Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Photography before Dawn

As it happens, I arrived in central Birmingham yesterday morning at around 6 a.m. (I had just dropped April off at the airport otherwise I would probably have still been asleep!)

Th city is essentially dead at this hour of the day. The most active professions appear to be window cleaning and goods deliveries. It was also cold, having snowed overnight, though not much actually stuck in the warmth of the city, except on the canal bridges.

I had had this strange idea that the excellent Birmingham Markets would be open and that I would buy sea food and vegetables prior to meeting up with Pete. Well, the wholesale markets open at some ungodly hour but the retail markets wait until 9 a.m. to open their doors! So I began to explore the city center, using memories from 50 years ago to guide me. Of course, a lot has changed in 50 years but the underlying street plan is still there.

So, I parked in the Arcadian Center in Chinatown and walked over to the Bullring, in its second re-incarnation in 50 years. I'm old enough to remember all three versions and I still fondly remember the original. The latest version is not bad at 6 a.m. Come Noon and you can keep it! The new Bullring is famous for the blob, a.k.a. Selfridges. The aluminum disc covered exterior has become a city icon and that's fine with me though I don't particularly like the way it abruptly ends in a more conventional shopping mall structure. The shape of the blob is fascinating and its contrast with St. Martins Church, Moor Street Station, etc. are interesting. I wonder, though, what it will look like in 25 years time. It is already showing signs of decay.

I then walked up New Street to Victoria Square. The annual German Christmas Street Market was closed, of course, but there was a guy in a hi-viz jacket wading around the Victoria Square fountain (locally known as the "Floozie in the Jacuzzi" but actually a fine piece of public space sculpture/design). I tried to photograph him without flash but it would not work. He was fascinated that I should want him in the picture so I told him that without him the photo would have little meaning. I am not sure he was that impressed.

Next I walked through the Central Library space to Centenary Square. More signs of Christmas here with special attractions adding to the smaller-than-London's ferris wheel. Many of the lights that might have made a pre-dawn photo were switched off, so I passed through Symphony Hall/ICC to Brindley Place and here I was able to slip and slide along the icy canal towpath to a vantage point for my "shot of the day".

I returned to the Bullring as the first coffee shops were opening for business (Costa Coffee being the first by a long margin) and waited for the sun to rise, the markets to open and the rest of the world to catch up with me!