Sunday, November 24, 2013

Crystal Palace dinosaurs

click photo to enlarge
In 1851 the Great Exhibition was held in Hyde Park, London. When it closed the newly built exhibition building, an enormous plate glass and cast iron structure that came to be known as the Crystal Palace, was dis-assembled and moved to Sydenham Hill. Here it was re-built in a quite different form, becoming an exhibition space, concert hall, gallery, meeting place and museum in the newly created Crystal Palace Park. This Victorian pleasure garden, a 389 acre development of the grounds of a former mansion, also acquired a formal Italian Garden, a Great Maze, an English Landscape Garden, a cricket ground, a football stadium, aquarium, a concert bowl and much else. It also gained some areas of water with islands and it was on one of these that the most interesting attraction was sited.
In 1852 the sculptor, Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins (1807-1894) was commissioned create 33 life-size models of extinct, prehistoric mammals and dinosaurs. He was assisted in his task by Sir Richard Owen (1804-1892), a biologist and palaeontologist, and the man who coined the word "dinosaur". The models were based on the best current interpretation of the animals' form derived from the fossils that were being collected in increasing numbers. They were probably the first ever dinosaur sculptures and the limitations of their accuracy soon became apparent as science and fresh finds threw new light on the creatures. However, they proved a great attraction, even spawning what may have been the first tie-in merchandising in the form of a set of miniatures based on the originals and available for the sum of £30. They certainly drew the crowds, and despite the ravages of time and neglect, concerted restorations have returned them to close to their original condition and they continue to be a draw, especially to children.

I'd never visited Crystal Palace Park before the autumn day on which I took these photographs. As I moved from group to group I reflected that, in terms of the appearance of the trees and shrubs, I couldn't have chosen a better time to be there. The deep reds, yellows, oranges and browns of the leaves added to the more usual greens gave the backdrop to the giant beasts an appropriately other-worldly appearance, and animated them in a way that probably doesn't happen in high summer.

photographs and text © Tony Boughen

Photo 1
Camera: Sony RX100
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 25mm (67mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f4
Shutter Speed: 1/80 sec
Exposure Compensation: -0.7 EV
Image Stabilisation: On