Saturday, 22 September 2012

The Three-dimensional Past

Around 1880 an Austrian scientist invented a machine which allowed you to travel the world for a penny. 

The Fotoplastikon sent stereoscopic photos around a circular sphere and illuminated them from behind, creating a genuine 3D impression.

The Swiss Alps - Monte Rossa, 1901

In times where both photography and travelling was only for the privileged few, the invention proved a huge success. By 1910 the machines operated in 250 European cities, circulating 100,000 different photos. 

Since then, mass travelling and mass photography have transformed - and arguably banalised - the way we perceive the world. I didn't expect much yesterday when I went to the only remaining Fotoplastikon, operating in Warsaw since 1901. I was pleasantly surprised. The whole thing felt like a 3D journey in time, making me think that the past may itself be a precious place that we can travel to. Some may say that's just another example of the vintage fetishism that nurtures our nostalgia for things gone. So what, I say. 

The Filipino Revolt, 1900

Dutch fishing family on the island of Markham, 1894

The Warsaw Opera, 1905

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Meaningful Destruction

My great-aunt and great-uncle lived in Warsaw in a tiny flat on the fourth floor of a concrete slab. They had one bedroom, but only because they had told the local authority that my mother, their niece, lived with them. This flat is where I stayed whenever I went to visit.

I could never quite understand why much of the neighbourhood of Wola ("will" in English, as in determination) is composed of Soviet blocks. My great-aunt would mention that the Warsaw Ghetto used to be just across the street, but the houses - anonymous rectangles - didn't evoke anything.

Yesterday I came across this photo.

In the summer of 1944 a whole city rose up to its German occupants, and my grandfather carried coded messages across canalisations. The Nazis retaliated by accelarating their planned destruction of Warsaw, killing one hundred and fifty-thousand civilians while razing most of the city, including ancient palaces, libraries and galleries, to the ground.

It is unclear why this church, Saint Augustin in Wola, was not destroyed. Today my aunt's block stands two centimetres to the left of the church on the photo above. Now I remember her taking me there for Sunday mass. And suddenly "Wola" has taken on a whole new meaning.

Church of Saint Augustin, Warsaw, by Robert Capa

Monday, 3 September 2012

Video Clubbing

One of my favourite teenage memories is hanging out in the local video club. Featuring: VHS cassettes on white wire grid shelves, 90's snacks on sale (salt sticks and peanut puffs), and pubescent film geeks behind the counter. In comparison, Netflix's website really is no experience at all. 

This will be me soon, watching 3 films a day.
From Federico Fellini's "Roma", possibly the best film ever.

Luckily vidéothèques are not dead, and this post is no nostalgic epitaph. Thanks to the film shop on Stoke Newington Church Street. I stumbled into this jewel by accident the other day, and became a member within a minute. At my unlimited and physical disposal now: world cinema from all eras, new releases, and middle-aged boho buffs at the counter (decent). I have some of my adolescence back. And Autumn can come.

Federico Fellini, Roma (1972) - Church Fashion Show

Surrealist scenes in Wojciech Has' "Hour-glass Sanatorium" (1973).