Thursday, May 5, 2011

Beautiful Ruins

I know I've said it before - that I'm sick of photographing earthquake ruins - and I'll probably say it again before the year is out; but every so often I can't help myself. Quite apart from any personal need to make sense of the destruction that has occurred in Christchurch over the last six months since the earthquakes, sometimes I come up short at the sights before me. It might be a coming together of people in places, or the way the light falls across twisted debris, or an ominous sky forming a backdrop to a deserted street, or jagged ruins juxtaposed against surviving buildings - any one of the above reason enough for me to reach for my camera again.
I certainly felt drawn to the gnarled ruins of the Strategy building on Victoria Street recently - that's the four images above. A cloud-filled sky, a mountain of rubble, a surviving parking meter (how tenacious they've turned out to be) and the bent 'spire' on the Victoria Street clock tower. For me, there's something about homing in on the small details, the minutiae of these monstrous scenes, that makes them a little more comprehensible. It doesn't really matter how many times I pass by though, nor how many photographs I take, the sad fact remains that the Christchurch cityscape is irrevocably changed. I went by this site again yesterday and it's now a flat, empty, dirt-covered lot - not a sign of lingering rubble. And when I see that sort of progression, it feels like someone is 'whiting-out' large portions of my memory bit by bit, that my own sense of history is being tampered with somehow. The mind playing tricks.
I'm sure the owners of this house in Waltham Road thought someone was playing tricks with their minds too - especially if they were in the house when it collapsed like this on February 22. It's been well catalogued now but I felt the need to get my own photograph - for the record. It's been funny how photographs of the worst earthquake ruins have spread like wild-fire - how they've been 'beamed out' around the world via all media channels - television, newspapers, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, cellphones, emails. Yet none of that diminishes the shock, the incomprehension, the awe, of coming face-to-face with the actual location. I find myself - often - standing in front of a scene like this thinking about the people inside and how they must have felt in those horrifying few seconds when the earthquake struck. It's a little bewildering.
And this house, at Brighton Beach, twisted and turned, and torn off its feet - yet the owners (presumably), still quick-thinking enough to be advertising roof tiles for $3 each.
And this gigantic pile of ruins all that's left of a big house in Manchester Street - or was it Colombo?......I'm confused... so many of my landmarks, my city touchstones have gone. And to one side of all that mess, that broken history - one small, neat pile of bricks and a cluster of coloured plastic bowls. I want to know who put them there and why. Why they selected the bowls (and one copper pot) and not the nearby wardrobe, or the spilled-out books. And having so carefully saved the bowls, why did they walk away and leave them there? What drives people in these situations? How do they register and file away the realities of their torn-asunder lives?
At beautiful Cranmer Courts, many more homes have been broken apart. This would have to be one of Christchurch's finest Victorian Gothic buildings and I doubt there is a Christchurch resident who has seen it, who has been unmoved by its humbled facade. I'm not sure if this one is up for demolition, or if it is on the 'To Be Saved' list of heritage buildings. I hope for the latter, but even if it is, it will be a long long time before it stands proud again.
And here (below) - a mind-altering view of Colombo Street - one of the city's busiest thoroughfares now looking like a scene from a derelict movie set. And floral tributes on the barrier fences. I took these shots over Easter - on a fine, sunny day when hundreds of people were walking as far as they could into the city. It was the same everywhere - people would stop at the barrier fences and peer through the wire, the silence only broken by the clicking of cameras.
There were dozens of us at this particular fence.
There was no pushing, no shoving, no talking - just a 'communal silence.'
It wasn't hard to imagine what everyone else was thinking.
And words seemed out of place.
And so to the angel at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament - so photographed now that she has spun almost a full circle and is looking out over the city, instead of into the cathedral as she did before the February 22nd earthquake. I'm not a religious person but it's hard not to gape at the wonder of it.


Anonymous said...

This is great - but the "angel" in the last picture is actually a statue of Mary, the mother of Jesus not an angel. However, it is still amazing that it spun as it did to be looking out over the city!!

Sandy said...

Fantastic post Ads... i feel everything you say in it... especially the coming face to face part... the reality is much more horrific than any photo can convey. I hadn't seen that house in Brighton before...and i love the cyclamen...


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