- Rebecca Harrison
At the beginning of May I embarked on a month-long journey around south-eastern Europe. I visited Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Slovenia. Aside from my research into transport networks I avidly recorded the troubled relationships between the abandoned and the preserved; the 'keep out' and the 'lived in'; and both the dead and alive. The images below represent some of these intriguing spaces and objects.
- Rebecca Harrison
The devastation of Sarajevo was difficult to comprehend, even after two decades of re-building. This one-time hotel on notorious 'Sniper's Alley' stands as a monument to the country's violent history. Bullet holes pepper walls and pavements. The incongruous billboards pasted across the building, however, hint at the changing political face of the city.
The decadent architecture of this building once stood proudly in Mostar, in the Herzegovina region of Bosnia. Away from the capital the destruction of homes and domestic buildings was more tangible. Often they were not sealed from the public. Occasionally a light would shine from the upper-most window of a building that to an untrained eye looked like it had given up the ghost.
More sights from Jacob Paskins's recent visit to the Big Easy.
IV. Warehouse and American Districts
No guesses at what type of building dominates the Warehouse district in New Orleans. Today, however, there is no trace of industry in the area, which is slowly being populated with art galleries, boutique hotels and residential loft conversions. As the district awaits further gentrification, a number of abandoned buildings stand to preserve the last memories of a working-class past.
School for sale
My favourite building
The (currently empty) New Orleans Orpheum Theater
In between the Warehouse District and French Quarter lies the American Sector. From the 1910s to the 1960s, this area was the heart of the New Orleans jazz scene. Once the centre of jazz performance, publishing, recording and broadcasting, the area has almost entirely lost its once buzzing musical life. Many key venues in Jazz history are now dollar stores or hotels. Other buildings lie in abandon, dreaming of their illustrious past. Other places faced the wrecker's ball long ago.
Duffy's cinema (empty)
According the large sign above the entrance, the grand opening of the Saenger Theater is promised for 2011. Unfortunately there was little evidence of work or a new tenant during my visit.
Next post: Post-Modernism's shrine.
Jacob Paskins continues his architectural tour of New Orleans.
Canal Street - Algiers Free Ferry
New Orleans is a pedestrian-friendly city, providing you're not in a rush to go anywhere, and has a public transport system comprising of buses, streetcars and ferries. Foot passengers travel for free on the ferry (above) across the Mississippi to Algiers, so I went to have a look at the little town.
A plaque beside the ferry terminal building sets the scene:
Algiers, established in 1719, is the second oldest neighbourhood in New Orleans. Originally called the "King's Plantation," it was first used as the location for the city's powder magazine, a holding area for the newly arrived African slaves, and the first port of call for the displaced Cajuns. Developed as a town by Barthelemy Duverje, Algiers expanded due mainly to the shipbuilding and repair industries of the dry docks and the extensive railroad yards. A large part of the town surrounding the Courthouse was destroyed by fire in 1895 but rose again like a Phoenix from the ashes. Many Jazz and Blues "greats" have called Algiers home including Lester Young, Memphis Minnie, Henry "Red" Allen, George Lewis and "Kid" Thomas Valentine. The charm and architecture of old Algiers is New Orleans' "hidden jewel."
Although damaged by winds, Algiers was not flooded following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, thanks in part to the raised levee that separates the urban area from the river.
Evidence of the historic flood risk of the area is nevertheless evident. Most houses are raised around three feet from the ground and stand on brick stilts.
Perhaps I was a little too harsh about the riverfront in New Orleans in my first post. The rather unsatisfactory connection between the urban centre and the riverfront is in part due to the geographical particularities of the city.
The CBD viewed from the banks of the Mississippi
The most important piece of geography that any visitor to New Orleans must learn is that the Mississippi is the highest point in the city. All land moving away from the river begins to descend below sea level. Before a settlement established in New Orleans, the river would flood each spring. As it receded, silt deposited and eventually created raised banks. This natural deposit formed the basis of the first levees, or flood defences, shown here reinforced with imported stone on the water side (above) and covered in grass on the town side (. The old town is set back from the riverfront, and the main Jackson square is already several feet lower than the waterside promenade. An additional flood defence wall separates the car park (below) from Jackson square.
The height of the Mississippi levee a little further downstream is clear in this image taken at street level as a container vessel sails by (above).
With its strategic position at the frontier of the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico, the history of New Orleans is centred on its port activities. An automated container port has replaced the scores of smaller vessels that once moored in the city. Today, Steamboat Natchez plies for tourist trade with daily jazz cruises. Before the ship paddles off, the engines provide power for a steam calliope, an automated musical instrument similar to a barrel organ, that pipes music across the waterfront. Before final departure, the steam whistle shrills over the Crescent City, and another voyage begins.
Next post, a trip to Algiers.
This is the first is a series of posts about the architecture, city and culture of New Orleans by Autopsies Group member Jacob Paskins, who recently participated in the Society of Architectural Historians' 64th Annual Meeting in Louisiana.
I. Upper Central Business District
Streetcars, Canal Street
Many parts of New Orleans, such as Desire Street in Faubourg Marigny, are no longer served by a streetcar. The city was once well-served by a network of streetcars, but during mid-twentieth century they almost entirely disappeared. While the historic St Charles Avenue streetcar still rumbles slowly along the route laid out during the 1830s, new vehicles and routes are now being reinstated. From the Canal Street terminus, streetcars serve two routes to City Park and the Metairie and Greenwood Cemeteries. A third line is planned to serve Rampart Street and will eventually stretch downriver. Unlike the old green St Charles street car, these red replicas are air-conditioned, have a disabled access lift, and run relatively quickly.
Harrah's is the only licensed casino in New Orleans and appears to be one of the most popular attractions in the area. Legalised gambling is the anodyne pass time of visitors to the city, which was once known as 'Sin City' in the late nineteenth century because of the population of sailors in town and the high levels of crime and prostitution.
The casino, sitting under the two domes, was built in 1999. A hotch-potch of cheaply produced classical motifs, this massive ensemble fills an entire block and is difficult to avoid with its garish illumination and blaring music which is pumped out of speakers along the entire length of the building.
In the background, bank buildings and expensive chain hotels dominate the business quarter. In the foreground, the railway lines serve the Riverside Streetcar and a mile-long freight train, which announces its approach each day with a blasting horn at around 11.30 am.
World Trade Center
The 1960s World Trade Center is a colossal symbol of the failed riverfront development. Dominating the skyline, this office block is almost entirely unoccupied and provides a significant obstacle for pedestrians who wish to cross from the Central Business District to the Mississippi river.
The banner advertises the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas and IMAX cinema, located near to the WTC, which provides a slightly more appealing visitor attraction than the Riverside shopping mall a little further up the promenade.
Coming next, a look at the Riverfront reveals why New Orleans turns its back on the Mississippi.
‘The Work of Film’ project in the UCL Film Studies Space is seeking scholars to participate in the year 2011-2012 in a biweekly research seminar.
For more information and details how to apply see our Work of Film pages.
Members of the Autopsies Research Group will be presenting papers at the Screen Media Research Group seminar series at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH) in Cambridge.
Reflections on the Afterlife of Modernity's Dead Things: Moving Images and Cultural History
Monday, 7 March 2011
17:15 - 19:00
All are welcome to attend. More information here:
Our next event will be a free public lecture by Prof. Dominique Kalifa, entitled 'Fashionable Slumming in the Paris Underworld, 1880-1930. For more information and details how to register, see our events page.
Our first museum roundtable event this year explored some of the practicalities, and themes, arising from the collection of everyday objects and images of surveillance. The event was chaired by Jann Matlock (UCL French and Film), and our panellists were Simon Baker (Curator of Photography, Tate); Katy McGahan and Sue Woods (Curators of Non-Fiction, BFI); and Neil Paterson (Manager of the Metropolitan Police Historical Collection).
We heard four personal presentations about each of the panellists’ work. Baker took us through the curatorial process of his recent show Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera, and made some fascinating observations about the changing relationship between artist, surveillance, and image. He suggested that common to many images in the show, from the earliest to the most contemporary, was a desire to ‘catch the city when it isn’t looking’—a suggestion that posits the artist as spy or observer and the city as a singular, yet amorphous, entity. Baker also pointed out a growing trend among more contemporary artists to expose surveillance, and render visible the often invisible technologies through which we watch one another. These kinds of images create a space in which we can participate in thinking about the infrastructures and architectures of surveillance.
Katy McGahan and Sue Woods spoke to us about their roles in preserving films worthy of heritage retention for the Public Records Office. The BFI acts as a public-access service for the Central Office of Information under legislation that states selected films must be observed, catalogued and preserved. Sue Woods is directly involved in this archiving process. Katy McGahan also spoke of her interest in the history of films used as evidence in courts of law. We were shown a clip from the very first of these films (aptly entitled Evidence) from 1935.
We were then introduced to Neil Paterson and his work for the Met. Police Historical Collection. Paterson produced a series of photographs held in his collection (which includes over eighteen-thousand objects), and, in keeping with our interest in objects, distributed a policeman’s jacket from the 1860s; examples of truncheons; a clacker (used to raise the alarm before the use of radio); and a sword. He gave us a brief history of the collection and explained some of the problems faced by localised collections in preserving their artefacts. I was particularly fascinated by the incidental ways objects and photographs specific to the history of the police gave us so much insight into the ‘everyday’ life of London. Paterson told us this was true across most of the collection—for example, their records about food legislation between the wars gives a great deal of insight into the nation’s diet at that time.
I was excited by two themes that ran through all four of our panellists’ presentations and dominated our discussion. The first was the application of self-surveillance. Baker suggested many visitors to his exhibition were concerned with the ethics of the show—one of our questions to him asked what kind of moral issues he faced in the curatorial process—and many of the images surveyed surveillance technologies. Visitors to the exhibition were even given the opportunity to survey the hidden cameras and surveillance technologies that may survey them. McGahan and Woods referred to the self-censorship of the National Records collection, which until 2000, was subject to a thirty-year period of non-disclosure. Paterson provided us with information about the police force’s self-censorship in the monthly bulletin ‘Police’s Orders.’ Any officer caught committing an offence while on duty would be publicly reprimanded through the Orders, with their punishment duly announced, too.
The concept of self-surveillance intrigued me. ‘Surveillance’ carries with it connotations of state-operated control and force—even irrationality. Jann Matlock, in her introduction to the evening, suggested we think about surveillance in a more ambivalent way. In French, surveillance means ‘to keep a watch over.’ Parents might ‘keep a watch over’ their children in an act of surveillance that is less politically-charged than a state ‘keeping a watch over’ its citizens. How can we, then, think about the self-surveillance of institutions like the Metropolitan Police, or the volunteered self-surveillance of visitors to the Tate Modern? Are these instances of self-surveillance evidence of a widespread and public paranoia? Or is self-surveillance an expression of our desire to ‘keep a watch over’ ourselves?
Our desire to look and our fear at being looked at was the theme of my second point of interest: the legality of the image. Baker told us the gallery took the advice of a legal team before assembling the exhibition and thought about the ramifications of people looking, as well as being looked at. McGahan and Woods described to us the legislation governing the selection of films they archived, and the practices that dictated the conditions in which the films were kept and viewed. Paterson mentioned a recent change in legislation that prevented officers from taking photographs while going about their work.
The legality of an image and its potential status as evidence determines the ways it can be publicly displayed. Why, I wonder, are we so anxious about photographic or filmic representations of the everyday? Any numbers of people see us walking down a busy city street. Why should we think differently about people seeing a photographic representation of that event? Simon Baker proposed that it was the potential misuse of our images that created so much anxiety. He suggested that we become vulnerable when someone else assumes ‘ownership’ of our images through taking our photographs. Paterson added that a photograph can only narrate a specific moment in time and fails to provide evidence of action. There is a great deal of importance in thinking about what photographs were not taken of an event. How, then, does this affect our understanding of photographs and films as evidence? In light of these ideas, can we argue that the photograph has any legal status as evidence at all?