Every so often something comes along which knocks you sideways, out of your ordinary day and – even if only for a few minutes – into a place of wonder. I don’t intend this blog to be a regurgitation of stuff I happened to come across online, but today I’m making an exception.
The image on the right – of the famous Burj Al-Arab “seven-star” hotel in Dubai – was taken by French photographer Martin Becka, using a 150-year-old camera, with techniques of developing and printing that date from the earliest days of photography. I’m not a specialist, and I don’t understand the processes – but the images speak for themselves. They are ethereal, exceptional – pushing our familiar 21st-century world back into not just the appearance of the 19th-century but, somehow, its mindset too. I look at these buildings and structures in the same way that I look at grainy, 19th-century images of people and places – as museum-pieces, detached from my life – but then I can also simultaneously hold the knowledge of Dubai’s colour, clarity and life in my head, because I’ve seen it! Being presented with such carefully mannered “old” depictions of buildings and places I have seen with my own eyes – and also touched, heard, smelled and felt – asks fascinating questions about how I interpret images of places I have NOT seen, as well as about what photography does to the people and places it depicts.
Becka’s images, somehow, show as much of the behind-the-lens world of the photographer as they do of the front-of-lens world of Dubai.
They are like painting, depicting a complete reality with far greater insight than the sharpest, clearest modern photograph.
I’ll never look at a musty, fuzzy old 19th-century photo in the same way again!
UPDATE 5th November – I should have put this 3rd image (of the Dubai metro under construction) into the original post. Now, especially after Helena’s comment today mentioning Metropolis, it simply has to go in. Enjoy…