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Beauty & the Sublime, Aspects of the Vauxhall Crossing

brief – submission – blog – feedback 

Initial thoughts

[30Sep21] I have jotted elsewhere:

6th August 2021 – Assignments
I have a few subjects rattling around my head, so here’s a note –
… Sublime – that bridge, tho not a term I associate with imagery …
[10Aug] Sublime – Not visual – conceptual, eye of a swan
Slow music
Another Roadside Attraction
[15Aug] Replay – can visuals be sublime? can photographs of visuals artefacts? They can trigger emotions, examples in my case the Miners’ Strike, Murtha’s New Found Out, that drowned child refugee on the beach. But can any photograph be or convey sublimity / sublimation?
[17Sep] Gasholders, Stations (of the Cross).

[11Nov] Sublime = transporting

The object that rattled consistently for this assignment is Vauxhall Bridge. Lara Maiklem wrote in Mudlarking (2019),

I don’t visit Vauxhall often, but on unusually low tides, I will occasionally travel west to descend to the foreshore near Vauxhall Bridge. This is my favourite bridge, a mudlark’s bridge, best seen from the foreshore. From the road it looks quite ordinary and as if it could do with a lick of paint, but from the foreshore and the river it is a work of art that relatively few ever properly see. Mounted above the granite piers and facing the river on both sides are eight allegorical figures representing industry. They are all women, which is quite something since they were cast at the turn of the twentieth century when men dominated almost every sphere of the working environment. Twice life-size, they are also some of the largest bronze figures in London. Each one is classically swathed and holding an object to represent her discipline. Facing upstream, Pottery is solid and strong with a pot cradled in the crook of one arm and the other resting on her hip, Engineering is similarly Amazonian and holds a miniature steam engine, while Architecture, with her scale model of St Paul’s Cathedral is more delicate and youthful. The hooded figure of Agriculture carries a scythe in one hand and a sheaf of corn in the other. On the opposite side, facing downstream, Education holds a naked infant in her arms and shelters a boy with a book under her cloak, Fine Art looks dreamily down into the water with a palette and brushes held to her breast, and Science and Local Government have a solemn, serious look about them.

Maiklem, 2019, pp.43-4

Batch 1, 8th November

Contact sheets

[8Nov] How pleasant to take some Assignment photographs again – the last batch for I&P Asg.5 was 24th August. The District Nurse was quite early today (see Blog), as hoped, and I had a camera bag packed ready.

The intention was only a recce to get to know the area, but I spent longer there than intended and took 80+ photographs. Few, if any will make the final cut — I will return with a better lens and a tripod. Most of today’s were taken with a Canon bridge camera (chosen as I knew I would need some reach) and a monopod.

The first surprise was that the south bank on both sides is a building site. While the river walls are being repaired there is no access on the side I first tried (position 1 on the map, fig. A1) and so the first view I managed of a statue (fig. C1) was just the top of her head. I crossed the bridge (fig. C2) to my first vantage point, Position 2 on the map, passing a Samaritans notice (fig. C3).

Access to reasonable viewpoints are not as difficult to access as Maiklem suggests and I had feared, pedestrian walkways are on at least three sides, when not obstructed.

From position 2 on the map the statues can be seen, but (see fig. C5) they are “facing” the other side of the river, the inaccessible Position 1.

From map position 3 (fig. A1) although the statues are still “facing” the opposite shore, the higher vantage point makes this less noticeable, figs. D1-D4.

Figs. D5-D6 I had a second camera with me with a shorter lens, but set to monochrome.

Fig. D7 and the second camera on colour, picturing the ferry dock in map position 4.

The second surprise of the day was a group of canoeists paddling past to the bridge, these of several ages, but mostly grey-haired figs. D8-13.

Fig. E1 shows the ferry doc from position 4 on the map (fig. A1). The remaining photographs are taken from various positions on the ferry dock.

Fig. E2 shows the small (what looks like a) oil rig obscuring the view from position 4: fig. E3, taken position shows the advantage of using the dock. Fig. E4, further down the dock, fig. E5 statue from that position.

So, what have we learned?

  • It will not be possible to photograph all of the statues from the most desirable angle
  • but on the plus side, they can all be photographed “without getting my feet wet”
  • I could use the inaccessibility as part of the project to illustrate – I’m not sure what – that humanity is often on the defence against nature; the officialdom can restrict access to normally public spaces whenever it chooses?
  • I probably need to decide on a standard framing for each statue image
  • It is important to always include pedestrians on the bridge in the frame to emphasise the size of the statues
  • I should visit the next bridge downstream and see if there’s a worthwhile image to be had from there.
  • and it might be worth taking a trip on that ferry to check the view in transit.

And I’ve thought of another possible subject – the small church in Tudeley, Kent with the Chagall stained glass windows, All Saints’ , Tudeley.


1. Go again with a better lens and a tripod
2. Try Lambeth Bridge
3. Take a ride on the ferry – lens to use? probably the Canon bridge for max flexibility.
4. Try to improve fig. C12 from further away if there is line of sight – more bridge, less Moore.
5. Look for remains of the Millbank.


[12Nov] I had my introductory tutorial today. His advice on this assignment, (from the blog),

On the first assignment I was advised to research my subject rather than rush in with a camera. It’s a bit late for that, but I will heed the advice.

introductory tutorial

Submission date was agreed as “before Christmas”.


[13Nov] There have been two relatively recent bridges on the site, before that a ferry and before that there is evidence of an earlier wooden structure, (Stone, n.d.).

Prior to the first bridge being built there was a Sunday only ferry service to Vauxhall Gardens, a public pleasure garden that operated for 200 years before financial failure in the mid 1800s (Coke, 2007).

The previous bridge was conceived in 1809, when Act of Parliament was passed allowing a public company to raise the money to build it. Originally called the Regent Bridge for the Prince Regent, it was speculative, in the hope of new suburbs arising in the area. The design went through three rejected versions before a nine arch iron bridge  by James Walker was built, opened in 1816 and by then renamed Vauxhall Bridge (fig. F1).

The current bridge, which opened in 1906, was needed because increased traffic flow had weakened the supports in Walker’s bridge (Stone, n.d.). In this case too, the design of the new bridge went through a series of modifications before the five-span iron bridge on granite piers by Sir Alexander Binnie and Maurice Fitzmaurice was built (Pudney, 1972).

The bronze figures were something of an afterthought, after complaints were made about the sparse bridge design. Several options were considered and eventually Alfred Drury and Frederick Pomeroy designed four figures each, Education, Fine Art, Science and Local Government by Drury facing downstream and Pottery, Engineering, Architecture and Agriculture by Pomeroy upstream (Matthews, 2008).

One of the problems in building the second bridge was that the tunnels allowing the former River Effra to flow into the Thames had to be relocated (fig. G1). These tunnels are currently obscured by the riverbank building works (figs. G2, G3) that restrict access to the south bank.

From 1898 to 1906, while the new bridge was being build (fig. G4) and also during WW2, in case the Vauxhall Bridge suffered significant bomb damage (Millbank Bridge fig. G5), temporary structures, were built nearby (Clark, 2016 and Coates, 2017).
There is a Henry Moore sculpture, Locking Piece (1963-64), on the embankment close to where the Millbank Bridge would have been (fig. G6). There is no indication of a link. The sculpture is on loan to the city from nearby Tate Britain.

In 1963 a new structure was proposed, the Crystal Span, seven stories of offices, shops, a gallery, a theatre and parking space atop a new road bridge (fig. G7), “but in the end, the London County Council declined to pick up the estimated £7 million (£132 million in 2017) construction costs, and the scheme was abandoned” (Mansfield, 2017).

In 1993, erosion uncovered wooden posts on the riverbank, near the northern River Effra outlet which were dated to between 1550 BC and 300 BC. It is thought unlikely that a wooden bridge across the river would have been built at that time, but they might have been supports for a jetty or a shorter bridge to a central island. Mansfield (2011) described a visit to the site that also examined what is thought to be a fish trap. Mansfield notes that serious additional erosion had taken place (and that was 10 years ago in a 2011 report) and that the posts are only visible at very low tides (fig. G8).
Tide tables at the location for the coming weeks (fig. G11) suggest that Wednesday 24th November might provide a daylight opportunity at 11:11 am (WillyWeather, 2021).

21st November

A swift journey to town yesterday intended to check three questions: is there

1. a view of vauxhall bridge from Lambeth bridge
2. any residue of Millbank
3. a better view of the Moore sculpture

Thwarted by Sunday travel failures and the cold.
The answer to #1 is yes, but better views from closer on the south bank. And do it in the morning, the sun is setting in the wrong place by pm.
2 and 3 await another day Today is the last day I have to wait in for a district nurse so freedom will improve from tomorrow.

[28Nov] Freedom was delayed a week I missed the low tide. I have rewritten the long introduction and need to list 8 images to aim for.

1. from a distance, Lambeth Bridge or south bank
2. concentrate on one figure, perhaps architecture
3. try for a side shot showing four
4. evidence of the Millbank Bridge
5. Henry Moore, play with the distance and framing
6. Low tide remains
7. No entrance sign
8. open entry

Batch 2

Contact sheets

[30Nov] An impromptu visit to VB this morning as, for the first time in 2 months, I had no prior medical claim on my day (one last visit to QEH tomorrow and that should be it for now). The hastily-conceived plan was to try for 2-5 + 7 of the list above. I was distracted from the Millbank Bridge by the Moore and birds sleeping on the embankment.

I am just about to print the contact sheets and look at the results – I bracketed everything today but will only show the base shot on the contacts.

[1Dec]Quite a successful day and I have also rescued one of the images from the brief and flawed visit on 21st, see fig. I1.

[spellchecked to here 1Dec]

Fig. I1 was rescued from the ill-fated misty and darkening expedition of Sunday 21st. It might be worth retrying in daylight but would make quite a good starting point as it stands for category #1, from a distance.

7. No entrance sign fig. I2.

2. one figure I had intended it to be architecture, holding the most interesting artefact of their discipline, but 1. I was surprised by how much you can see from above if you lean over the side; and 2. I found the fig. I8, the second figure downstream, art, quite striking and pleasingly simple.
Other things being equal, I would probably switch to art, or pottery (fig. I16), but it is impossible to get a full image of art while the building works (fig. I2) are in progress, and maybe even afterwards as that bank is the grounds of MI6. Fig. E3 is a decent pottery full length.

4. four figures It will have to be the north bank until the building work ends. Upstream offers the better options as the pedestrian walkway is higher and closer. I tried several angles, figs. I9-12. I think I10 might take it. There are a couple of problems -the clutter of (what I take to be) lighting, below and above; that annoying brown arm the extends over the right hand side (I’m not sure what it is, check next time). Fig. I10 offers the best compromise to date.

5. Henry Moore I was hoping that I could photograph from further away with a longer lens and compress the Moore, bridge and MI6 building to a greater extent than in fig. C12. I6 brings in another sculpture at the price of less bridge. I10 might be better and the birds add to it.

6. Low tide remains I need a date

8. spare entry remains

Shortlist 1

[1Dec] 8 photographs allowed. Target list”

distant, no entrance, Henry Moore, side view showing four, one figure – 2 images. ancient remains, Millbank remains.

Next visit:
1. Millbank
2. ancient low tide
3. redo Moore
4. redo distant
5. look for a full length art.

Batch 3

Contact sheets

[16Dec] The date of the visit was 10th December.

From Vauxhall Station, I crossed the bridge, turning back to photograph Vauxhall bus station fig. K1) which is the unknown intrusion on figs. I9-12 (Batch 2).
Fig. K2 is the building site that covers the location of the old wooden posts, fig. G8.
Fig. K3 is an improvement on J3, the birds are a welcome addition.
The wartime Millbank Bridge would have been at the position of fig. K4. There is no evidence of it on the Northeast bank. See K10-12.
Fig. K5 from Lambeth Bridge, not the best location because of a bend in the river.
Figs. K6-8 along the embankment towards Pos 1 on the map (fig. A1 repeated above).
Fig. K9 At Pos. 1, closed to pedestrians. This is the other end of the workings, downstream from fig. I-2.
Figs. K10-12 on the bank opposite K4. Tate Britain is visible upper right in K10 and the Henry Moore would be at higher resolutions. K11-12 show the remains of wooden supports than might have been part of Millbank Bridge.


Batch 4

Contact sheets

[16Dec] I wrote the Batch 3 description before and after an evening visit to the bridge, hoping to find it illuminated as there are images of this online. Lights were coming on everywhere else when I arrived, but not on the bridge. I spoke to the manager of a cafe which overlooks the site (at Pos. 2 on the fig. A1 map) who advised that the lights have not been used for “a long time”, but an approximate date was not forthcoming and, in and case, immaterial.

I had intended to redo the Henry Moore image (fig. K3) and the upstream figures (figs. I10-I12) at night, but while an interestingly pointillistic version of the Moore was possible, there was no worthwhile night-time image of the figures available.
The exposure was f/5.6, 1/8th, ISO 1600 on a Canon SX70.

Time’s Up

[18Dec] There’s a week to go. No more visits, make the final selection and start writing.

M1 can sit at the top of the page.
M2 sets the scene with the restricted access and also a view of the bridge
M3 or M4 do not add much to M2
M5 is the first real sight of the figures
M6 is the representative sample of the set with a pedestrian nearby for size comparison. What happened to the format?
M7 or M8 shows all that a pedestrian on the bridge can see when leaning over the parapet. M8 is the better of the two, but only one portrait amongst landscapes might not be possible
M9 the first “environs”
M10 or M11 for the possible remains of Millbank Bridge. Both are relevant, but including two might be excess. It is rather a weak end, especially without an explanation.

At first pass, I’d say M1, M2, M3, M5, M6, M7, M9, M11.
The target is 6-12 and so that would do.

They work rather well in black and white (this just a simple conversion in Affinity).
A key advantage is that diminishes the impact of varying skies on different visits.
The last two have been swapped to end on a stronger note. I might substitute the wider view of M10.

Mono allows the reconsideration of the night-time O9: O8 is preferred as better defined.

Reprocess to consistent formats (4×3 default) and redo BW with care if that’s the final choice.

[20Dec] Final, final selection.

LP&E Asg 1 References

Alexander, J, Conroy, A, Hughes, A, & Lundy, G (2019) Landscape, Place and Environment [LPE]. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts.

Coates, S. (2017) London Had A Wobbly Bridge 100 Years Ago [online]. londonist.com. Available from https://londonist.com/london/history/london-had-a-wobbly-bridge-100-years-ago [Accessed 13 November 2021].

Coke, D. (2007) Vauxhall Gardens 1661-1859, a Brief History [online]. vauxhallgardens.com. Available from http://www.vauxhallgardens.com/vauxhall_gardens_briefhistory_page.html [Accessed 13 November 2021].

Clark, J. (2016) The broken sword and the vanishing bridge [online]. museumoflondon.org.uk. Available from https://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/discover/broken-saxon-sword-vanishing-vauxhall-bridge [Accessed 10 December 2021].

Jones, R. (n.d.) STRANGE WATCHERS OF THE THAMES [online]. london-walking-tours.co.uk. Available from https://www.london-walking-tours.co.uk/secret-london/miniature-st-pauls-cathedral-vauxhall-bridge.htm [Accessed 18 December 2021].

Maiklem, L. (2019) Mudlarking. London: Bloomsbury.

Mansfield, I. (2011) A trip with the archaeologists on the River Thames [online]. ianvisits.co.uk. Available from https://www.ianvisits.co.uk/blog/2011/02/20/a-trip-with-the-archaeologists-on-the-river-thames/ [Accessed 13 November 2021].

Mansfield, I. (2017)Unbuilt London: The Crystal Span Bridge [online]. ianvisits.co.uk. Available from https://www.ianvisits.co.uk/blog/2017/05/06/unbuilt-london-the-crystal-span-bridge/ [Accessed 13 November 2021].

Matthews, P. (2008) London’s Bridges. London: Shire Publications.

Pudney, J. (1972) Crossing London’s River: The Bridges, Ferries and Tunnels Crossing the Thames Tideway in London. Worthing: Littlehampton Book Services.

Stone, P. (n.d.) The original Vauxhall Bridge [online]. thehistoryoflondon.co.uk. Available from https://www.thehistoryoflondon.co.uk/the-original-vauxhall-bridge/ [Accessed 13 November 2021].

WillyWeather (2021) River Thames – Vauxhall Bridge Tide Times and Heights [online]. willyweather.co.uk. Available from https://tides.willyweather.co.uk/se/greater-london/river-thames—-vauxhall-bridge.html [Accessed 13 November 2021].