Thursday, 22 February 2018

Picture Post 65 - Art Deco in Manila's Chinese Cemetery

Art deco influences can be found in every area of life - architecture, furniture, painting, clothes, transport and industry. It should not be surprising then that the style has also influenced the design of tombs and mausoleums. The Recoleta cemetery in Buenos Aires contains many art deco structures whilst others can be found in Asmara, Eritrea and Pittsburgh, USA.  I recently toured the Chinese Cemetery in Manila which is full of art deco.

Li Chay Too family mausoleum, built 1948 and recently refurbished 
The cemetery is the second oldest in the city. It was established in the 19th century in response to the Spanish colonial authorities denying Chinese Filipinos the right to burial in a Catholic cemetery. It contains Catholic, other Christian denominations and Taoist graves as well as some exhibiting symbols of more than one faith. Ton Quien Sien, also known as Don Carlos Palanca was responsible for the its establishment and fittingly there is a memorial for him here. It is one of several memorials including one to those brought here and executed by the Japanese during World War Two.  The victims included prominent artists, soldiers and community leaders, many of whom, although not all, were Chinese.

Li Chay Too mausoleum details
Li Chay Too mausoleum metalwork 
The tombs are in a range of styles and sizes. Some are maintained in pristine condition whilst others show signs of neglect or even abandon if the family has moved away or if remains have been removed and placed in a burial plot elsewhere. The dead hold an important place in Chinese culture and ancestors are held in great respect. Visitors to the Chinese cemetery may be surprised to see that some of the structures include bathroom and cooking facilities, air conditioning and even parking space for several vehicles. This is not for the benefit of the deceased but for the living who come to pay their respects and can spend a significant amount of time here during a visit.

Tomb for Bautista Napkil family
Villa Yu Tuan, Yu Tuan family mausoleum
Deco speed lines and Chinese influenced metalwork, Villa Yu Tuan 
The largest, most ostentatious structures are the plots of the wealthiest families and many of these were built from the 1920's through to the 1950's in the art deco style, which lasted longer in the Philippines than elsewhere. Little is known about who the architects were although a number of the tombs bear the name of the Oriol Marble Works company. Ivan Man Dy is Manila's art deco expert and an aficionado of the cemetery. He led me through its alleys and lanes for two and a half hours  pointing out a range of deco styles including streamline moderne, classic deco complete with speed lines, ziggurats, portholes and stylised lettering and a hybrid style incorporating Chinese influences.  He is documenting these structures as well as working on a book about Manila's art deco buildings.

Ang O Kin mausoleum, 1939.
Entrance to Eusebio Tankeh family mausoleum
Ivan leads walking tours of the cemetery as part of the Old Manila Walks programme and also runs a Facebook group dedicated to art deco in the Philippines. His tours are highly recommended.

You may also like Art Deco in the Philippines - Manila's Magnificent Metropolitan Theatre

Eusebio Tankeh Mausoleum, built 1948
Portholes, sunbursts and curlicues
Many tombs display images of the deceased. This picture is framed by a deco ziggurat.
Koh family mausoleum, streamline moderne!

Monday, 19 February 2018

Fun, food and fortune telling - Manila, the people in the street

There are more than 20 million people living in Metro Manila. And despite the often oppressive heat and humidity, for me the city is best enjoyed in it's streets. That said, these streets are not for the feint hearted. They are crowded, noisy and the traffic is a nightmare, but it is the place to see the people and it is the people that make the place. Manilenos are friendly, eager to help and many of them have a story. It only takes a smile and a few words for them to open up and share it.

Madame Carmella, Plaza Miranda
Plaza Miranda is a place of many stories. Adjacent to the Church of the Black Nazarene it represents an interesting meeting of devout Catholicism and belief in older traditions. At service times it is not unusual to see large crowds of devotees standing outside the church, unable to get a place inside and following the mass on large screens. Just a few metres away from the church doors at the heart of the plaza, sits a group of mainly older women, offering to read palms and tarot cards for 100 pesos each before attempting to sell you various potions for your health or a talisman to keep away the evil eye. Most of these women consider themselves Catholics and see no contradiction between that and using their "gift". Some even profess a special devotion to the Black Nazarene, represented by the life-sized, dark skinned Christ figure, carved in the 17th century and housed in the church. Continuing the contradiction,  the stalls outside the church sell religious artefacts as well as herbs allegedly used for causing abortion.

Most of the fortune tellers have been coming to the plaza for many years. Concesa aged 74 says that she first knew she had "the gift" at the age of 7 and has been using it to help people since then. Many of her clients come seeking advice on romantic matters. She told me that despite this she had not been lucky in affairs of the heart and that her deceased husband had been a philanderer. She is still hopeful of finding true love. Madame Carmella sits beside Concesa. She carries a fan branded with the name of the Nazarene, wears silver jewellery and on the day I met her, her striking appearance was exacerbated by her having received ashes for Ash Wednesday . She has a special devotion to the Black Nazarene and claims it was he that directed her into fortune telling. I later noticed the reflection of the surrounding scene in her very large sunglasses. Perhaps she really can see everything.

Concesa, Plaza Miranda
Norma, Quiapo
Street markets are great places for people watching. In Manila the Quiapo and San Antonio districts are home to organised markets as well as hundreds of less formal street vendors. Practically anything can be bought in these places. People come for cheap shoes and clothes, household items, fresh fruit and vegetables, all kinds of rice, herbs and spices, meat and fish. There are also some unexpected specialisms. For example in San Antonio there are butchers that only deal in chicken feet. More commonly there are thousands of street food stalls selling a bewildering choice of dishes for immediate consumption. 

The vendors can be just as interesting as the goods. I met Norma in the Quiapo street market, just around the corner from Concesa and Madame Carmella.  I noticed her talking to a customer and was struck by her kind face and smiling eyes. Retracing my steps a little later she was still there and happy to  chat and to be photographed. Aged 72, she began helping out on the family vegetable stall in 1950 at just four years of age. She is the third oldest of 14 siblings, 11 of whom are still living.

Suman vendor, San Antonio
Cheap rates all the way to London!
Chicken feet stall, San Antonio
Walking in San Antonio I noticed a woman preparing and selling suman in the street. Suman is a simple but delicious sweet made from glutinous rice cooked in coconut. milk, prepared on a grill and wrapped in a banana leaf. Some restaurants offer more sophisticated versions of this but you can't beat the street version. The vendor uses a fan to encourage the flames, giving the operation a slightly theatrical air. I devoured three pieces before asking her if she would mind being photographed. She agreed but thought it amusing and turned her head to one side laughing allowing me to capture a natural, unposed shot. 

San Antonio is not a part of the city that attracts many foreign visitors and I became the object of some curiosity. A tricycle driver asked me where I am from. When I told him I live in London he told me he has a relative in the UK, in Saint Helens. I have never been to Saint Helens but it seems an unusual place to move to from Manila. He was a bit of a comedian and offered to take me back to London in the tricycle saying he could offer me a good price. A few moments later a young woman stepped forward and pointed out her little boy to me. Aged perhaps three, he had very little hair. She laughed, pointed to his head and then mine and said "you are the same". Indeed we were, although I suspect little Erman has more follicle hope than me.

Erman, we have the same hairstyle
Sitting together, Singalong
Basketball in the street, Singalong
Upon seeing the camera street children often come forward and ask to be photographed. Before doing so I always try to spot either a parent or adult relative to secure approval. This is sometimes followed by the adults joining in for a family picture but more often results in the gathering of a rapidly increasing group calling out "just one more picture sir" or "how about me" before striking a series of "street" poses that must have been culled from TV shows or advertising hoardings. I like to show them the pictures which usually results in laughter or comments about who looks the best. Not for these children the luxuries of Nike trainers, I-phones or the latest tablet, instead they must make their own entertainment including traditional street games like the girls I saw doing what I think is called "French skipping". Of course as children grow their interests become a little more sophisticated and in Singalong two teenage girls sat outside their home looking impossibly glamorous whilst waiting for the transport that would take them to their high school prom. The difference in their expressions is striking. The girl on the left looks a little tense tense, perhaps nervous about the prom. The other girl, her cousin lit up the street with her smile, excited, confident and looking forward to the evening. I wonder how the evening went.

Ready for he prom, Singalong
Adults too make their own entertainment. Basketball is played everywhere by both adults and youngsters, whilst in Singalong, another Manila neighbourhood, I noticed a large group of serious looking men playing cards. I later found out that they were playing beside the coffin of a man who had just died and that amongst some communities this is a tradition. A little further down the same street people were taking it in turns to sing karaoke as you might expect in an neighbourhood of this name. In these areas much of life is lived in the street. People call out to each other and acknowledge passers-by. Most Filipinos know at least some English and it is easy to strike up a conversation. 

Jump! San Antonio
Hey mister, one more picture! Singalong

Friends, Singalong
Walk the streets long enough and you will find what we used to call characters. In Quiapo I noticed a man wearing shorts, long red socks with white detailing, black and red trainers and a show stopping red jacket covered with images of Mickey Mouse. The ensemble was accessorised with a black despatch riders bag, black and red baseball cap, bracelets, rings and several laminated ID tags. We walked along the same street for several minutes before I finally managed to see him face-on when he stopped to examine a large bunch of keys. He appeared to be in his late 60's or possibly older. Great style and perhaps it is time that someone discovered some older male models to match the super stylish octogenarian women who have recently achieved notice. 

Fashionista, Quiapo
Walking Manila's streets might be tiring, but it is not an activity I could ever get tired of. People are happy to be photographed if asked and it is relatively easy to take candid pictures too, avoiding the very human tendency of people to want to look their best and begin to pose. Conversely, the advantage of asking permission is that it offers the potential for conversation and the chance to hear their story. Manila is a relatively undiscovered city, tourists preferring to head to the beaches rather than spend time here believing there is not much to see. They are mistaken. 

A few more of my Manila street photo favourites below...

Banana stall, Singalong
What would you like? Street food stall, Quiapo
Smile, street food stall, Quiapo

Will I have to wait very long? Quiapo
Holding on to her sweets, Quiapo
You might also like Jaffa - the people in the Shuk or A Postcard from India 6 - the people in the street

You can see more pictures from the Philippines here

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Picture Post 64 - The Hitchcock Murals at Leytonstone Station

There is a long history of public art on London's Underground including the iconic advertising posters of the 1930's and the Paolozzi murals installed at Tottenham Court Road Station in the 1980's.   Leytonstone Station at the eastern end of the Central Line is home to another set of murals - a series of 17 mosaics paying tribute to the films of Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock was born in Leytonstone in 1899 in a flat above his parents' grocers shop on the High Road, just a short walk away from the station. He was to make more than 50 films including some of the most iconic suspense movies of all time. His achievements are celebrated in the murals displayed a short walk from his birthplace. 

The Wrong Man
The brightly coloured works were produced by the Greenwich Mural Workshop. They took seven months to complete and were installed in 2001. There are 80,000 mosaic pieces in total, made from vitreous glass tesserae. They include scenes from Rear Window, Vertigo, Psycho and Strangers on A Train as well as images of Hitchcock relaxing with Marlene Dietrich and one of the director as a young man.

The station has two entrances linked by a long corridor with the murals arranged along its full length. There is also some interesting vintage advertising and a strange wooden triangular display unit just outside the High Road exit, displaying three paintings of Hitchcock and scenes from two of his films. The wooden unit has been colonised by pigeons giving it a distinct Hitchcockian feel, think The Birds. Leytonstone is just five stops east of Liverpool Street on the central line. There are a couple of good places to go for coffee on the High Road including the Wild Goose Bakery  whilst the library in Church Lane, just two minutes from the station has several original art deco features. The Olympic Park at Stratford is not too far away and a visit to both can easily be combined.

To Catch A Thief

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Balham's former Odeon...only it's in Clapham!

The former Balham Odeon cinema is a two minutes walk from Clapham South Underground Station. For many people the cinema was misnamed as it is closer to Clapham than to the centre of Balham. Designed by George Coles, it opened in April 1938 as part of Oscar Deutsch's Odeon chain. The height of modernity, the cinema boasted the latest developments in projection, sound  and air conditioning. Visitors were able to meet their friends in a large foyer before ascending the central staircase leading to a first floor cafe flooded with natural light. On their way up patrons would pass pink mirrors designed to soften and flatter their features! The first screening was Blondes For Danger, a thriller starring Gordon Harker as Alf Huggins, a London taxi driver caught up in a political assassination.

The Odeon was the largest cinema in this part of London and could seat 1,822 patrons, 1,216 in the stalls and 606 on the balcony. Its location on Balham Hill meant that the illuminated sign was visible from some distance and no doubt helped attract visitors from a wide area. Its popularity would have been aided by it's being the main cinema for some distance, the nearest large competitor being Tooting's Granada. The Odeon survived damage from a German bomb in 1941 and reopened after a few weeks following completion of temporary repairs. However it was not able to survive a downturn in attendances during the 1970's and closed on 9th September 1972 when Shaft's Big Score and No Blade of Grass were the final screenings.

Renamed the Liberty Cinema, the doors reopened at the end of 1974, to show Asian films. However, this also was not to last and  the second and final closure came in 1980. The building then stood empty and vandalised before the auditorium was demolished in 1985 and the Majestic Wine Warehouse took over the foyer with flats added at a later date.  Today only the original facade remains and still has an imposing presence. Symmetrical and curved at the front corners, the two halves are joined by a central tower which once bore the illuminated sign carrying the Odeon name. The whole facade is clad in beige faience which to me at least always adds an air of modernity. Whilst it is good that at least the facade remains, it is sad that the former Balham Odeon is one of many art deco cinemas lost to London.

You might also like Woolwich Odeon art deco survivor in south-east London and A Postcard from India 4 - Calcutta's Art Deco Metro Cinema 

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Picture Post 63, Kingsley Court North London

Kingsley Court is a magnificent modernist building just five minutes walk from Willesden Green tube station. It is surrounded by those large, slightly forbidding Victorian era houses found across North London, its red bricks and white rendering between floors making it stand out from its neighbours. The building was designed by Peter Caspari, commissioned by Davis Estates with construction commencing in 1933 and completed the following year.  It consists of 54 flats over six storeys, built to a z-shaped plan. The site is very narrow at the junction of two roads and beside the tracks of the Jubilee Line. 

Caspari used the restrictions of the site to create a number of interesting features including the undulating and recessed elements facing Park Avenue, metal window frames, the tower on the curved corner and the flatter, but white banded facade in Chapter Road. The Chapter Road entrance is set in a curved protruding lobby, topped with fenestration and leading to a recessed central stairwell. The glazing is divided by four white bands reflecting the thicker rendering on the main facade. The building was listed with Grade II status in 2000. It appears to be well maintained from the exterior but a number of comments received in response to a planning application in 2013 make reference to poor maintenance as well as the leaseholders making efforts to restore the original look of the building.

The architect was a German Jewish refugee. An active member of an anti-Nazi organisation he fled Germany in 1933 after being tipped off by the family chauffeur that he was about to be arrested. He first went to Switzerland before coming to London with his wife, medical student Erica Lichtenberg. He quickly learned English in order to secure work and Kingsley Court was one of his first commissions. It is often described as the first expressionist building in the UK. This should come as no surprise as Caspari had worked as assistant to Erich Mendelsohn and also had contact with Bauhaus luminaries Walter Gropius and Mies van der Rohe. He would go on to design the more austere Kimber Court in Putney in 1939 before emigrating to Canada after the War where he was responsible for several buildings in Toronto and Calgary.

Monday, 15 January 2018

The Illustrated Weekly of India - 15th March 1936

I first came across the Illustrated Weekly of India when researching the work of the wonderful photographer, Homai Vyarawalla. Several of her iconic black and white pictures were published in the Mumbai based journal during the 1940's although in the early days they were included under her husband's name. The Weekly as it was known by its devoted readers was first published in 1880 and for more than a century was one of the most popular English language publications in India. 

Published in large format, it included high quality photography, travel and sports reportage, fiction, gossip, cartoons and several pages of advertising. Its many readers included students who used it to improve their command of English and to extend their vocabulary. Amongst others, the magazine was edited by award winning author Khushwant Singh whose novel Train To Pakistan is acknowledged as one of the best works about Partition. Sadly, the magazine closed in 1993 when due to intense competition from other titles, the parent company decided to end publication, preferring to concentrate on revitalising its newspapers.

After some searching on a variety of websites I managed to get hold of the 15th March 1936 edition of The Weekly. It is a fascinating record of life of the better off in the lead up to the Second World War and before independence and partition. As well as coverage of Indian news, there are articles on a rebellion in the Japanese army which included the murder of several government ministers, a travel piece on Mongolia and treasure hunting in the Seychelles. A piece on investment notes worrying developments in Europe, making reference to German re-occupation of the Rhineland. Coverage of sport is also prominent with a full page piece on The Art of Table Tennis, photographs of some very serious Indian cricketers about to tour England, a piece on hooliganism at a Calcutta cricket game and  an illustrated Round the Sports World article. The latter item includes a reference to the Calcutta Inter-School sports for girls which included a balancing race requiring competitors to carry earthen pots on their heads. Exercise and deportment in one go.

As already mentioned this edition was published some years before independence and partition. This is reflected in the extensive coverage of all things British including an article on a royal visit to Canada and a news roundup under the heading Britain Week by Week. There is also an item on a hailstorm in the city of Lahore, later to become part of Pakistan, which reports "...for ten minutes hailstones the size of Indian hens' eggs made a carpet of ice in the city, killing hundreds of birds in flight..trees were denuded of their leaves and the Mall and other thoroughfares were turned into small rivers".  

I especially like the advertising pages which are spread throughout the magazine rather than being gathered in a single place. Many of them are related to health, offering medicine, pills and advice on a range of ailments including headaches, kidney trouble, stomach and bowel troubles, painful piles (with a cream dispensed from a tube with a terrifyingly long sharp point), blood pressure and asthma which it seems could be cured in a mere ten minutes by taking something called Ephazone. There are also advertisements for various skin creams, hair dye, hair restorer, hair remover and other beauty products, different types of film for your camera and various household goods. I am especially interested in the advert for Yaffi's Hair Restorer which claims  to ...cures tone and style to the most awkward head of hair...removes dandruff, prevents falling hair and gives an energising effect to the brain. Not only that It does not soil hat or pillow. Next time I am in Mumbai I will go in search of Mr. Yaffi's shop! A number of well known British brands advertised in The Weekly including Cow and Gate, Bisto, Brooke Bond, Pears and Lea and Perrins.

It was photography that led me to the Illustrated Weekly of India and it was also a draw for the readers. As well as being able to enjoy high quality photographs each week, they were encouraged to submit their own pictures. Prizes were awarded for the best and this week's winner was a Mrs. Z. D. Basrai of Bombay for her picture entitled "Festival in Bali" featuring a Balinese dancer. And like all good magazines, The Weekly contained what would today be known as a gossip page, reporting on the activities of film stars, royalty and politicians. This week's edition included the news that actress Margaret Lockwood had been cast in a new film, The Beloved Vagabond which was to star Maurice Chevalier. This famous and popular British actress, born in Karachi was to go on and make many more films including the Alfred Hitchcock directed The Lady Vanishes.

The India Illustrated Weekly is a wonderful archive of a world that has largely disappeared. If any former readers of the magazine find their way to this post, they would be very welcome to share their memories of it in the comments below.