If you’d turned up to view Buckingham Palace in 1913 only to be confronted with this prospect, I’m guessing you’d have been very disappointed. It won’t have been what you were expecting to see, nor the photo you wanted to take, yet there is a form of structural beauty there. The familiar made strange. This is how the poet Novalis defined Romanticism. But you’d still be glad it was temporary. The same was true of the old Church High building on April 20th.
‘Photographs turn the present into past, make contingency of destiny. Whatever their degree of “realism”, all photographs embody a “romantic” relation to reality…. The camera’s uncanny mechanical replication performs a kind of magic, both creating and de-creating what is photographed‘ wrote Susan Sontag in an introduction to Peter Hujar’s coffee table book ‘Portraits in Life and Death’ (1976). I’m sure you’ve already worked that out about this blog. In my photos of the old building, you see what I see. And for me it is always beautiful.
Rather than being disappointed when I turned the corner to be faced by a huge expanse of scaffolding, I actually was pleased. It gave me the opportunity to capture the familiar redbrick façade in an unfamiliar light. And the scaffolding was a work of art in itself.
What caught the eye most, however, were the moving dots of orange, lurid in the bright sunlight. Just workmen in orange boiler suits but it didn’t take me long to see a pattern emerging as they positioned themselves to pass up the metal tubing stage by stage. As a little girl, I loved kaleidoscopes; the way the little dots of colour fanned out, fragmented and regrouped in various shapes and forms. The moving men in orange reminded me of this. Also of Thomas Hardy’s descriptions of small-scale usually-unobserved insect life.
I bet you’ve never seen old Church High looking quite like this before. My main aim on Wednesday, April 20th had been to see how things were progressing with the new build. The timing was lucky once again because Peter was in his cabin and able to take me there. I’ll show you inside in my next post, but the view from the roof top terrace made clear the full scale of the scaffolding in place around the building. And those little men in orange were back again too.
From this position, it was also interesting to see how the second floor west side-wall of the new extension had been designed. Unlike its east wall, this one is freestanding because of adjoining the two-storey 1920s extension. The very first extension, you may recall. From here, I also noted the neat finish of the re-tiled Main Hall roof. Before, you could always see where the dormer windows had been.
As well as making the familiar look unfamiliar, scaffolding also serves an important purpose, of course. Wikipedia defines it as ‘a temporary structure used to support a work crew and materials to aid in the construction, maintenance and repair of buildings.’ It is sometimes also called ‘staging’, echoing the idea of a work of art. Indeed, sockets in the walls around the famous Palaeolithic cave paintings at Lascaux in south-western France suggest that a scaffold system was used for painting the ceiling, over 17,000 years ago. How else could they have been done, of course, but it is still amazing.
Temporary ugliness or ungainliness is clearly an unavoidable part of any creative process. Or to quote Plato’s theory of Forms and ideas: we now see the mere shadow of objects, but will one day see the objects themselves and in their true light. This scaffolding is serving an important purpose at the moment: those old red bricks will soon be repointed and cleaned. The building will ultimately be returned to its original shape, the repaving of the footpath completed and the wonderful warm glow of the brickwork will be evident once again.