Monday, January 05, 2009

Egyptian Revival

click photo to enlarge
"I don't care to belong to any club that will have me as a member."
Groucho Marx (1890-1977), U.S. comedian and actor

Many years ago I received an unsolicited invitation to join a society. It was the sort of organisation that only admits those who are nominated by existing members. I declined the offer, not for Groucho's reason (though I have some sympathy with his thinking), but because I find the idea of an organisation of people that only admits those whom they choose, rather than anyone who meets a published list of entry criteria, distasteful. I know I'm not alone in this way of thinking. However, I'm equally sure that there are many who are flattered by such an approach, and who relish the thought of becoming part of what they see as an elite or select group. Such organisations have existed for hundreds of years, and usually have an economic, social or "learned" basis. In my view they have no part in a modern society; not because of what they are or what they do, but because of the way they are constituted.

These thoughts came to mind as I walked down a fairly ordinary street in Boston, Lincolnshire, all red brick, bay windows and white paintwork, and was hit in the eye by this essay in Victorian Egyptian Revival. It was built for the Freemasons, by the architect George Hackford, between 1860 and 1863. I know nothing about this organisation except that it has obscure beginnings, may have grown out of the medieval masons who built our churches and cathedrals, and continues to use some quite obscure symbols (I often come across the Masonic square and compasses on gravestones). The facade is based on the Temple of Dandour in Nubia, a building dating from about the time of Christ, that was given to the United States in the 1963 and now resides in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The 1860s is very late for an Egyptian Revival building in Britain: the period between Napoleon's excursions in Egypt and about 1845 is when most such structures were erected. Perhaps the Freemasons chose this style for its mystery and hieroglyphs. Or maybe it was the publicity given to this particular temple through paintings and prints in the 1840s, and a large photographic exhibition in the 1850s.

I took a few shots of the facade, but chose this one for two reasons. Firstly the two bright blue refuse bins flanking the base of the columns behind the pavement level railings added nothing to an overall composition, and secondly, this more dynamic perspective includes most of the architectural and decorative interest on offer.

Oh, and for anyone who's wondering, the organisation that approached me all those years ago wasn't the Freemasons, who, I read, are open to applications by prospective members.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 11mm (22mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/40
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -0.7 EV
Image Stabilisation: On