British Museum – a perennial favorite

The British Museum is one of my all-time favorites – a place I visit every time I go to London. Each time there is something different that catches my eye or interest. I suppose this reflects my changing interests over time. But really this place has something for everyone.

British Museum

There is of course the wonderful classical lines of the building itself. Then, once you enter there is the amazing enclosed courtyard which contains the bookshop and cafe, and forms the jumping-off point to take your interests to different times, different parts of the world.

British Museum

The Egyptian section is wonderful, but this time it was the medieval material that caught our attention – at least initially. The Lewis Chess pieces are fascinating – possibly of Norse heritage, they were found on the Isle of Lewis – I have a replica Lewis chess set at home, and love the very human expressions on the pieces.

Lewis Chessmen

From the Viking period there is a fascinating mask/helmet that is said to amplify sound – so perhaps it meant that someone in command could shout orders, or perhaps it was so that the wearer would seem to have super-human capacity and would subdue enemies with a blood-curdling war cry (perhaps learned from Australian cockatoos(!) ).

Mask

This goblet is made from glass infused with cobalt so it appears green in shadow, but glows red when exposed to light. An amazing piece for its age.

Goblet

From the period of Roman Britain, there is a hoard of letters sent back by Roman guards on or near Hadrian’s Wall. But of particular note is what appears to be an intelligence report on the British – perhaps assessing their capacity to be integrated into the Roman Army. It reads in part:

“The Britons are unprotected by armour. There are very many cavalry. The cavalry do not use swords, nor do the wretched Britons mount in order to throw javelins.”

The fragment is a remarkable survival from the period of Roman occupation of Britain, and provides some insight into the Roman’s use of intelligence, both to assess their adversary, but also to assess their strengths as potential allies.

Roman intelligence message

Another remarkable survival is this library of Ashurburnipal king of Assyria. – and with it a 5th century BC account of a massive flood that engulfed the whole land, but one man was pre-warned by the gods to build an ark in which to save the animals.

Ashaburnipal's library

This lends weight to the view that a near global tsunami occurred in ancient times, and that the memory was carried by a range of people’s around the Arabian peninsula.

Ashaburnipal flood text

This is part of a new display – a reminder that even if you have visited before, the British Museum is constantly refreshing its displays and is worth re-visiting whenever you visit the UK.



Britain’s wartime legacy

The Old War Office in Whitehall, London was built in 1906 – surprisingly recent given its architectural roots, and stands today, much as it would have looked in the days when T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) would have Parked his Brough Superior motorcycle out the front during and immediately following WWI.

It is said by Wikipedia to house around 1000 rooms across seven floors, linked by 2.5 miles of corridors. It belonged to the Ministry of Defence – including the period following the disestablishment of the War Office as a Government Department in 1964 – until it’s sale on 1 March 2016 to the  Hinduja Group and UHL Developments for conversion into a hotel and luxury apartments. It is estimated to have been sold for around £350m. One can only hope that the refurbishment will be sensitive to the heritage values of this impressive building.

Old War Office, London

On this visit, I also took the opportunity to take in Churchill’s War Rooms – an underground bunker built between the Treasury and Foreign and Commonwealth Office buildings opposite St James’ Park. Churchill used this as his wartime office from which he oversaw the conduct of British Forces in WWII. When advised to leave London he responded emphatically that to do so would lower the morale of those who were left in the City.

Hastily constructed, the War Rooms were initially only covered with a layer of soil, until the upper rooms were sealed, reinforced with steel girders and filled with concrete. Even with this reinforcement it would not have withstood a direct hit from a large bomb, but luckily it was never directly bombed.

Map Room - Churchill's war rooms

The War Rooms are formed from quite an extensive network of tunnels with rooms leading off on either side. These include the map room, communications room, Churchill’s bedroom and dining room, a full kitchen and rooms for the staff supporting the planning and management of operations.

Communications Room - Churchill's War Rooms

The museum provides an extensive history of Churchill’s life suitably peppered with his quotes – including recordings of his speeches. Interestingly, the display also covers Churchill’s personal side, including his heavy drinking and abusive treatment of his staff. There is even a note from his wife pointing out the change in his character and particular treatment of a junior officer. It is refreshing to see such candid histories behind significant individuals. The history also points out how devastated Churchill was in losing the Prime Ministership immediately after the war.

Churchill's wartime bedroom

It is well worth visiting this unobtrusive museum in the heart of London.

 



 

Drawing on another way to see

When travelling, slow down and take time to look – with the intensity of an artist!

London Big Ben

London Big Ben

The camera can capture what is in front of you, but it takes your intervention to capture how you feel about it. And that is where post-processing comes in. Whether it is just putting on a filter in instagram, or doing more advanced processing in photoshop or lightroom, your processing will reflect how you feel about a place. But how will you know how you feel, if you don’t stop for a moment and take time to form an opinion?

One way to learn how to see in a new way is to consider how the scene would look as a drawing. Look at the relationship between objects, and consider the shape formed by the spaces between them. Artists call these ‘negative shapes’. By taking the time to look at a scene as a drawing, you will see far more than if you had just lifted the camera and pressed the shutter button.

St Martin in the Fields rendered as a drawing

St Martin in the Fields

Consider this view of St Martin in the Fields in London. Stripped of colour and reduced to a few tones, its relationship to the landscape becomes more apparent. The distraction of the red buses and colourful tourists fades, and the classical styled church asserts its sense of permanence and history.

It is worth spending time in galleries to get a sense of composition – the concepts behind composition in art apply equally to photography – and especially to travel photography.  Use drawing techniques to appreciate the sense of design around you – wherever you are, someone designed that building, or that streetscape.

Take a small sketchbook and try to sketch the scene in front of you – then photograph it, and you will find that you have made a memorable image, taking in the subtleties that will live with you long after your trip has finished.

 

London - the Strand rendered as a drawing

London – the Strand