London’s Seven Dials

The stranger who finds himself in the Dials for the first time…at the entrance of Seven obscure passages, uncertain which to take, will see enough around him to keep his curiosity awake for no inconsiderable time…” – Charles Dickens, ‘Sketches by Boz’ (1836)

In the early 1690′s, the MP Thomas Neale (1641-99) attempted to develop part of the overcrowded slum of London’s St. Giles into what is now Seven Dials. Today the trendy shopping area is a far cry from the disreputable hovel depicted in William Hogarth’s Gin Lane (1751) – printed almost 60 years after Neale strove to pull the area out of the gutter, it shows that the original plans for redevelopment were ultimately a failure. Neale wanted to establish Seven Dials as a fashionable London address, following in the earlier footsteps of the successful Covent Garden Piazza. However, the area failed to do this and it quickly deteriorated into one renowned for its many gin shops. At one point a pub could be found on every one of the seven points facing the central column, their cellars and vaults connecting in the basement, accommodating the possible need for a quick escape.

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William Hogarth, ‘Gin Lane’ from Beer Street and Gin Lane, 1751, Etching and engraving. Image source: en.wikipedia.org

Neale’s master plan began to unfold in 1691, with the construction of six streets radiating out from a central ‘circus’, holding a column decorated with six sundials. A seventh street – the eastern part of what is now Mercer Street, named after the Worshipful Company of Mercers, who owned the land and licensed the building work – was added in the early years of the eighteenth century, but it was too late for anyone to alter the already finished column to match. The seventh style of the middle column has thus been interpreted as the actual monument itself.

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Modern day map of Seven Dials, London.

Charles Dickens Junior (1837-96) noted the poverty of the area in the nineteenth century: shops selling second and third hand goods, a bizarre cluster of stores selling “every rarity of pigeon, fowl and rabbit, together with rare Birds such as hawks, owls and parrots, love birds and other species native and foreign”. He took note of children playing in the streets together completely unsupervised, while their parents presumably sat in one of the seven pubs facing the central monument - “it is evident whatever there may be a lack of in the Dials, there is no lack of money for drink”.

Moreover, the nineteenth century also saw an influx of Irish workers into the area, who were predominately attracted by the cheap, though overcrowded, lodgings. Henry Mayhew observed in 1861: “In many houses in Monmouth Street there is a system of sub-letting among journeymen. In one room lodged a man and his wife, (a laundress), 4 children and 2 single young men. The woman was actually delivered in this room while the men kept at their work – they never lost an hours work!” The flood of immigrants gradually spread out to surrounding areas, from Endell Street to Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue, easing pressure on Seven Dials and allowing for a steady gentrification of it as craftsmen and larger businesses moved in.

** Interestingly, nearby Neal’s Yard, today housing many vegetarian cafes and homeopathic remedy shops, has been home to alternative medicine, occultism, and astrologers since the seventeenth century, all of whom were attracted by the sundials and the symbolic star layout of Seven Dials.

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Photo of Seven Dials looking up Little Earl Street, now part of Earlham Street, in 1896.

Mixed Blood

Coming from an Anglo-Japanese background myself, CYJO’s continuous photographic series Mixed Blood (2010-2013) is something that hits close to home. The project depicts New York and Beijing based “mixed” families, and highlights the cross-cultural, unique, and subjective lifestyles and experiences born from the amalgamation of different cultures, faiths, and ethnicities. CYJO’s photos are windows into the lives of families that have had to naturally create a culture and identity of their own through tradition, modernisation, and citizenship.

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I feel a strong connection to the portraits and narratives in CYJO’s Mixed Blood. They are at once familiar and provocative. They highlight the borrowing, plucking, reshaping, and discarding that we do in fixing our identities at any given time, in a particular space, and for a particular purpose. – Dr. Maya Soetoro-Ng, University lecturer and sister of US President Obama.

 

Liu Bolin: The Invisible Man

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Hiding in the City No. 16 and No. 17 — People’s Policeman, 2006. Photo: Eli Klein Fine Art, © Liu Bolin

As a child (and still today) I was/am a huge fan of the Where’s Wally series. So coming across Liu Bolin’s work for the first time this year, I was instantly drawn to the similar challenge it invited of finding hidden figures. Bolin is more commonly and aptly known as the “Invisible Man” due to his incredible talent of blending into the backgrounds and settings of his works – in some cases, he is completely unseen despite being in the absolute foreground. Presenting a talk at a TED conference in February 2013 (just under 8 minutes long and really worth watching!), the Chinese artist explained that physically disappearing into his art gave him the opportunity to consider the “contradictory and often inter-cancelling” relationship between civilisation and its development. Through these images Bolin was able to emphasise the social and political issues inherent in China today, using his works as a platform to speak for those made invisible by the Chinese government – whether by consumer culture or by circumstances of history.

In the talk, Bolin refers to his 2005 ‘Hiding in the City’ collection as a “reflective…series of protests”, highlighting its powerful and intentionally thought-provoking nature. The images came about after Chinese police destroyed the artist’s village of Suo Jia Cun, as the government attempted to discourage communities of artists working and living together. In retaliation, Bolin and his assistants painted his clothes, face, and hair to blend into the background of his torn down studio. Since then, the “Invisible Man” can be found fading into scenes set all over Beijing. The objective being that “just as with Bolin himself, the contradictions and confusing narratives of China’s post-Cultural Revolution society are often hiding in plain sight”.

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Hiding in the City – 2005. Photo: Eli Klein Fine Art, © Liu Bolin

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Hiding in the City — Family Photo, 2012. Photo: Eli Klein Fine Art, © Liu Bolin

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Hiding in the City No. 92 — Temple of Heaven, 2010. Photo: Eli Klein Fine Art, © Liu Bolin

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Hiding in the City — Mobile Phone, 2012. Photo: Eli Klein Fine Art, © Liu Bolin

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Hiding in the City – Sleeping Lion, 2012. Photo: Eli Klein Fine Art, © Liu Bolin

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Hiding in the City – Panda, 2011. Photo: Eli Klein Fine Art, © Liu Bolin

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Hiding in the City No. 99 – Three Goddesses, 2011. Photo: Eli Klein Fine Art, © Liu Bolin

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Hiding in the City No. 71 – Bulldozer, 2008. Photo: Eli Klein Fine Art, © Liu Bolin

St. Dunstan in the East, London

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Near London’s Monument and Tower Hill, tucked behind the many office buildings that make up the city’s skyline, lie the beautiful, overgrown ruins of the medieval church of St. Dunstan in the East. The building was originally constructed around 1100 and rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren after sustaining severe damages in the 1666 Great Fire of London. Wren added the steeple and tower during this reconstruction in the 1690′s, and they remain the only parts of the church that survived the Blitz of 1941. Following the end of World War II and the re-organisation of the Anglican Church, it was unfortunately decided not to rebuild St. Dunstan’s. However in 1967, the City of London decided to turn the remains into a public garden, opening it in 1970. A range of plants now wend their way around the ruins, with vines and foliage naturally draped around the walls and windows of the church. It presents a scene more akin to a Romantic and picturesque painting, and is a hidden gem well worth visiting in London.

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Capturing America in Colour

In the late nineteenth century the Detroit Publishing Company acquired the exclusive rights to use the Swiss photochrom method to convert black and white photographs into coloured prints. Most popular in the 1890′s, when colour photography was first developed but still commercially impractical, the photochrom process involved transferring black and white negatives on to lithographic printing plates to produce multiple copies. They subsequently became incredibly popular with the public, enabling the mass production of colour postcards, prints, and albums for sale to the American market.

The Detroit Publishing Company had access to more than 40,000 negatives. Its crew toured the US, producing additional images in a railroad car whose interior had been transformed into a photographic studio. They created more than seven million photochrom prints, selling popular images to the public and documenting the charm of American life and landscape in colour for the first time. Here are ten from the private collection of Marc Walter, made between 1888 and 1924. They exhibit the vast and varied landscape of North America in a surreal and unearthly manner, and record the lives of its people at the turn of the century. Looking closely at some of the prints you will notice areas of colour tint fading into grey, evidence of where the untinted original escaped being brought to life.

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Clear Creek Canyon, Georgetown loop, Colorado. Photograph: Collection Marc Walter, Taschen.

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Mulberry Street, New York. Photograph: Collection Marc Walter, Taschen.

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Mariposa Grove, ‘Three Graces’, Yosemite National Park, California. Photograph: Collection Marc Walter, Taschen.

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View from O’neill’s Point, Grand Canyon, Arizona. Photograph: Collection Marc Walter, Taschen.

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The Zuni people doing the Rain Dance, New Mexico. Photograph: Collection Marc Walter, Taschen.

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A Monday Washing, New York. Photograph: Collection Marc Walter, Taschen.

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Magnolia-on-the-Ashley, Charleston. Photograph: Collection Marc Walter, Taschen.

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Homestake Mine, South Dakota. Photograph: Collection Marc Walter, Taschen.

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Sunset from the Battery, New York. Photograph: Collection Marc Walter, Taschen.

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On the circular bridge of Mount Lowe railway, California. Photograph: Collection Marc Walter, Taschen.

 

‘Love Ever After’

Five years ago the American photographer Lauren Fleishman began a project photographing couples who had been married for more than fifty years. This touching portraiture series was born out of the death of Fleishman’s grandfather, who had kept a book by his bedside of important birthday and anniversary dates. Upon his passing, Fleishman found a number of love letters written to her grandmother from her husband during the second World War tucked between the pages of this book. “I read the letters and thought about the importance of histories,” Fleishman says. “I wanted to work on a project where I could almost save these histories.” 

Although Fleishman trained as a photographer, this project additionally saw her taking on the roles of an interviewer and an archivist, as she recorded the oral histories of her subjects alongside their portraits. “I tell the couples, ‘I’m taking the photograph but you are writing your love story,’” she says. “And a lot of the things that they’re talking about, I get the impression that they haven’t thought of these things in years.” What results from this interactive, in depth and personal working process is a photographic series of “love letters” that document and celebrate the years these couples have spent together, and the memories they have created in that time. Fleishman originally began the project with the intention of better understanding the one secret and rule for a long lasting relationship, something her couples all seemed to know. “I thought that there would be one common thread that kept them all together all these years,” she says. “There really isn’t. Everybody is just so different.”

 

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You really don’t think about getting older. First of all, you’re aging together and when you see a person constantly you don’t notice big changes. Like you don’t notice, oh you’re getting a little wrinkle here and tomorrow you say oh it’s a little deeper. No those are things that just happen. You dont pay attention to those things. You dont realize it.. really . You dont realize that you’re.. I mean I’m not thinking everyday, oh my husbands 83 years old he’s gonna be 84. Oh my goodness, I’m married to an old man. And I hope he feels that way too. —Angie Terranova, Staten Island, New York.

We met each other at a dancing party. It was January 1938. My friend invited me to the party. He said there were a lot of beautiful young girls. Another cadet with high boots had approached her but she didn't like high boots and so she said no to him. I was the second one to approach her, I had a different uniform, but I'm still not sure if it was my uniform or my face that attracted her to me. —Yevgeniy Kissin, Midwood, Brooklyn.

We met each other at a dancing party. It was January 1938. My friend invited me to the party. He said there were a lot of beautiful young girls. Another cadet with high boots had approached her but she didn’t like high boots and so she said no to him. I was the second one to approach her, I had a different uniform, but I’m still not sure if it was my uniform or my face that attracted her to me.
—Yevgeniy Kissin, Midwood, Brooklyn.

We knew each other before the war but we never spoke. He was with other girls because he was much, much older than me. You know he was very nice looking! He was a tailor and he had a place where he made suits for men.  When we came back from the war he had gone to my sisters house. I was staying with her. In August of this year we will have been married 63 years. I would say love came little by little. Not right away. We were young and he was older but I liked him. He spoke to me in a very nice way. —Golda Pollac, Mill Basin, Brooklyn.

We knew each other before the war but we never spoke. He was with other girls because he was much, much older than me. You know he was very nice looking! He was a tailor and he had a place where he made suits for men. When we came back from the war he had gone to my sisters house. I was staying with her. In August of this year we will have been married 63 years. I would say love came little by little. Not right away. We were young and he was older but I liked him. He spoke to me in a very nice way.
—Golda Pollac, Mill Basin, Brooklyn.

I was having a problem in school because I had to write a music paper and I had never written anything about music. It was my mother who had suggested that I go see David because he knew so much about music. So I went over and I thought maybe he would write it for me! But he said no, I'll help you but you have to write it yourself. He always had very high standards. After we wrote the paper together he asked me to go to a party with some of his army friends. You know, I had never thought of him romantically! He looked at me the way a man who has just come out of the army would look at a sexy woman. —Sheila Newman, Flatlands, Brooklyn.

I was having a problem in school because I had to write a music paper and I had never written anything about music. It was my mother who had suggested that I go see David because he knew so much about music. So I went over and I thought maybe he would write it for me! But he said no, I’ll help you but you have to write it yourself. He always had very high standards. After we wrote the paper together he asked me to go to a party with some of his army friends. You know, I had never thought of him romantically! He looked at me the way a man who has just come out of the army would look at a sexy woman.
—Sheila Newman, Flatlands, Brooklyn.

I was the kind of girl that fell in love right away. So the next day I would tell my friend, terrific, I'm in love already! But after my first date with Sol I did not feel that way. I think it only proved to this day that you can't judge right away. It may not work out but as you get to know a person love comes. —Gloria Holtzman, Midwood, Brooklyn.

I was the kind of girl that fell in love right away. So the next day I would tell my friend, terrific, I’m in love already! But after my first date with Sol I did not feel that way. I think it only proved to this day that you can’t judge right away. It may not work out but as you get to know a person love comes.
—Gloria Holtzman, Midwood, Brooklyn.

And my favourite couple:

What is the secret to love? A secret is a secret and I don't reveal my secrets! —Ykov Shapirshteyn, Brighton Beach, Brooklyn.

What is the secret to love? A secret is a secret and I don’t reveal my secrets!
—Ykov Shapirshteyn, Brighton Beach, Brooklyn.

To learn more about Lauren Fleishman and her photographic projects, visit her website here.

David Hockney’s Spring

The London Royal Academy’s ‘David Hockney: A Bigger Picture’ (Jan. 21st 2012 – April 9th 2012) has undoubtedly been one of my favourite art exhibitions so far.

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Exhibited at the 2012 RA exhibition. David Hockney, Winter Timber, 2009 Photo: Private collection © David Hockney

The 2012 blockbuster exhibition focused on Hockney’s beautiful depictions of landscapes, concentrating especially on the Yorkshire Wolds, and featured bold and colourful works in oil paint, watercolour, charcoal and ones drawn on his iPad. So I am extremely excited to not only have the opportunity to see some of these works again at Annely Juda Fine Art (‘David Hockney: The Arrival of Spring’, London, until July 12th 2014), but to also view his most recent charcoal drawings of five separate views of Woldgate, which have additionally been included in this upcoming show.

David Hockney's Woldgate, 6 to 7 February 2013. © David Hockney.

Detail from David Hockney’s Woldgate, 6 to 7 February 2013. Click for full image. © David Hockney, courtesy Annely Juda Fine Art, London

Hockney started these drawings early in 2013, following a minor stroke suffered by the artist the year before. As he explains in his recent Guardian article, he chose to illustrate these landscapes in black, white, and greys, consciously leaving behind the bright and loud colours previously seen in his iPad landscape drawings. Whether this decision had much to do with his stroke, he does not overtly say – however, he explains:

The stroke only manifested itself in my speech. I found I couldn’t finish sentences, and although it came back after about a month I find now I talk a lot less.”

David Hockney's Vandalized Totem in Snow, 5 December 2012.

David Hockney’s Vandalized Totem in Snow, 5 December 2012. Photograph: © David Hockney, courtesy Annely Juda Fine Art, London

Detail from David Hockney's Woldgate, 30 April, 1 & 5 May 2013.

Detail from David Hockney’s Woldgate, 30 April, 1 & 5 May 2013. Photograph: © David Hockney, courtesy Annely Juda Fine Art, London

The replacement of Hockney’s hitherto colourful and varied palette with an increasingly sombre one may, on the one hand, be perceived as reflecting the more quiet lifestyle the artist has had to adopt following his stroke. On the other, the choice of medium and palette also demonstrates Hockney’s interpretation of a Chinese understanding of colour and the variety of hues offered within the broad gamut of grey:

The Chinese say black and white contains colour, and so it can.”

Detail from David Hockney's Woldgate, 9 & 12 May 2013.

Detail from David Hockney’s Woldgate, 9 & 12 May 2013. Photograph: © David Hockney, courtesy Annely Juda Fine Art, London

David Hockney's Woldgate, 8 May 2013.

Detail from David Hockney’s Woldgate, 8 May 2013. Photograph: © David Hockney, courtesy Annely Juda Fine Art, London

 These subdued and monochromatic drawings recall the qualities of an engraving or etching, and will certainly present an interesting visual contrast to the iPad prints exhibited alongside them. The forthcoming exhibition at London’s Annely Juda Fine Art opens on the 8th of May and will run until the 12th of July 2014.

Detail from David Hockney's Woldgate, 26 May 2013.

Detail from David Hockney’s Woldgate, 26 May 2013. Photograph: © David Hockney, courtesy Annely Juda Fine Art, London