee bit chocolatey…I wasn’t complaining, it was deliciously unexpected. And now I am headed back for the nest after kicking Ozzie the giant half husky sort of dog out of my room. She snores.

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Alleys of East downtown Los Angeles

Every now and then people ask me what I do for fun…I enjoy life quite thoroughly and I could knock out a long list, but today I’ll just look at one…riding my bike through the garbage-filled alleys of downtown L.A. and taking pictures. And writing about it. I believe I am allllmost alone in this, which is why Jose is one of my favourite friends.

Riding through this sort of place is not so fun on your own. I don’t mind the smells, or the rats of course (though I do sometimes worry about the bubonic plague, people still die of it every year in Arizona)…the east side of downtown is industrial, it holds the remnants of skid row and  sweatshops. Its alleys are the city’s margins where everything is swept to keep it out of sight and out of mind, to me they are a strange beauty curled around a dangerous sliver, they are all that is fucked under urban capitalism and the bright face of rebellion against it. They are full of rats, syringes, deals, desperation, drunkenness, art like you’ve never seen it before.

Don’t get me wrong, I like nature too. But there is something about it here…

We went down an alley alongside a burned out garment factory, stark brick and charcoal against the sky

As I was taking pictures two men came up to us, one white and one black, the same hollowed cheeks, dull eyes, brittle frames. They were arguing, voices rasp-edged and angry. They came closer, voices smoothing into friendly calm, they said that the fire had started in the blanket warehouse and spread, an electrical problem. They said they did not beg, they would sing. And they did. And it was beautiful, perfect harmony, perfect rhythm, clearly the fruit of long practice. We gave them some money, Jose mocked me for enjoying it too obviously, and then we passed them again on our way out, their voices rough with edges anew.

We passed rottng fruit, and a shrine to la virgen in a triangular parking garage hung with last years Christmas decorations, we passed shops full of cheap clothes, vendors selling hotdogs wrapped in bacon and tiny live turtles. We passed people hurrying home. We passed a sweatshop awning for a label once called Affluence…but the Affluence had been scraped off and it’s ghost painted over with Shanna K. Beside it was the label Felicity and the alley in front strewn with trash. We passed L.A. Babe…

We passed the extraordinary row of shops that sell everything you could possibly need for a Mexican fiesta

There are fashions in pinatas, superheroes come in and out of style, barbie is replaced by bratz, seasonal variations mean Frankentein and green faced witches are followed by santa claus, there are usually huge corona bottles that can only be for adults…I would admit I would have a great deal of fun swinging blindfolded at a pinata once again.

We found an alley guarded by its own figurehead, or screaming a warning

I suppose if Jose hadn’t been there this just might have scared me a very little bit. From here we reached a couple alleys full of the most extraordinary graffitti art I’ve seen in some time, worth stepping into rotting garbage with my flipflopped foot, and fending off the advances of a very drunk Indian (see what I mean about the importance of traveling companions!).

and this

and this

And it got darker and darker and so we went faster and faster. We passed more solitary walkers in the dusk, more working girls, we passed this place

There are some dive bars even I won’t go into, and this is right up there with el Chubasco. We ended up at Olvera Street and hung out and looked around and ate, and then back home. I made Jose come back through the Terminator tunnel because I wanted to take pictures of that, but all of the damn lights were working! I don’t believe I have ever seen that. Ever. Perhaps that alone was worth taking a picture. But I love it when all the lights are off, when the tiles shine with the reflections from the white of headlights, the red of brakelights, the green of the semaforos. But not tonight. So we rode past the long line of homeless folks already sleeping.

And two last images to finish, this of amazing skill and art and terror

and this:

A face of suffering or sleep or resignation somehow emerging unbidden from a painted-over, tagged-up street sign. This world is full of such awful, terrible, beautiful things.

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