Sunday, 15 January 2017

Postcard of the Day No. 86 – Courbevoie – La Gare

A resourceful postcard photographer has attracted a large and varied cast of characters to add vitality to his picture. Either side of centre is a group of postal workers and messengers and a grandmother in charge of a pram containing an over-sized child and a curious baby that peers out at the camera. Assorted ragamuffins and passing labourers make up the numbers. A girl on the extreme right walks off in the opposite direction in a gesture of independence. The station still exists and is served by Transilien services from Gare St-Lazare to the western and south western suburbs of Paris. In the 19th. century Courbevoie was a major industrial centre (home to Banania among others) but much of the industry has moved away leaving behind a largely residential suburb. The ostentatious corporate tower-scape of La Défense has occupied the southern district of Courbevoie since the 1970s – nine out of the ten largest businesses in France are now headquartered there.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Our Daily Bread (1927)

Those whose task it was to come up with ideas for trade, collector’s, confectionery or cigarette card made much use of this type of theme. From field to table, from forest to paper, from the ocean to the plate, from cocoa bean to chocolate bar, et al. They made a handy starting point for a 4 or 6 part narrative set in a world familiar to the consumer. These cards were issued by Liebig whose main pan-European business was the processing of animal carcasses into liquid form for bottled spreads or dried, compressed powder for shaping and packaging into stock cubes. Liebig’s range of cards for collectors encompassed an encyclopaedic range of subjects, accessible and obscure, such as Entomology, Botany, Zoology, the Classical Orders of Architecture, Lives of the Great Composers, the Triumphs of the Caesars, the Campaigns of Charlemagne and a Taxonomy of Earthworms. Adopting a high standard of illustration and production values was a key factor in retaining and expanding the customer base by appealing to the instincts of collectors. This set of cards shows an orderly universe where sober and industrious workers conduct themselves with the minimum of fuss in well-lit uncluttered workplaces.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

The Two Lives of Lucius Beebe

Born into a wealthy Boston family and untroubled by the need to earn a living, Beebe (1902-1966) was what used to be known as a bon vivant, socialite, man about town and gourmand. Journalism became his trade and his high society columns in which he reported in person from the battlefront of Manhattan’s most exclusive bars and nightclubs were extensively syndicated across the USA. The expression Café Society is said to be his coinage. Here he is in 1939 in all his foppish splendour on the cover of Life magazine – no mean accolade. Immaculately turned out in top hat and waistcoat with a fine cigar in the grip of kid-gloved hands – the sort of figure that Preston Sturges loved to caricature. Dressing up was his social duty but in another life he was no stranger to dressing down. Because Beebe had another sphere of interest, one that scarcely touched, let alone overlapped with the fashionable pursuits of the haut monde. Having drained his last champagne glass, stubbed out a final cigar, unbuttoned his spats and hung up the handmade suit in his cavernous wardrobe, he would pick up his Graflex camera and, clad in proletarian work clothes, head for the railroad tracks.

Beebe was what Americans call a rail fan – an obsessive trackside photographer and author of numerous railroad books with an interest in the arcane and obscure as well as the mainstream. As a photographer he favoured the unimpeded three-quarter view of the oncoming train that became the orthodox composition for several decades of rail photography. A singular focus on the train, isolated from the wider scene often lead to chronically monotonous results. Leafing through Beebe’s volumes can become a dispiriting experience and the arrival of a new generation influenced by Walker Evans, Jack Delano and Winston Link that sought to locate the subject in context of its surroundings was a welcome development.

With his partner and fellow rail fan, Charles Clegg he criss-crossed North America in his own purpose-built private railcar. Named the Virginia City, it was a mini-Versailles mounted on steel wheels and Timken roller bearings, complete with marble fireplace, gilded chandeliers, private dining for eight guests, a drawing room and three staterooms. In the manner of Charles Foster Kane, an 18th. century Rococo mirror and cornices from a 14th. century Spanish altarpiece found their way on board. Attached to and detached from time-tabled services at the whim of its occupants, this mobile oasis of opulence shone its lustre on the extremities of the North American rail network in the course of a 15 year odyssey. The Beebe legacy is a groaning shelf of volumes on railroads, local history and the leisure pursuits of the super-rich. The railway books have been extensively reprinted and to this day are easily available at modest expense.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Bridge Postcards of 2016

This year’s selection begins in Romania – a train crossing the Danube emerges through a ceremonial arch from a truss bridge toward a platform where a listless group of passengers wait. Elaborate castellations are flanked by oversize sculptures of armed guards, bayonets at the ready. And there’s some nonsense with a ladder. On our imaginary journey to Quincy Point we pass suspension bridges, lifting bridges, swing bridges, causeways and viaducts. Last year's selection can be revisited by following this link.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Bridges of 2016

Keadby Bridge (1916) carries road and rail over the River Trent at Althorpe in Lincolnshire

It’s been another good year for visiting bridges. Our travels took us to Humberside plus Selby and Keadby in February. In April we were in sunny Teesside followed by a trip to Germany in May. Sussex in late May, North Wales and London in September and finally Knaresborough in October complete this year’s review. Last year’s selection can be seen here.

Drypool Bridge over the River Hull built as a Scherzer rolling lift bridge in 1961

North Bridge over the River Hull constructed as a Scherzer rolling lift bridge in 1928-32

Humber Bridge, suspension bridge opened in 1981

Selby Swingbridge over the River Ouse built in 1891 by the North Eastern Railway

Newport Vertical Lift Bridge (1934) over the River Tees between Stockton and Middlesbrough

Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge (1911)

Dornheimer Brücke, north of Darmstadt Hbf

Dornheimer Brücke, north of Darmstadt Hbf

Südbrücke, Mainz - completed in 1868

Main-Neckar-Brücke, Frankfurt - built in 1927

Eiserner Steg, footbridge over the River Main in Frankfurt -  built in 1868 

Flößerbrücke Frankfurt – completed in 1984

Ouse Valley Viaduct, Balcombe, West Sussex, built in 1841

Ouse Valley Viaduct, Balcombe, West Sussex, built in 1841

Adur Ferry Bridge at Shoreham, opened in 2013

Thomas Telford's 1826 suspension bridge over the Menai Strait

Hammersmith Bridge (1887), designed by Joseph Bazalgette

Blackfriars Bridge (1869) looking south

Blackfriars Railway Bridge (1886)

Knaresborough Viaduct (1851) over the River Nidd in Yorkshire