A trip to London yesterday, to visit the "Salt and Silver" exhibition of early photography at Tate Britain. It was a toss-up between that and the poorly-reviewed "Sculpture Victorious" in the next room.
I suspect a laugh at the expense of Victorian sculptors might have been more entertaining. One forgets how in love those early photographers were with the novelty of photographing ancient architecture. The detail! The even tonality! And, best of all, the immobility! So, several rooms mainly full of historic, worthy but dull records of grey stonework. Although I wouldn't have minded taking home John Wheeley Gutch's wonderfully toned image of Tintern Abbey in 1858, ranging from the deep shadow of the ivy-covered arches to a bare hint of a sunlit, tree-covered hillside beyond, a view surely little changed since Wordsworth's repeat visit in 1798:
Once again I seeAnd not a single English Heritage interpretation board in sight.
These hedge-rows, hardly hedge-rows, little lines
Of sportive wood run wild; these pastoral farms,
Green to the very door; and wreathes of smoke
Sent up, in silence, from among the trees,
With some uncertain notice, as might seem,
Of vagrant dwellers in the houseless woods
As always, the photographs of people proved the most compelling, especially Roger Fenton's Crimean War portraits, which I have long admired for their bleak and scruffy renderings of the realities of life "in the field". Especially as the field in question was located in the cold and rocky Crimean Peninsula, but its temporary residents were kitted out for some rather more congenial field near Aldershot. I felt for them as we crossed the Thames on Lambeth Bridge, with a cold March wind cutting up the river and the clear sunlight periodically blocked by the ever-higher architectural cliffs along the Embankment.