Wednesday 23 June 2021

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Farewell" to the much loved 'Prince of Architectural Photographers', Dennis Gilbert

Page views : 388
Dennis, who had died at the age 70 was peerless among architectural photographers in Britain. Born in South Africa in 1951, his first ambition after leaving school was to pursue career as an engineer and to this end he attended the University of Natal and graduated as a Bachelor of Science in Electrical and Electronics Engineering, at the age of 22, in 1973. 

He later reflected that as 'a South African engineer, I seemed to be headed for a Silicon Valley somewhere'. In the event, he said :  'Having left South Africa in 1975 for a year in South America, I found myself in a different Californian valley, studying photography at CalArts, north of Los Angeles : particularly the topographical American photographers of the 1930’s onwards'. 

It is clear that the two years he spent at the California Institute of the Arts between the age of 27-29 was the formative period in his life as a professional photographer. Apart from picking up almost a dozen 'favourite' American photographers he also benefited from the tuition of Ann Callis and having graduated in 1978 he said : 'After the comfort of the Jo Ann Callis classroom, my task was, naturally, to work out the next question : what to do with my new enthusiasm?' In his case his answer was found in London and his work architecture and he confessed : 'I am attracted to both sides of photography and architecture: where science and art overlay each other'. 

Dennis conveyed the pioneering nature of his work forty years ago when he wrote : 'Consider a large camera in a small room with furniture and just a few sheets of transparency film. Under the darkcloth, a dim image beckons on the ground glass, upside down and backwards. From where is it best to feel the space of the interior or the weight of the superstructure? Back then, you needed lots of kit, a spotmeter and, thank you, Edwin Land, help in Polaroid form'. He thought that he had been prepared for his work in the 21st century and had received 'adequate training for digital photography which offers a new universe' and was gratified that :  'Fortunately, there remains a thrill in figuring out a new picture to lob into the world’s archives that conveys the architecture and gives an idea of the physical experience. A composition that somehow works, regardless of the ‘rules’'.

In 1983 at the age of 32, Dennis formed and directed his own company based in London, 'VIEW Pictures Ltd' and in the years that followed said, with perfect self-effacement that he thought he'd : 'had the wonderful good fortune to work for several formidable architects: Norman Foster, O’Donnell + Tuomey, Grafton Architects, not forgetting the excellent Walters & Cohen Architects for example'. 

In addition to his work in Britain, his practice took him back to South Africa where, on occasion, he was accompanied by an armed guard, caught by his friend, Matthew Barac, in Kruger National Park in 2007. He also worked in Japan, Hong Kong and Iceland. His description of Reykjavik, published in 2019 provides an insight into the sharp intelligence and perception he brought to his work and revealed that he was so much more than just 'a photographer' : 

'For a photographer, working in Reykjavik is both a challenge and a delight. The weather is fierce and highly unpredictable. At the beginning of my first visit I had been working in dull cloud or rain for days, but one morning was woken suddenly by the sun streaming in through the hotel window onto my face. By the time I had scrambled to the City Hall, it had gone. That night it began to get dark around 11pm but a dusky light persisted until about 1am. Then the sky began clearing and brightening, promising an interesting sunrise and a sunny day – naturally I continued to work. By about 3am the city’s bars were closing and a big old Pontiac Catalina drew up, overloaded with clubbers who proceed to wade into the lake and splash about in front of the camera. At around 4am, just as the sun should have appeared, clouds rolled in again. The idea that the light could keep me up for 24 hours was completely novel, though it suggested some discipline would be required to manage life in this extreme place'.

'With a population only slightly larger than my own London Borough of Wandsworth, Iceland has made a disproportionate contribution to the world. Its people have excelled at endeavours such as film-making, music, art, photography, fishing, sheep-dung-smoked fish production, aluminum smelting, vegetable and flower growing, and of course banking and driving up glaciers in 4x4s with flat tyres. Since 1992 I have visited Reykjavik five or six times to photograph the work of Studio Granda, the husband and  wife team (Steve Christer and Margrét Harðardóttir) who won the Reykjavik City Hall competition shortly after finishing their studies at the Architectural Association. As someone who grew up in Calvinist South Africa, it is not only Iceland’s religious leanings that seem familiar to me. Many of the older buildings in Reykjavik are clad in that recognisable colonial material, corrugated iron. The revival of the charming central district means that many of these buildings, often richly painted, have been restored and occupied, unlike the boom-fueled speculative housing that now spreads around the city'.

In 2005, at the age of 54, Dennis had his achievements recognised when the Royal Institute of British Architects awarded him an Honorary Fellowship for his 'Contribution to Architecture'. 

In 2009 he was commissioned by Ronald Asprey and Claire Bullus to  illustrate their book, 'The Statues of London'. It involved him photographing over 80 statues in bronze and stone in 32 London boroughs, from 'Boudicca' near the Houses of Parliament to 'Bobby Moore' at Wembley Stadium. 

Dennis also worked as interior photographer for National Trust properties to advertise the locations and whet the appetite of potential visitors to venues like  Anglesey in Cambridgeshire with its 'Oak Room' with early seventeenth-century oak paneling and a plasterwork ceiling, cast from from a Jacobean ceiling in the Old Reindeer Inn in Banbury.

By 2020 Dennis had built up a formidable portfolio of his work : 

Links :

*  Battersea Power Station restoration 2014 – 2020                                     

Videos :

And also illustrated by ArchDaily :

Longwall Library - Magdalen College

In 2020, in his published, 'Letter to a young architect', Dennis wrote : 'Photography is roughly 200 years old; many of the earliest photographs included buildings – they didn’t move. Monochrome darkroom methods always allowed radical manipulation, in both capturing the image and making the print. In the last 15 years, colour photography has caught up dramatically with the arrival of digital technology. All parameters that make up a colour image can now be carefully controlled to suit the user. It is like an unmarked canvas for the painter or a blank sheet of paper for the writer. Trends spread rapidly and can be seen everywhere: a very bright render look (if I can generalise) has taken hold, my opinion only, you understand? It can be some time before a photographer’s formal skill with the camera and the control of the pixels come together in a convincing personal style'.

Dennis asked the question ; 'Can photography of buildings be compared in any way to prose and poetry, or to drawing and painting?' and said, in response : 'One of my favourite photographers, David Goldblatt, once said that his work was ‘much closer to writing than painting … putting together a whole string of photographs is like producing a piece of writing. There is the possibility of making coherent statements in an interesting, subtle, complex way'. 

'Photographs can suggest mass and reveal space. The medium can assemble countless items in the frame to savour one by one, in any order, or it could be just right as a dry documentary survey in picture form, or simply be used to point out a beautiful moment of the encounter'.

He continued : 'On the main dilemma : where to place the camera, Goldblatt dismisses theories on framing and composition with : ‘Isn’t it … just … what works?!’ Photography of your buildings must be an articulate and surprising record of the experience of the architecture. Include context and adjacent bits in your presentations, and people'.

He advised : 'Study photographers from all nations, identify a style and choose one to photograph your work. Consider the quirky and the understated. Develop a warm understanding and create an organised archive'. 'Save yourself a few bob: avoid PR agencies. If your architecture is any good, it will fly onto the web, into the magazines, books and newspapers. Success will follow, in part thanks to the pictures of excellent buildings, I admit'. 'Keep it simple: may most of your windows open by hand, your lights turn on by switch and your terrazzo be impeccably sustainable. Best wishes and good luck!

In 2019, at the age of 68, he embarked on a project which took him from photography to film making. In a zoom meeting last year he said : "I have some very famous clients, Walters and Cohen, who are two women who were from South Africa, like I was and they'd been in practice for 25 years and they wanted to do a 4 minute film of their work, so they invited us to do this. I don't have a lot of experience in making film, but I'd been working for them for 25 years so I knew their buildings very well and done all the stills on their buildings, so I was quite keen to get the job. But on the other hand, not so keen, because I knew it was to be a quite a mission". 

Dennis continued : "I've always felt that architectural films that I've seen in the past have always lacked a little bit of the kind of intensity of an architectural photograph and I've always thought that there must be some way of bringing across the visual side of a photograph into a film. So that's what I was aiming for".
"For me it was just a big pressure, just to do it and in the first place, really, I had to teach myself editing and sound recording and sound cutting and all that stuff. So I was pleased just to be able to. It was good story in the end for me. As a project, this to me was particularly daunting for me. That's the point".

Dennis said :

"Photography of architecture is a subtle process and takes quarryfuls of time"

Saturday 12 June 2021

In Britain, awash with rogues and liars in high places, step forward an old politician called David Davis, 'Champion of the World’s Poor' and unafraid to speak truth to power

David, who is 72 years old, has had a career in Westminster politics since becoming a Conservative Member of Parliament at the age of 41 in 1987. Since then he has held office as Minister of State for Europe, under Prime Minister John Major and has served as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee and Chairman of the Conservative Party and more recently served as Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union under Prime Minister Theresa May. In these roles, David has exercised power and it seems a little ironic that he is one of the few politicians brave enough the speak truth to his own Conservative Government on the issue of its plans to renege on an election promise to maintain the level of Britain's aid to the Third World poor at 0.7% of GDP and cut it to 0.5%. 

David is no stranger to poverty himself, having been born David Brown, the son of his single mother, Betty, three years after the end of the Second World War and in York, two days before Christmas in 1948. Young David was initially brought up by his maternal grandparents there. After his mother married Ronald Davis, David adopted his name the family name and David met his real father, a Welshman, only once, after his mother's death. David later described the family flat in as a "a terrible little slum". Later, after his half-sister was born, the family moved into council accommodation on the brand new Aboyne Estate in Tooting, South-West London and his stepfather worked at Battersea Power Station, where he was a shop steward. David himself later told an audience at the Royal Festival Hall in 2002, on a platform he shared with the left-wing Labour Party politician, Tony Benn, that he had been a "wild kid".

Having passed his 11+ examination in 1958 David attended Bec Grammar School for Boys in Tooting. In 2009, he recalled : "It is almost 50 years since I won admission to grammar school, yet I remember it as though it were yesterday. It was a day that changed my life massively, for the better. Bec Grammar School in Tooting, South London, took this young kid from the wrong side of the tracks, with scuffed shoes, tousled hair, shirt hanging out of his trousers, and gave him chances he had never dared to dream of". "I was by no means the only working-class youngster, or son of a single mother, in my grammar school. Many of my classmates were very tough. It was a community with few angels and no saints".

David did not go on to university since his 'A' level results were not good enough and left school and got a job as an insurance clerk at the age of 18 in 1966. Subsequently, he joined the Territorial Army's 21 SAS Regiment where he served as a reserve at weekends in order to earn money to pay to retake his 'A' Levels and successfully gained a place at the University of Warwick where he gained a joint degree in Molecular and Computer Science at the age of 23 in 1971. 

Now sitting as a Conservative back bench Member of Parliament David has said that the proposed foreign aid cuts are immoral and unlawful and ministers tried to push them through without a vote in the Commons because they knew they would lose. He has cited legal advice given to Tory backbenchers by Ken Macdonald in which he denounced the planned cuts and said : “The Government, if it wanted to do this, should have brought it to the House of Commons and said : "This is in our manifesto, but the duress we’re facing now means we have to do this and so ask the House to approve it. It didn’t. The reason it didn’t, was because the majority of the House doesn’t agree with it. That’s what we’re going see today if we get the vote. And I’m afraid that that’s frankly, in my judgment, a morally poor position for the Government”.

On the BBC Radio 4 'Today' Programme this week, he said : 

"In my judgement, you've got massive cuts in clean water, which kills more children world-wide than almost anything else, dirty water does - 80% cut there - ten million people lose their access. You've got cuts in funding for food - people starving - quarter of a million people. Again thousands will die - large numbers of them children. Across the board, this cut, which is virtually unique in the G World and is unique in the G7. No other country is cutting its aid in this way. It's going to have devastating  consequences across the world. Bear in mind I'm, historically, a critic of aid spending, but doing it this way is so harmful".

David's contribution to the debate on the proposed cuts to foreign aid on June 8th this week :

Wednesday 9 June 2021

Britain, where those guilty of malfeasance in public office are not brought to task, was no country for a Windrush Generation Jamaican called Rupert Everett

Rupert, who was born in 1945 and died at the age of 74 in 2019, came to Britain from Jamaica at the age 19 in 1962 and in the intervening 57 years he returned to Jamaica just twice. Rupert's problems began in 2016 when he was visited by immigration officials and had his passport confiscated, was classified as an illegal immigrant and threatened with arrest, prison and forcible removal. 

Now, two years after his death the Parliamentary Ombudsman has found that the Home Office made repeated errors in dealing with his case, yet he died without having received an apology or compensation from the Government  Ombudsman. Rob Behrens, who was asked to investigate the case after attempts to complain through the official complaints mechanism failed, said : “A well-loved father and grandfather spent the last years of his life in severe depression and anxiety because he was being wrongfully pursued and threatened by Immigration Enforcement. UK Visas and Immigration failed to adhere to its own standards. It should acknowledge the distress it has caused and make sure cases like this are not repeated ”.

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman which provides an independent complaint handling service for grievances that have not been resolved by British Government departments. The Report concluded that the immigration enforcement officials should not have told Rupert that he was in Britain illegally, and missed opportunities to put things right. It stated : 'It is particularly sad that the last years of Everett’s life were characterised by a distressing struggle to validate his right to remain in a country he had the right to live in. The injustice to him caused by the maladministration we have identified was extremely serious'.

Rupert's daughter, Fiona, said he became withdrawn and isolated after the Home Office told him he was an immigration offender : “We haven’t had an explanation or an apology. It wasn’t one person that messed up, it was five departments”.

Those five department were :

* the North-West Immigration Enforcement Department

* the unit responsible for Withdrawing Driving Licences

* the department responsible for issuing Biometric Cards 

* the Nationality Department and the Complaints Section

Sukhdeep Singh, caseworker at the Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit, who has helped more than 40 Windrush victims, said this was one of the worst cases he had encountered because Rupert had clear documentary proof of his right to be in Britain, but officials ignored the evidence. He said :  “The Home Office showed a complete lack of care about him as an individual”.

Fiona said : “My father was looking forward to spending more time with his family. Instead, he was told that he was going to be thrown out of this country. He changed from being an outgoing family man to becoming depressed and isolating himself from his family. I am pleased that the Ombudsman’s investigation has found that my father was treated appallingly by the Home Office, but am desolated that he is not alive to read the report”.

A Home Office spokesperson said : “The victims of the Windrush scandal faced appalling treatment and we are determined to right these wrongs. We are considering the Ombudsman’s findings and offer our sincere condolences to Mr Everett’s loved ones for their loss”.

A 'condolence' is not an 'apology'.

Belinda Everett, Rupert's daughter said : 

"When they stripped him of his driver's licence that was it. He liked going around and driving himself to different places. My dad was of a pension age so this was a time he was supposed to be enjoying life and they stripped him completely bare. You might have just put him in a prison and locked the door".

The ITV News item about Rupert's case entitled : 'Manchester dad affected by the Windrush scandal wrongly threatened and pursued by the Home Office damning report finds' and with interviews with Rupert's daughters, Rob Behrens and Sukhdeep Singh.

Thursday 3 June 2021

Britain is a country where, despite the easing of its Pandemic lockdown, countless Home Alone Old Men, remain locked in a state of chronic loneliness

In Britain today 1,262,000 men and 2,440,000 women over the age of 65 live on their own and many of them live in a state of chronic loneliness. In fact, a review by 10 leading charities has found that a million old men and women over the age of 65 in Britain are likely to remain at risk of chronic loneliness despite the easing of coronavirus restrictions. The 'Older People’s Task and Finish Group' said that loneliness, social isolation and living alone are all associated with an increased risk of early death.

Before the pandemic, the country had 96 support organisations which provided help and support to the lonely but only 7% of 96  have returned to normal service. The 'Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Tackling Loneliness Network ' said that almost three-quarters of older people questioned in the Network’s survey said they had no or significantly less support from the charities they had relied on before the pandemic.

Deborah Alsina, the Chief Executive of Independent Age said : “For people who told us loneliness was not just a product of lockdowns and shielding, but a symptom of their every day life before the pandemic, the easing of restrictions is not a silver bullet”.

Fiona Carragher, the Director of 'Research and Influencing' at the Alzheimer’s Society said : “The extremely damaging side-effects of lockdown – long periods of isolation, a loss of routine and social interaction – have caused significant mental health as well as physical health deterioration for people with dementia, many of them just ‘giving up’ on life, fading away. Many people we’ve spoken to are concerned that their isolation and loneliness will continue as restrictions ease because the support services they used previously have either shut down or are yet to be reinstated”.

A further survey by 'Age UK' found that, compared with before the pandemic, one in three respondents said they had 'less energy', one in four were 'unable to walk as far' as before, and one in five felt 'less steady on their feet'. In addition, one in five found it 'harder to remember things' and more than one in four felt 'less confident about spending time with family'Caroline Abrahams, Age UK’s Charity Director said : “This pandemic has hit the fast-forward button on ageing for millions of older people. According to our research, as many as a third of all older people really are struggling”.

Emily Kenward, the Founder and CEO of 'Time to Talk Befriending', said the pandemic had had a catastrophic impact on older people’s confidence : “I’ve lost count the number of times I’ve heard older people tell us that they don’t want to live any more because they feel so invisible and alone. As we move into this new recovery and reintegration phase, 66% of our scheme members say they don’t yet feel ready to leave the four walls of their homes and 70% report a decline in their physical health acting as a barrier to getting out and about”.

Jenny Bimpson, a volunteer project manager at the 'Chatty Cafe Scheme', said: “Volunteers report that many of the senior citizens they speak to are now too afraid to go back out into their towns and villages, as they are genuinely afraid to mix again in public. They have huge anxiety about this despite government guidelines changing”.