Sunday, July 15, 2012

Glass blocks and connections

click photo to enlarge
Earlier this year we visited Peterborough Museum. It had re-opened after undergoing a refurbishment and very interesting it was too. The building itself started life in 1816 as a fine Georgian mansion but its time as a private residence was relatively short-lived because in 1857 it became the city's first hospital, a role that it fulfilled until 1928. The operating theatre from those days remains and is now an exhibit within the museum. When we entered that room with its white tiled walls, sinks, stainless steel and utilitarian atmosphere I was reminded, fairly appropriately I thought, of some late Victorian and early twentieth century butchers' shops. The easily cleaned surfaces from which blood could readily be swilled were very similar. The other thing that came to mind was the kind of clinical-looking modern kitchens that fill the pages of some magazines.

Connections of this kind are a very strong influence on what people buy and on how they view things. For example, I could never buy a pair of grey trousers because they would remind me too much of the uniform that I had to wear as a schoolboy. It was associations and how they affect how we see the world that came to mind on a recent visit to Water's Edge, Barton upon Humber. This fairly new Lincolnshire building combines a visitor centre and offices on land next to the River Humber. It is an aggressively modern design that, in places, makes use of glass blocks (sometimes called glass bricks). I've written elsewhere in this blog about my liking for these blocks. At Water's Edge they have been used to form short sections of north-facing walls. The regular grid, subdued light transmission, and translucence that simplifies the outside view making it a semi-abstract experience, drew the photographer in me. I took a shot of the wall, then realising that the irregularity of the human form would make a good contrast to the regularity of the grid, I asked my wife to stand in front of it.

As we wandered off to take shots of the Humber Bridge I reflected once more that there isn't enough use made of these blocks in Britain, and perhaps that's associational. They found some use in the 1950s, often in places such as bus stations, public toilets, the stairwells of flats and such like. Less often were they used in private houses (except determinedly modern higher cost examples) or for their decorative qualities rather than their utility. Perhaps those early uses coloured people's view of glass blocks and that memory will have to fade before they can be more widely adopted.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 36mm
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/320
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  -0.67 EV
Image Stabilisation: On