Saturday, July 19, 2008

Tower of London

An ultramodern tower juxtaposed against the ancient.
A little over a thousand years ago, William the Conqueror built the first tourist attraction in London. He didn't build it to protect the city from foreign invaders, but it to protect his soldiers from the citizens whom he just conquered (hence the name). Over the years it's been built up, added on and upgraded. It's served as a royal residence, treasury, museum and jail.

The White Tower is the original structure. Once a stark fortress within the walls and moats, it was renovated numerous times. The area surrounding was also built up, beefed up, and tricked out. It was a royal residence for years until Cromwell had the more palatial aspects of the Tower removed.

The White Tower got its name from its white-washed walls.
These masks once appeared in the many suits of armor.
Royal family crest on the gates leading to the tower.

Details from one of the many wrought fences.
Many of the people who work at the Tower, particularly the Yoemen Warders, actually live withing the walls. They're all ex-military who spend a few years guarding the crown jewels and, formally, guarding prisoners. Today they're basically tour guides, but undoubtedly the most respected and well known tour guides in the world.

A bicycle leans against an interior wall lined with houses.
A Yeoman Warder greets the visitors as they arrive.
You'd never suspect that these buildings are inside a fortress.
The Tower ravens are much part of lore as part of history. Everyone knows the legend that if the ravens ever leave the Tower, the structure, the royal family and even England itself will fall. There was a near miss during World War II when all but one bird perished. The Yeoman Warders breed the animals to maintain a good stock of a dozen or so birds.

One of the clipped ravens that inhabit the grounds.

One of the pleasant surprises in the Tower is the inclusion of animators, dressed in period costume, performing the roles of famous visitors and prisoners. They're all local actors with a strong interest in history.

Sir Thomas Moore's daughter chats with another animator.
Oliver Cromwell gazes suspiciously upon the well dressed tourists.
The blade atop the halberd carried by one of the animators.

The Tower was home to many prisoners over the years, so it's easy forget that it was not a prison but also a royal residence. Some of the rooms have been decorated to remind us of that.

A glorious bedroom within one of the numerous towers.
A sunlit alcove.

A locked wrought iron door within the White tower.

When I found out that the traditional guards were replaced by visiting guards, I was disappointed. However, as soon as I saw the white uniform with a silk wrapping, I was quite pleased. I saw these fellows outside the royal residence in Kuala Lumpur a few years ago.

A Malaysian soldier guards the entrance to the crown jewels.
Boots from the East shine as brightly as boots from the West.
A Yeoman Warder clears the way for the changing of the guards.
The guard captain shouts his orders.

A young woman gets photographed with a Yeoman Warder.
At the end of a shift, a Yeoman Warder takes a well-deserved rest.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Eastern State Penitentiary

When you think of Philadelphia, you think of the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, or maybe the Philadelphia Museum of Art or the zoo. What does not immediately spring to mind is a moldering old prison.

The Eastern State Penitentiary was built back in 1829 and remained in operation until 1972. It has sat there ever since. Various plans were introduced, including turning it into luxury apartments or a another shopping mall, but eventually a group of folks got together with the intent of preserving the place. Rather than restore it, they wisely decided to maintain the site as a standing ruin. This makes for some fabulous photographic opportunities.

 The name "penitentiary" actually originated with this prison. The idea was for inmates to reside in solitary monastic confinement and seek penance from God.

A restored view of the original interior. The small door leads to the outdoor exercise area.
The rooms are reasonably small and each have a thin skylight (presumably so God could look in on them). Each cell also had a tiny outdoor space in which the prisoner could "exercise."

A sunbeam slices through the decaying cell interior, showing decades of neglect.
The ancient doors are all but falling off their rails.
When it first opened, the inmates were hooded before they entered the facility, so they had no idea as to the layout of the place. They were also kept from talking to other inmates. Guards wore special shoes with felt soles so even the sounds of their footsteps were muffled.

An old cabinet, worn with use, attached to the crumbing wall.
Looking down the corridor of one of the two-story wings.
This prison was also the origin of an incarceration management innovation: the radiating spoke shape of the wings. This enables the wardens to keep watch of each wing from a central location at the hub. Each wing was designed to be a single story, but the state soon decided to change the plans to include two-story wings as the prison was filling up much too fast.

Today, most of the wings are partially restored, with some cells hosting museum exhibits and photographic galleries. A few wings are cleaned up but still in a state of decay, but a couple of wings are left in their original state, untouched. These ruined wings are sealed off from the public.

This wing has been closed off for decades.
When it was built, Eastern State had toilets in each cell. This was at the time when the president of the United States was forced to use a chamber pot in the White House!

The view from inside a cell.
The guard tower as seen from inside the walls.
Detail of the paint peeling from the walls.
You can see more images (including some garishly tone-mapped examples) here.

 The afternoon would have been a smashing success but for one thing. For some reason, the caretakers feel they need to charge a special permit fee for the use of a tripod (or monopod). The supervisor explained that tripods are seen as a nuisance and they want to discourage their use. They believe that they take up space and people have trouble going around them and they get in the way, etc. How much does it cost for all this pain and suffering to go away? Ten dollars, nearly the same price as admission ($12). So, they feel tripods are a nuisance but will look the other way if you give them some money. I sardonically pointed out that they should charge more money for teenagers too, as they tend to get in the way and can be a terrible nuisance. Old people are slow, do they have to pay more? I explained that if they are troubled by tripods getting in the way, they shouldn't be punishing the visitor because they have a tripod, they should punish the bad behavior (getting in the way of other visitors). The supervisor was not happy with this line of reasoning and kept falling back on the old "It's policy" response.

 Eastern State Penitentiary is an interesting tourist attraction and they're doing their best to promote the place. So why alienate a group of people who can help promote the site? Very few photographers use tripods. Those who do are very serious about their craft and tend to share their images and talk about where they were taken. If anything, Eastern State Penitentiary should be encouraging tripod photographers, maybe giving them access to otherwise closed areas. I don't mind paying a bit of extortion money if it's a little bit, but charging nearly the same price for the tripod as for admission is stupid and not getting any added value for the extra money is simply ridiculous.