The photos here were taken on a recent visit to the Ruhr – following the Industrial Heritage Trail. When the impact of globalisation and cheap foreign imports of coal, iron and steel products destroyed the viability of mining and heavy industry in the 1980s and 1990s, de-industrialisation rapidly took place. The local authority’s response was to preserve the most impressive industrial sites and open them to the public as educational and recreational resources. These photos come from Duisburg, Essen, Bochum and Dortmund. In close-up these structures offer compositions that in colour, surface and mass often resemble the sort of abstract formalism that can be found gracing the walls of Modernist art museums. It’s a conceit of course – the appearance of these structures was entirely dictated by their utility. The aesthetic input was zero. It is artists and photographers who have developed an aesthetic response to industrial spectacle and created the concept of the Industrial Sublime. A list of the guilty parties would be long and certainly include Charles Sheeler, Albert Renger-Patszch and Bernd and Hilla Becher.
Wednesday, 28 June 2017
Sunday, 25 June 2017
Parisian highway maintenance – a sightseeing tour around the city with added work gangs. Much back breaking manual labour – levering paving slabs, spreading bitumen and laying cobblestones. No hi-vis clothing and no steel toecaps and tasks that, to this day are often carried out by hand. It’s a refreshing way to visit the City of Light. Cards issued by Liebig in 1909.
Monday, 19 June 2017
The High Altar in the apse at St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral in Cork rests on a mosaic floor designed by William Burges. Crustaceans, molluscs and amphibians in mosaic form share the space with artisans, scholars and parfait knights. The initial inspiration for this piscatorial fantasy came from St. Matthew, “.... the kingdom of Heaven is like unto a net that was cast into the sea and gathered of every kind”. There’s a useful account of the mosaics in J Mordaunt Crook’s William Burges and the High Victorian Dream – Crook is well disposed toward the mosaics but clearly regards them as a minor aspect of Burges’s achievement. Crook tells how they were manufactured in 1877 by Burke & Co. in Paris by a team of Italian craft-workers from Udine using Pyrenean marble fragments. The imagery has a light and playful character that is not something routinely found in a High Anglican place of worship but one of Burges’s many redeeming features was an appetite for fun and a liking for puns. The latter inspired him to include bobbing corks (unfortunately not visible in this selection) in his aquatic fantasia.
Thursday, 15 June 2017
At first glance these postcards seem to be an expression of an aesthetic impulse to embellish the harsh rectilinear forms of a streetcar with the soft and organic forms of floral decoration. Japanese visual culture places the highest value on refinement but something else appears to be going on here. More sinister and militaristic imagery appears on closer inspection, alongside a profusion of national flags and naval ensigns. Airplane cut-outs could be taken as celebrations of technology but there’s no ambiguity about the slender forms of falling bombs. A formidable armoury has been deployed in floral disguise including aircraft propellers, torpedoes and artillery. The best guess is that this is a souvenir of a morale-raising street procession to remind the local populace of their patriotic duty to submit to the war effort. Which would date these postcards to the early 1940s.
Sunday, 28 May 2017
Mack Trucks were assiduous mid-century advertisers, not only in the business press like Fortune but also in general interest, consumer magazines like Life and Saturday Evening Post. It made sense to reach out to the captains of industry in an age when vehicle leasing was in its infancy. The case for consumer advertising is less direct but seems to have been about brand awareness and building strong community associations in the public consciousness. In the fashion of the times they employed hyper-realist illustration to glamorise the vehicles and portray the higher calling of community service. The company symbol of the bulldog with its four-square stance and barely controlled aggression made regular appearances. First responders race through the city streets in bright red Mack fire-trucks while in the nation’s small towns, volunteer crews rush to the neighbourhood fire station where another Mack is prepared for a rescue mission. Life without Mack trucks would be inconceivably insecure is the message. In its prime, the Mack was an all-American brand with the power and standing of, say, Harley-Davidson or Levi Strauss but since 1990 it has been owned and operated by AB Volvo. As of March 2017, Mack truck’s US market share was 10.4%.
Most of these examples carry the signature - Woodi - which tells us it’s the work of Woodi Ishmael (1914-95). Woodi was an illustrator who never graduated to the upper echelons of the profession but had the ability to make a decent living working to his strengths – which included a high degree of technical finish, a flair for well-observed figure compositions and an eye for idealised Americana, perhaps best seen in the image of scrubbed-up, shiny faced schoolchildren crossing the road under the avuncular eye of the neighbourhood cop. This post concludes with four ads for another of Woodi’s major clients, Mathieson Chemicals. According to this source, Woodi was the official courtroom artist when Jack Ruby went on trial for the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald in 1963.
Tuesday, 23 May 2017
Another batch of Find the Fault has come my way. This transport related set reflects Britain in the mid-1950s but could have been offered for sale many years later in line with the Dennis Productions business model – why innovate when you can profitably recycle? The drawings are conservatively styled – no flamboyant gestures, neutral in tone, soberly conceived. Something of Ant and Bee (Angela Banner, illustrated by Bryan Ward) about them but lacking the eerie precision that gives the former such a haunting presence. Road transport features on most of this series and makes up this selection. The streets and roads are orderly and soporific. Stiff and robotic figures are posed at intervals, with eyes downcast and devoid of social interaction. Vehicles and signage appear anachronistic and there lurks a suspicion that dark events may be playing out just off-stage. The imagination is encouraged to fill the spaces that mediocre illustration leaves blank. The listed faults are often pedantic in the extreme but the idea of a double decker bus lacking a staircase is admittedly unsettling. Pedantry is infectious and unrecorded faults can soon be found – such as the presence of a smoke-emitting pipe smoker on the lower deck of a bus in No. 37.