It must be one of the most photographed of modern buildings. Yet the Sydney Opera House still elicits a gasp of awe every time one sees it in the concrete. Danish architect Jørn Utzon’s expressionist masterwork is a remarkable melding of form and function, and of architecture and engineering. It is also a wondrous evocation of the imagination. The story of the Machiavellian politics that surrounded its construction, and led eventually to the resignation of Utzon from the project, and […]
‘Times change and they change in difficult ways. Not knowing what to do about it, I go back to simple stuff — which is, I hope, to make photographs thinking about truth and justice’. So said Mel Rosenthal, the New York photographer who died last week. ‘To make photographs thinking about truth and justice.’ That may sound crass and tacky. Rosenthal’s photographs were anything but. They were not shouty or strident or agitprop. But they were infused with warmth and […]
This is a video of a debate on ‘What is right? What is left?’ at the Festival of Questions in Melbourne in October. It was hosted by the Wheeler Centre. Seven of us had two minutes each to answer ‘What is right for immigration?’, ‘…for the economy?’ and ‘…for society?’. Sounds mad, but it was actually an engaging event.
‘I saw the monuments, the great ancient remains. From every ruin I learned, from every building I absorbed something.’ So wrote Mimar Sinan, perhaps the greatest architect of the premodern Islamic world, a figure whose work has been compared to that of the Renaissance architects and artists Brunelleschi and Michaelangelo, with whom he was a sixteenth century contemporary. Sinan was talking of the great ancient buildings of Baghdad and Damascus, of Persia and north Africa, one of his many sources […]
Tili Wiru Tjuta Nyakutjaku. ‘Looking at many beautiful lights.’ That’s the Pitjantjatjara name for Bruce Munro’s ‘Field of Light’ installation at Uluru in Australia. (Pitjantjatjara is one the two main languages of the Anangu, the local Indigenous group.) ‘Field of Light’ is an art installation that Munro has created in many sites across the world: London’s V&A Museum, the Eden Project, Cornwall, St Andrew Square, Edinburgh, Atlanta Botanical Gardens, Cheekwood Museum, Nashville, Mexico City. But in bringing it to Uluru, […]
Nothing quite prepares you for your first sight of Uluru. Amid the vastness of the arid landscape of Australia’s red centre, fringed by ill-shapen hills and mountain ranges, there is something wondrous and almost magical about this monumental slab of sandstone, most of which actually lies beneath the ground. The monolith was created more than 500 million years ago, and is a remnant of a vast mountain range formed during the creation of the Australian continent. Much of the surrounding […]
Off Byron Bay, where I was speaking last week at the Writers Festival, lies a headland which forms the most easterly point of Australia. The point over which dawn first breaks. There is inevitably something clichéd about images of sunrise. But there was also something dramatic about first light over Byron Bay, a light very painterly in its composition and palette. So, a few images from the break of day over Australia.
In his book Feral, the environmentalist George Monbiot describes the Cambrian mountains in mid-Wales as a ‘desert’ devoid of life. It is, he says, a ‘dismal, dismaying’ landscape, venturing into which makes him ‘almost lose the will to live’. Feral is a polemic for ‘rewilding’ Britain, which means for Monbiot covering moorlands with trees and forests. John Bimson (who helps run a wonderful little b’n’b, Bron y Llys, in the heart of the Cambrian desert) wrote last year about the disingenuity […]
Harlem was not always synonymous with African Americans. In the late-nineteenth century, it was home to a predominantly Jewish community – in his book When Harlem Was Jewish, historian Jeffrey Gurock estimates that almost 200,000 Jews lived there on the eve of the First World War. By 1930 that had fallen to just 5000. ‘Harlem’s era as a landmark on the Jewish map of New York was over’, Gurock observes. The reasons for the transformation were many and complex – […]
The Wellcome Image Awards are for images of living processes and structures using sophisticated microscopy and photography techniques – photographs, 3D models and digital illustrations. They are often extraordinarily beautiful. The 2017 winners have just been announced. Here is a sample of the work. The full set of images are at the Wellcome Image Awards website. . Vessels of a mini-pig eye A 3D model of a mini-pig eye using CT scanning and 3D printing. Created by ophthalmologist Peter Moloca, vascular biologist Ruslan […]
He was blind in one eye through a childhood accident. But what a wondrous eye was the other! It is almost impossible to miss a Malick Sidibé photo. Black and white and suffused with life. Sidibé, who died last year, was born in 1935 or 1936 (he was not sure which) to a peasant family in what was then French Sudan. ‘We knew nothing of the outside world’, he was later to say. ‘We were enclosed in a capsule. It […]
Tristram Hunt, historian and MP for Stoke on Trent, this week resigned his parliamentary seat to take up a new post as Director of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. The V&A is one of the most infuriating museums in London – a stunning collection, some superb exhibitions, but too often imbued with a desire seemingly to be more indulgent than inspiring or insightful. If I was unkind I might suggest that that is a good description also of […]
Standing stones have a strange, evocative power, perhaps because they offer a tangible, material connection to peoples like us, yet so different from us; peoples whose thoughts and actions we can appreciate, and yet which also leave us baffled; constructions that express the extraordinary lengths to which humans will go to find meaning in the cosmos, and yet meanings that we cannot comprehend. When non-believers visit Chartres Cathedral or the Blue Mosque or St Petersburg’s Grand Choral Synagogue or the […]
In 1693 Sicily was devastated by a great earthquake. The cities of the south-east – Ragusa, Modica, Noto among them – were destroyed completely. In the wake of the disaster came an extraordinary period of reconstruction. Not for the poor, of course, who continued to live in primitive hovels at the edge of cities. But for the nobility, and for the Church, rebuilding the cities became an occasion for the flaunting of wealth. The result was a series of dazzling […]
In the recent wonderful British Museum exhibition on the historical cultures of Sicily, the curators described 12th century Norman rule as a ‘Golden Age’ , an ‘Enlightened Kingdom’ in which the ‘coexistence of Western, Islamic and Byzantine cultures created what was probably the most progressive court in Europe.’ From the perspective of the time, the relationship between different peoples in Norman Sicily, as in Moorish Iberia, was remarkably tolerant. There was, of course, nothing equal in the relationship between different peoples; […]