Brazil Trip – Part 1

I’d be the first to recognise the contradiction in my flying over 6000 miles to Brasilia to talk about environmental problems, and I’m still recovering from the same journey back home. It was a relatively short and comfortable journey to Sao Paulo, but there was the mother of all queues snaking around the terminal to get through security and passport control, almost 2 worrying hours before I made the final call for boarding minutes before the timetabled flight time – because so many of us were held up the flight actually left around 45 minutes late.

Fourteen hours after finding my seat in the crowded economy section I was glad to be back at Heathrow, despite it being over 20 degrees cooler than when I left Brasilia the previous evening as I waited for the 255 bus in the chilly breeze at Terminal 4. I’d had a great – if occasionally fraught – time in Brasilia, and really wished I could have stayed much longer, but it felt good to be home.

I didn’t feel too bad about the carbon. It wan’t a pleasure trip, although there was much I enjoyed – especially the food and the company as well as the incredible architecture and some good exhibitions – I was there to share and spread a message about the inevitability of change and the need to do something about it, to work for a sustainable future. Also in my defence the four flights I made going there and back only bring the total over my life-time so far to ten.

Two of the 24 pictures in my show at the Espaco Cultural Renato Russo in Brasilia (if you are there it continues until 20 January) are of the protests about the yet further expansion planned for Heathrow, and it was encouraging on my return to read of our government’s announcement of a rethink on all policies based on carbon. Heathrow will be one of the key tests that will tell us whether they are really serious or just paying some post-Bali lipservice to the environment.

Brazilians lead Carbon protest in London
Brazilians lead the thousand mile ‘Cut the Carbon’ march on its last mile in London

I was particularly pleased to be able to show a picture of Brazilians leading the Christian Aid ‘Cut the Carbon‘ march earlier this year in London. Karla Osorio, Foto Arte 2007’s director, had sent my files to the best lab in Brazil, in Sao Paulo, and the A3 prints for the show were truly superb – just like the display on my wide-screen Eizo ColorEdge monitor – and roughly the same size. Eizo monitors aren’t cheap, but a good monitor and accurate profiling and calibration are the essential basis for getting prints right, and Christmas for me came early as I watched the parcel of prints being unwrapped for the work to be hung.

My visit and show was paid for by the British Embassy, and I was extremely pleased by the support of the Ambassador and the others there, including Kate Reynolds, responsible for promoting environmental issues, Matthew Rowlands who arranged travel and hotel and Luiz Hargreaves who simultaneously translated my lecture into Portuguese. I was heartened by the warm reception my work and talk received.

I started the lecture by looking at the photography of cities and urban landscape photography in particular, relating some of my and other pictures to the development of ideas about city planning (and Brasilia is of course the pinnacle and end-point of modernist planning by LĂșcio Costa (1902-98) and architect Oscar Niemeyer, who celebrated his 100th birthday on the Saturday before I arrived, and is still at work.)

Most of the pictures I used were of London, although next time I’m asked to talk about the subject I think a few of the pictures I took in Brasilia will also be included. This was the opening image for my talk, one of the many from my web site ‘London’s Industrial Heritage‘, taken in the 1980s :

Tower Bridge from Bermondsey
Tower Bridge from Bermondsey Wall West, 1988

I didn’t say much about this picture in the talk, but it does help to make a point about the lack of good planning controls over the more sensitive parts of English cities. It’s still easy to find the spot from which I took this picture, obviously close to the Thames, and part of the Thames Path. Stand here now and what you will see rather than Tower Bridge are some undistinguished flats – and the same is true along much of the river where we have ponderous blocks designed to maximise use of space and developers’ profits. What we should have is not legislation that prevents development, but that – in such sites of high landscape and heritage value such as the Thames riverside – insists on high standards of work, probably through public architectural competition, as well as of course, public riverside access.

I’ll write more about my talk, which continued with my own project on Thames Gateway (there are a few pictures on line on the Urban Landscape web site) and some comments about the pictures of environmental protests and of the Manor Gardens allotments that were in the show, in a later piece, as well as more about the Foto Arte Festival. But next I’ll put some of the pictures I took in Brasilia on line.

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