ARTYFACTS: Around the world in 2 hours - British Museum

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Around the world in 2 hours - British Museum

Around the world in two hours
Wasn't expecting much from this as British Museum shows are often claustrophobic and disappointing. This was different. 100 stunning aeriel photographs showing many of the worlds archaeological sights. Aesthetically they are beautifully shot in early morning light at an ideal angle to produce enough of a 3D effect, while retaining the bird's-eye view of the whole site. It's also the breadth of Gersters travels that impresses. It's a sort of 'Around the world in two hours' experience.

Additional perspectives
The photographs add things you don't get on the ground or from ground-level photography. There's the 'big picture', the architectural idea as imagined in the mind(s) of the architects and builders of these monuments. It's like seeing the blueprint come to life. Then there's the site's relationship to the landscape - it's shape and geology. Sites and civilisations have depended on the quality of the local rock for their posterity. Those civilisations that didn't live in stone-rich environments and built largely from mud brick or natural materials get less billing than those who did. The Egyptians lived in a rock-rich environment with lots of mineral wealth. They had soft limestone in the Valley of the Kings, sandstone for many of the pyramids and granite and hard rocks for statues and political stability for 3500 years. You also see the roofs and things that lie beyond the site.

A good example is the Ramasseum in Egypt, the first image at the door of the exhibition. I visited this just a few weeks ago and it is very impressive. It was here that Belzoni dragged the famous Rameses II bust to the banks of the Nile and back to the British Museum where it still stands no more than 30 yards from this image. It was the inspiration for Shelley's poem Ozymandias and is a great place to wander around in, usually free from the crowds who prefer the Valley of the Kings and other more intact temples: "My name is OZYMANDIAS, King of Kings. Look on my works ye Mighty, and despair! No thing beside remains. Round the decay Of that Colossal Wreck, boundless and bare, the lone and level sands stretch far away. " The photograph shows the full vision and the scale of the site beyond the temple. (I'd also recommend the £32 balloon trip at dawn across this site - you can try your own aerial archaeology.)

Fine catalogue
The catalogue is worth £25 as it contains all of this and more, as well as a fascinating history of aeriel archaeology from Crawford onwards. Did you know that in addition to balloons and aircraft, kites and even pigeons have been used to take photographs from the air? Made me desperately wantto visit Syria and Iran, which both seemed to be full of wonderfully interesting and intact sites.

20 January 2007


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